BLAVITY: Who is the team behind Blastchat? What is the background of yourself and your fellow co-founder Jhamar?
BLASTCHAT: The Blast team is comprised of two individuals: Darrian Collins and Jhamar Youngblood. We have been friends for nearly six years; both having graduated from the same high school, The Patrick School, in Elizabeth, NJ.
Jhamar D Youngblood: After graduating with a finance degree a few years ago, I decided to launch my first startup, Socialnate. Socialnate was a website similar to eBay, but instead of the proceeds of each auction going to users pockets, it went to the charity of the user’s choice. After working on that for two years, it failed and I decided to attend Dartmouth College and pursue a master's degree in Globalization Studies. There I joined some friends from China in starting a music startup. That startup failed as well. A few months later and having learned so much from two previous failed startup attempts, I decided to work on my third startup, Blastchat.
Darrian Collins: A current student at Rutgers University studying Marketing and Public Affairs. I joined Blastchat when the company was just seven months old. At Blastchat, I am currently the head of user acquisition and increasing brand awareness, especially with college and high school students. I have always been intrigued with how young kids like myself start multi-million and billion dollar companies. I always wanted to be a part of something like that, so when I got the chance to join Blastchat, I was thrilled.
BLAVITY: High level and in your own words – what is Blastchat and what problem are you trying to solve?
BLASTCHAT: Blastchat is fairly simply, send one message out to your respected audience and receive individual responses/reactions a second later.
Two problems we noticed:
1. Facebook/Twitter are the "best" one to many messaging platforms but the visibility rates of tweets and Facebook post are extremely low ~5% because the platforms are SO BIG! There is too much noise!
2. Our generation does NOT like signing up to email newsletters!
So we created an alternative for each problem. Send private blasts to friends and family or send a public blast to your followers.
The fundamental belief is the information you care about should come directly to you and you shouldn't have to search noisy platforms to find it! This is what is at the core of our revenue model, (adding buy buttons to blast, adding a classifieds section: jobs, auto apartments).
BLAVITY: Jhamar – What inspired you to create Blastchat?
BLASTCHAT: One day while at Dartmouth, I woke up and wanted to play tennis. And tennis isn’t really a sport you can play by yourself, so I needed to find some friends that wanted to play as well. I had about 30 or so friends on campus that I could ask to play, the only problem I had was getting in contact with all 30.
Here were my options:
- Starting a big group message with 30 people in it.
- Sending the same message to 30 different people via text message.
- Send an email blast?
- Write a post on Facebook or Twitter.
I wasn't putting 30 strangers in a group chat, we all know how annoying that can be. I wasn't going to copy and paste the same message and send it to 30 different people. I have never sent an email blast in my life and I wasn't going to start on that Saturday morning. So I decided to post on Facebook and tweet: “Anyone at Dartmouth want to play some tennis around noon?”. No one replied! Then I thought there had to be an easier and more effective way for me to reach my respected audience. Two weeks later I came up with the name Blastchat. Three months after that I had a working MVP and three months after that I had a co-founder, Darrian.
BLAVITY: Darrian – What were your first thoughts on the initial roll out of Blastchat and what made you want to join Jhamar in this start up?
BLASTCHAT: I was amazed that somebody close to me came up with such a unique idea that can be very impactful for our generation. My relentless effort to find a business to be a part of to gain business experience made me want to join Blastchat. I saw a great opportunity to get business experience and help a close friend make the idea of Blastchat successful.
BLAVITY: "Mass communication made easy” is your tagline – Why is mass communication chat so important right now?
BLASTCHAT: We believe mass communication has always been important since day one when primates wrote the first ever message on a rock and shared it throughout their community. I’m not sure if that actually happened, but I’m sure the experience was similar. Or even with the invention of the printing press. Throughout history, humanity has always figured out a way to make mass communication easier. We are simply enhancing it in our own way.
BLAVITY: Tell us more about the technology behind Blastchat and how it works.
BLASTCHAT: We have two main products: Blastchat Private and Blastchat Public. With private blast, we read everyone in your device’s contacts with the Blastchat app and import them over to your Blastchat contact list. There you can send one message to as many people as possible. After that, all recipients of your blast will receive your message a second later via push notification and when they reply they will reply to you and only you via iMessage. So the initial blast happens in the Blastchat app and all responses continue in iMessage. You can blast links, pictures, videos or simple messages like “What is everyone doing tonight?” All recipients will then have 24 hours to respond to your blast, after that all blasts will be permanently deleted.
You can also follow people on Blastchat and receive their content in real-time via push notification. This is great for companies, brands, celebrities or anyone that wants to share real-time life updates. So right now Darrian has 150 Blastchat followers, so he can send one message and 150 will receive push notifications with his message. This is good for bars sending out daily specials, bloggers and others.
We are also experimenting with a feature called Blastchat Classifieds where you can send classified ads to anyone that is following your school on Blastchat. This is aimed to replace bulletin boards on college campuses.
BLAVITY: The social networking ecosystem is crowded to say the least. A lot of overlap of in services and everyone is competing for the same users. How do you plan to differentiate yourselves?
BLASTCHAT: We differentiate ourselves by adding value to people’s lives. We are solving two problems that not too many people are solving. 1. There aren't many effective ways to contact your core audience (friends/family) in real-time. Group chats can be a hassle and annoying and Facebook and Twitter are too noisy and big. 2. Our generation doesn't sign up for email newsletters or any marketing emails. Email marketing is still effective, but not for the younger generations. What will marketers do in 5, 10, 15 years when we grow older? Try to convince us to use our email more?
Another thing is, your messages are only visible for 24 hours! This is different from many other communication networks where it becomes more of a diary more than a communication hub.
BLAVITY: Jhamar – Your posts on Medium talk a lot about your desire to stand out as black founders in tech, but at the same time the struggle that comes with not fitting in and being understood. Tell us why it's so important for you to stand out.
BLASTCHAT: This is really hard because all entrepreneurs need to stand out in order to be noticed. But for us, we stand by default, simply because we are usually the only black people in the room and are asking old white men for money. So it’s like how do we stand out while also showing these older white men that we are just like the thousands of white men they invest in every year? But we realized that is none of our concern. We will continue to be true to who we are and build an amazing product; that’s all we can control at this point.
BLAVITY: Darrian – Your post on Medium also really hit home about the struggle of transitioning out of a traditional path toward entrepreneurship. How are you and Jhamar using the struggle to fuel the success of Blastchat?
BLASTCHAT: As cliché as this may sound, we are using the struggle to motivate us. We face many obstacles trying to make Blastchat successful, but we just let those struggles make us even more determined to create a successful product. Jhamar always told me how much effort and sacrifice it would take and I never believed him until these past few months. So the Medium post came from a place of me finally realizing what it meant to be an entrepreneur, a black one at that, in a space where we aren't really accepted. But as the famous modern philosopher Jermaine Cole said, “it’s beauty in the struggle” and we try to find that beauty every single day to keep us going.
BLAVITY: Where do you guys see yourselves 5-10 years from now?
BLASTCHAT: In ten years we see Blastchat as the most effective way to send any mass message to your respected audience. Amber alerts, government alerts, school alerts, company updates, stock updates, job postings, car postings, coupons, limited-edition merchandise, the possibilities seem endless. However, it's important that we don't think too far ahead because we will lose our focus on what needs to be done five days from now.
BLAVITY: What recommendations would you give to the Blavity community of black millennials who are interested in entrepreneurship?
BLASTCHAT: Firstly, this will probably be the most difficult thing you will ever do in your life. The reason being is there are little-to-no resources available for us and support isn't easily accessible. Because of this we have to work a million times harder than everyone else. But that’s ok because it will only make us better in the long haul. Our history has shown us that we are a resilient group of people and we overcome everything! Our ancestors gave their lives so we can have the opportunities that we have today. We owe it to them to keep fighting in order to push our culture forward. They really sacrificed their lives for us, the least we can do is look the racism in this industry directly in its eyes and say we will never give up! Secondly, unlike other cultures, most of us are not lucky enough to have access to resources or connections from family and friends. We don't have inheritance money to use for new ventures. But we did inherit swag from our ancestors. So use this swag and get together with other black entrepreneurs and build something people want. This is probably the most important piece of advice. Then when you build the MVP, talk to the users or customers consistently about how you can make your company or product better. Lastly, you can't do this alone! Connect with other black tech entrepreneurs and try to be of value to each other. Individually we may see occasional success, but united we can make a big impact and change things around here!
BLAVITY: I personally really enjoyed the Blast Life episodes. It was entertaining and a great way to meet you guys and understand your story. Do you have more episodes coming soon? Please tell me you guys are still not working in the park?
BLASTCHAT: Yes! More episodes are definitely in the works. Those episodes are meant to put a face behind our brand and show kids from the urban city that there are black people that are cool and fun who start tech companies. Being black in tech has been stigmatized for so long. You were always called a nerd if you participated in anything STEM related. So now it's like, yeah we are “nerds” but we still will kick your ass on the basketball court. Or as you see on the episodes Darrian can out-dance you (maybe not!). But you get the point, we are lit! And it's a bit chilly these days but we're trying to get into an accelerator that just opened up in Newark. I hope we get in. How sad would it be if the only two black people in Newark with a tech company don’t get in? We’ll be forced to take our chances and move to San Francisco.
BLAVITY: What’s been the most difficult part about growing your business and what are you doing to overcome that?
BLASTCHAT: I think we all know how hard it is to be black in the tech industry. There have been times when we've had investors walk away from us while we were pitching to them. Literally, just walk away from us while we were pitching. That was a daunting experience. We are able to laugh at it now, but the lack of resources and support makes this seem nearly impossible, but the respect and acceptance that we receive from our users balances it out and it motivates us to keep going. Our solution to this is simple, keep listening to our users and keep building and making the product better. Something good will come out of it, eventually.
Another difficult thing to overcome is changing human behavior because most people are followers and do not have any foresight whatsoever, they sit around and wait for the cool people to lead them. There have been times when would pitch Blastchat to content creators, letting them know that they would be able to get content in their respected audience hands faster than many other platforms - and we get responses like “We use Twitter. We are happy with our content distribution strategy.” And we are like HOW? You have 11,000 followers, 75 percent of them are either bots or haven't used the service in years, 15 percent haven't used it in the past two months and 5 percent use it once a week. So in some cases having 100 loyal Blastchat followers is better than having 11,000 bot followers on other platforms. The solution to this is simple; stay persistent and keep pitching. These days it’s easier to convince content makers to use Blastchat because we were able to get All-Star point guard from the Cleveland Cavs, Kyrie Irving, to join and send blasts to his fans. One of the most amazing people out there; he’s one of those cool people.