The Download: Jimmy Xu, Co-Founder and CTO, Highrise

Jimmy Xu is the Cofounder and CTO of Highrise. Highrise is a social virtual world for gen-z that is backed by the likes of Y Combinator, Bessemer, and the founders of King.

After working on his PhD at the University of Washington, Jimmy moved down to Silicon Valley and spent time with Apple in hardware design before leaving to start Highrise. Jimmy moved out to the Triangle area three years ago, and is now focused on growing Highrise as a remote company with a truly global presence.

  1. What is in your pockets?
    I only carry AirPods and my wallet. I come from an engineering background and tinker a lot. Everything in my house is outfitted with smart devices, so doors automatically open when I get near.

  2. What exciting has happened recently for you or your organization?
    My company is called Highrise and we’re a consumer mobile product company. We make a mobile social network for Gen Z, who are 13 to 22 years old. Our approach is basically to take Facebook and Snapchat and combine it with Second Life. You have avatars and a virtual world to socialize and make connections, and that’s the product that we have on Highrise. We launched the network three years ago and started the company five years ago.

    LogoWe were bootstrapped for the first four years and been profitable. Up until then it had been very much an iterative learning experience. We now have three million users. About a year ago we decided all the metrics were looking good and it was time is scale up and to raise venture capital. We raised about $3 million from Y Combinator and Bessemer, some pretty big New York and San Francisco VCs, and started developing our Android product and scaling our international team. All those things are lined up to release around mid-to-late summer this year and then will go from there.

    What is exciting now is this year we transitioned to be fully remote. We have about 20 people. Previously we had an office that had eight or nine people in downtown San Francisco and then everyone else was distributed including 13 here in North Carolina, and someone in the UK, Argentina and Croatia. At the beginning of this year we decided we should fully commit to being a remote company and disperse everyone and focus on the best practices of being remote including a lot of documentation, everything being communicated over tools like Slack or Skype, and focus on developing that culture. We see that is the direction that the industry is going and now we don’t have any offices. Everyone either has like a personal WeWork or they’re working from their own offices.

  3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
    Cocoa Cinnamon because it is close by and has the most density of tech people. The last time my coworker from San Francisco visited, we were talking about bitcoin and blockchain and someone else chimed in that worked on bitcoin and is now at IBM working on blockchain. That’s something that used to be fairly exclusive to Silicon Valley, Mountain View cafés.

  4. What keeps you up at night?
    We are a consumer software product company, which is different than a typical enterprise or SaaS company. For us, it’s not about month-over month-growth of 10 to 15 percent. Once you hit product-market fit, you can be growing astronomically like Facebook, and then it is just a matter of scaling to 100 million users and you’re done. We’re not quite at that stage yet. Our product has traction and metrics but we’re not fully proven. There’s still quite a bit of ups and downs where one week we can think we have this feature and the numbers are looking really good and this is it, and then the next couple of weeks it didn’t work out and we are back to the drawing board. It is very much more of a roller coaster for us than for a traditional SaaS company. That is what keeps me up at night.

  5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
    My favorite restaurant right now is Thai @Main Street in Durham. It’s great. I call and they know me by name. I pick up my order and leave. So for us it’s just speed and convenience.

  6. What is next for you or your organization?
    Next for the company is a focus on growth. Our goal is to scale 2-4x by the end of this year. Our team right now is about 20 people. I feel that’s pretty good size for the stage were at so we’re probably going to keep it around 20 because in consumer software you don’t need a lot of headcount. After this year the idea is to have a successful product, that’s generating revenue, and making profit, that we would reinvest into developing additional products in this virtual social field. We’re probably one of less than five companies in this very new niche field. I think there’s a lot of room for something big to emerge out of it. I think we are in a position to be that company.

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About Brooks Malone 18 Articles
Brooks Malone is a NC CPA and Partner with Hughes Pittman & Gupton, LLP, and leads the Technology practice group. Brooks is also listed contributor to the National Fast Trac Tech Curriculum that was funded by the Kauffman Foundation. Brooks was named one of the 40 Under 40 in May 2005 by the TBJ, received the Outstanding service to Entrepreneurs Award in 2008 by CED, and named to the Leadership Raleigh Hall of Fame in October 2011. Brooks is a graduate of North Carolina State University and is active at American Underground and HQ Raleigh.