The internet can be a scary place, with news feeds full of people picking fights one moment and sharing pics of baby animals the next. Raleigh’s YaHeard aims to rein in the pandemonium by providing a platform specifically for debates.
Initially inspired by ESPN’s “First Take” debate show, Co-Founders Robert Dates and Joshua Puente wanted to build on the idea of people tuning in to a debate for entertainment.
Dates, now the CEO, says the newly re-released app is content-driven, with debate topics ranging from political topics to TV show opinions.
“We want people to do whatever, however they feel, whatever they want to say,” he said. “We just want them to have the comfort to be able to do and say whatever they want.”
The two teamed up with Marcus Spruill and DomiNick Downing and started working on the idea for Raleigh-based YaHeard as undergrads at NC State and eventually formed it officially as an LLC in 2015. Puente has since pursued another opportunity—which the others fully understood and supported—while they continue to work on YaHeard in addition to their full-time jobs.
Spruill, who does “a little bit of everything” for the company as COO, says their platform provides something different than the way people argue on social media now.
“People do that on Facebook and Twitter all the time,” he said. “I think the thing that sets us apart is that it’s a one-on-one conversation, so I can actually talk to someone face-to-face, and my ‘comment,’ if you will, won’t get lost in the sea of comments that could be under a huge post.”
When users open the YaHeard app, they see a feed of debates, with live head-to-head arguments across the top. Users can post questions or provocative statements, which others can react to with a like, dislike or favorite.
Users can comment on a statement, which activates the one-on-one debate feature. Debaters post a short video stating their argument, which the other debater can then respond to with their own video. They go back and forth, with other users able to view and comment on the exchange.
CEO Dates says the platform encourages people to express powerful opinions and create reactions, whether positive, negative or purely entertaining.
“That’s really what motivates us,” he said, “and I’d say with the real world events that go on, the political debates, the sports, anything you could think of, it’s all fuel for our app.”
Calling all creators
When YaHeard released its beta version—which Dates and Puente coded themselves—back in 2015, it got a lot of demand and feedback from users. But at the time, everyone on the team was trying to finish their degrees.
Since graduating, they’ve been iterating the app and in January 2020 released a new version on the Apple iOS app store. The app has 838 users, bringing 200 users from beta and steadily climbing at a pace of 142 new users per month.
At the moment, YaHeard isn’t bringing in revenue, but the co-founders plan on a future business model using advertising and an API, depending on what data users are comfortable with sharing.
The business has been self-funded so far, with the team winning some pitch competitions—like NC State’s Wolf Tank in 2016—and earning some other resources along the way. They plan to raise some investments and eventually move toward an exit.
Today, though, Dates says they take it day-by0-day. Spruill says they’re looking for users who can help get the word out.
“What we’re essentially looking for right now is what we’re terming as ‘creators’ and those early adopters,” Spruill said. “There are people out there who are interested in that and they will post statements and post their opinions. Every social app had to have those types of people at the beginning, so they do exist.”