July 18, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Technology

Fizz, the anonymous Gen Z social app, adds a marketplace for college students

Teddy Solomon just moved into a new house in Palo Alto, so he turned to the Stanford community at Fizz to furnish his room.

“Every time I go to buy something from someone, I ask them about the market, because I’m really curious about their experience,” Solomon, co-founder of Fizz, told TechCrunch. He’s particularly excited about the $100 TV he received from a graduate student who was about to move away for the summer.

“Did you tell him who you were?” asked Rakesh Mathur, the veteran entrepreneur and investor Solomon brought in to be Fizz’s chief executive.

“Yes, because I asked him like 100 questions about the market,” Solomon replied seriously.

When TechCrunch first meet The co-founders of Fizz, who dropped out of school at Stanford in 2022, said the anonymous social media platform (which has separate communities for each school campus) was only present at a dozen universities. Now, the app is up and running on 240 college campuses and 60 high schools, and the team has expanded to 30 full-time employees and 4,000 volunteer moderators across all schools. Fizz has raised $41.5 million through multiple rounds of funding, fueling the app’s growing presence in campus culture.

Even in those early conversations, Solomon mentioned Fizz’s plans to open a marketplace, where students can buy and sell things like clothing, textbooks, bikes and more. College students often engage in these types of transactions, as they move out of dorms every year and might want to recoup some money on their lightly used calculus textbook.

Image credits: Effervescence

Solomon believes the market for a Gen Z-focused local buying and selling platform is wide open.

“There’s that kind of stigma: If I sell something on Craigslist, I can get kidnapped,” Solomon said. “And the Facebook marketplace… Gen Z doesn’t use Facebook.”

His hunch appears to be right. The marketplace feature was rolled out across Fizz’s hundreds of campuses between March and May of this year, in preparation for the expected end-of-semester sales rush. Solomon said Fizz has posted 50,000 ads on the platform and sent 150,000 direct messages about items. The most popular category is clothing, which accounts for about 25% of the ads.

But Facebook's market won't be an easy competitor to beat. Some young Facebook users say they just go to the platform for the market. Although There are fewer Gen Z users on FacebookMeta is working on recapturing the attention of that generation.

Payments are not yet built into Fizz, so users are responsible for managing their sales. Solomon said Fizz may develop a payments structure to make the marketplace more user-friendly, but it isn’t thinking about monetization yet. While Fizz may be rich in venture funding, this classic Silicon Valley move of prioritizing growth over profits isn’t as feasible in the next generation of social networks.

Fizz is completely anonymous, even on the marketplace. But to enter a school's Fizz community, you must first verify a school email account. So while there's always a risk in meeting a stranger, even if they're coming to your school, users seem to be less hesitant about buying from their classmates.

Image credits: Effervescence

“One of the statistics that we like the most and that we were looking at the other day is that, on average, every seller has two people who contact them before they sell,” Solomon said. “If you know they’re in the next bedroom, you don’t have to figure out if they’re legitimate or not. It’s pretty easy.”

But, as with the anonymous social platforms that preceded it, Fizz has struggled to maintain a safe environment across its campuses. In one high-profile case, a Fizz community wreaked havoc on a high schoolwhile students hid behind anonymity to embarrass and torment other students and teachers.

“We’ve had two communities that we voluntarily shut down just because of feedback from parents and admins,” Solomon said. Fizz has since refocused its commitment to content moderation. In the past, Fizz paid part-time student moderators to oversee its communities. Now, the company has dedicated staff working on trust and safety, and is using technology from OpenAI to make its automated moderation more robust.

However, these efforts may not be enough to alleviate concerns. School administrators have seen dire situations in the past when using anonymous apps. Yik YakThe president of the University of North Carolina, which has 16 campuses, announced Plans to ban Anonymous apps like Fizz, Whisper, and School Sidechat. Therefore, those students will not be able to purchase used textbooks from the Fizz marketplace.

“We're very conscious that as an anonymous Gen Z platform, moderation has to be at our core,” Mathur told TechCrunch.

TechCrunch gained access to a university’s Fizz community. Students were posting about sex and drugs (these topics are allowed on Fizz), but they weren’t bullying each other or sparking harmful dialogue. But this is just one community among hundreds. While Fizz’s push to grow its content moderation team is promising, even the largest and most resourced social platforms still struggle with toxicity.

Fizz’s argument for the platform’s anonymous nature is that it encourages students to talk openly about how they really feel: When a student sees posts about how other people might be stressed about an exam or having social difficulties, they’ll know they’re not alone in those experiences. The upside is that users might find some cool campus-specific memes. Or, now that there’s a marketplace, they might score a great deal on a TV.

Updated 3/7/24 at 4:17pm ET: Apparel makes up 25% of Fizz's listings.

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