Creating a social advice platform for a new generation
Advice comes from those closest to you
In high school, I often sought advice from my older brother. Older siblings offer better advice than teachers or counselors because they have trekked through the same path. Additionally, they share your experiences — they know the people you know, the community you are situated within, and the challenges you face/will face.
Whether it's about the workload that comes with joining a charity club or the approach I should take when negotiating grades with my economics teacher, who also taught him, my brother's advice always provided me with an additional layer of clarity. His hindsight became insights for me, which, while I could have figured out with time, I was much better positioned when leveraging his experiences.
Over a casual dinner with my close friend Eric, who happened to major in computer science, I brought up the idea of creating a digital marketplace for tailored advice. He validated my idea by sharing how, many times during the semester, after pulling all-nighters, he would think: "wow, this difficult course concept can be summarized into two sentences." We bonded over how it was often easier to ask a friend to explain a complex idea than to ask the professor. And after much thinking, we came up with a few reasons.
We found that Generation Z needs conversational language to pick up concepts quickly. We conduct most of our conversations over text, and so we are used to using abbreviations and slang. Compared to writing long, carefully thought-out emails, which has a barrier itself as it affects our professional relationships, conversing with loose analogies and colloquial language helps us convey complex ideas more efficiently and effectively, all without the fear of "sounding stupid."
Additionally, talking with friends is fast and easy, as they will answer you as soon as possible, rather than get back to you in a few business days.
Lastly, it's easier to talk to a friend because of the relatability factor. Because they have trekked on similar paths, they know the people you talk about in your stories, the communities you are in, or the challenges you are facing/foresee you facing. They can approach problems from your perspective.
We saw an opportunity to build an app for conversationally exchanging tailored advice for specific questions like "which professor should I take for OrgComm at NYU if I have a fear of public speaking?" or "what are some unique restaurants in Little Italy that I can impress my date with?" And so, we recruited our friends Josh, a diligent worker with solid experience in coding, and Enzo, who has a knack for social media, to flesh out the idea and begin prototyping.
But... Doesn't it Already Exist?
We met twice a week, mainly focusing on what other online forums lacked and how we could differentiate from Quora and Reddit, two existing solutions on the market.
Using what we know, and the insights gathered through interviews with family and strangers that fit within our customer segment, we concluded that Generation Z does not use Quora because the answers posted are too long. As our attention span shrinks due to the rise of short-form content. As social media begins to prioritize image and video content, our generation tends to stray away from long text posts. Moreover, users only use the app when they need answers instead of for entertainment, so the average session duration is low compared to other social media, preventing active communities from forming strong relationships with users.
We found that Reddit is "cool" among our generation and is trustworthy. However, when people want answers, the first place to go is not Reddit. The website primarily focuses on things people find interesting, whether it's memes or online influencers, not sharing insights. Additionally, its communities are broad (e.g., r/movies), the answers are vague, opinions are diverse, and advice is not tailored.
We identified the most significant pain point for users in online forums is when questions go unanswered. It can be highly infuriating to structure a complex thought, type it out, and post it — all not to receive a reply. Keeping this and the shortcomings of Quora and Reddit we identified in mind, we decided to build TwoCents. This mobile app fosters an environment where users can profess knowledge and advice from their lives, academia, and careers to those seeking answers.
Our app differentiates in a few ways. First, it incubates niche communities — unlike those on Reddit. This is because when one has a question, they would ask those in their immediate community, not those who participate in similar environments worldwide. For example, if an individual asks for advice in running for an executive position in the marketing club at NYU, they would ask a friend or peer in the club, not someone in the marketing club at Peking University.
Secondly, questions should be time sensitive, as users don't want to receive an answer two years later, as there is usually urgency attached to questions.
Lastly, there needs to be a strong appeal to the younger generation, who don't like to read texts but prefer audio and short-form video posts.
Founders Searching For Advice From Founders
After agreeing on a direction and designing a low-fidelity prototype in Figma, my team and I brought our ideas to the Founder's Challenge meetings. We received new perspectives from a fresh set of eyes. My conversation with Sean was particularly memorable, as he had experience with connecting applications to FireBase, the backend system we were using. Another member, Simon, recommended we consider a bounty system where users can put a price on the question they want answers on. And, to fuel our motivation, we looked towards Jerry, who had secured funding for his app and is actively marketing it both online and in person.
The weekly meetings at the Founder's Challenge kept us accountable as we worked to ensure we had something tangible to update everyone on. Looking forward, my team and I will work towards completing a high-fidelity prototype and validate/invalidate assumptions with potential customer segments, as well as continue to update our peers at the Founder Challenge on our progress and receive invaluable feedback that other entrepreneurs can offer.
You can get in contact with myself and the TwoCents team at firstname.lastname@example.org