The Keller Center recently caught up with PEC Tiger Entrepreneur Award winner and eLab alum and current eLab mentor Vaidhy Murti ’15. Vaidhy is the co-founder of Friendsy, a social networking app that enabled college students to meet each other. A classic startup that came out of a Princeton dorm room, Friendsy grew with the support of the Keller Center eLab Summer Accelerator and the Princeton Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund (AEF), gaining 300,000 users and 3 million matches.
KC: Hello Vaidhy and congratulations on the PEC Tiger Entrepreneur Award. Did you ever envision this when you first walked into eLab in 2014 with your idea for Friendsy?
VM: Thanks so much! I'm honored to be one of this year's award recipients, and I absolutely never envisioned this when I first walked into eLab in 2014. At that point in time, Friendsy was a small prototype running out of my dorm room with the vision to help college students meet the amazing people around them. We had a few thousand users at a handful of schools, but the majority of the investors/advisors we met with didn't think we would be able to scale up our product to the masses. eLab's support gave us much needed external validation, and was a pivotal experience for our young company.
KC: As a Princeton student how did your friends and family react to pursuing a career in the entrepreneurial space?
VM: Generally, my friends and family have always been really supportive. Although this was a situation in which the future of Friendsy was very uncertain, they continued to encourage me through the highs and the lows. At first, I wasn't actively thinking about my career at all - I just really wanted to work on Friendsy and keep trying to grow it. Eventually, when my friends were getting full-time jobs senior year, I had to face the situation, but I knew in my heart what I wanted to do. I was really fortunate to be in a position where it was feasible for me to pursue Friendsy after graduating.
KC: We understand Friendsy is no longer up and running, what did you learn from having to end a project you worked so hard to create and grow?
VM: As time went on, we realized that it would be hard to meaningfully monetize Friendsy, given our core demographic and the hyper-competitive space. Eventually, we had to inform our users and our investors that we would no longer be actively supporting the product, although it would still be up and running (and it still is!!!). It broke my heart as I pressed send on our “shutting down” e-mail and watched it being sent out to of all of our users. The sadness and disappointment I felt as I communicated this bad news to our investors was soul crushing.
However, the outpouring of support after Friendsy’s shut down was unlike anything we could have ever imagined. We received hundreds of e-mails from people sharing their Friendsy stories with us, thanking us for helping them make these special connections possible. These stories ranged from people who had made their best friends through the app, to people who have met the love of their life. We even learned of a few couples who had gotten married!
Similarly, I was astounded by the amount of positive support and words of encouragement that our investors had for us. I fully expected to be shunned for not delivering a return on investment, but instead our investors told us they were proud of efforts and determination, and said that they would love to invest in what we build next. That was the biggest lesson for me - that entrepreneurship is a journey with countless roadblocks, failures, and setbacks. And even though the Friendsy story didn't end the way we wanted to, it taught us so many valuable life lessons that are now helping us tremendously with our current projects.
KC: What are you working on now and how will your experience with Friendsy and eLab integrate into your new project?
VM: For the past year and a half, my core team from Friendsy and I have been running a product development studio focused on building high quality minimum viable product for early stage startups. Our experience with Friendsy and eLab prepared us very well to deal with the various technical and growth challenges facing our customers. Two of the projects we have worked on are founded by Princeton alums, and we have been working on DonorUP, a new philanthropic giving platform, for over a year now.
In addition, we have been actively working on internal projects with the hope of launching a new app! Five months ago, we were inspired to create Wit, a winner-take-all video contest with the goal of filling the funny short form video void left by Vine’s disappearance. We launched the app in beta last month, and we'd love any product feedback and of course, 5-star reviews :) Link:
KC: Do you think your Princeton experience gave you a unique perspective when starting your own company?
VM: Definitely! Apart from the quality education, it was awesome to be surrounded by so many diverse, talented people from different walks of life. It certainly made building a team easier, as a lot of our initial recruiting was done at Princeton. Additionally, having the amazing support of the Princeton community every step of the way was a giant blessing. We were helped in so many ways by so many people (the Keller Center/eLab staff, our eLab mentor Simon Hopkins, the AEF program), and I'm very grateful for all of the encouragement we received along the way.
KC: Any advice for current students who are thinking about applying for the eLab summer Accelerator Program?
VM: Do it!!! The eLab program was a phenomenal experience that helped us grow Friendsy from a dorm room dream into a real product that has now connected many college students and made a positive impact. It allowed us to continue to work on Friendsy as students, and positioned us to raise an institutional round of VC funding and work on Friendsy full time! If you have an idea you're working on, a problem you're passionate about solving, or even a basic prototype you've always wanted to further develop, I would highly recommend the eLab program!!! It's an unbelievable opportunity that very few people are lucky enough to have the chance to be a part of.
KC: Thank you Vaidhy. Best of luck and we’ll see you in the eLab this summer.