Startups to Watch: ZeeMee found profitability by taking a community approach with its college app
Length: • 3 mins
Annotated by Gilbert Bagaoisan
Editor's note: In our 2023 Startups to Watch feature, the Silicon Valley Business Journal and San Francisco Business Times present startups and founders doing unique things in the Bay Area. Fizz is one of 15 we profiled this year — to read more about our mission and the other startups we're featuring, click here.
The startup ZeeMee Inc. can boast of something not many other young companies can: it's profitable.
The Palo Alto-based startup was one of several to try to bring a new social networking experience to college campuses a decade after Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook (for another example, check out Fizz, another one of Bay Area Inno's Startups to Watch). And it succeeded not just by giving students another way to interact with each other, but by helping colleges themselves to help find the right students that are a match for their campuses.
But, according to its founders, the company really took off four years ago when it launched ZeeMee Communities, which gave students a more robust social networking experience and outside brands — like musician Ed Sheeran — an eager audience for whom to market.
The next step for ZeeMee, which was founded and developed by Adam Metcalf but is now led by CEO Vanessa Didyk, is to follow its student base off campus as they start their working lives.
- Founded: 2014
- Founders: Vanessa Didyk, CEO; Mini Krish, CFO/COO; Adam Metcalf, original founder and chief evangelist
- What it does: Help students make new friends
- HQ: Palo Alto
- Employees: 27
- Total funding: $17.8 million
Describe what your business does for someone from Mars? We help students that are heading to college to make friends and connect in safe, affirming and loving communities
How different is the company you have today compared with the company you first envisioned? When we first started ZeeMee, we were focused on helping students bring their story to life in the college application process. We discovered that students were much more interested in making friends and so in 2018, under Vanessa's leadership, we launched ZeeMee Communities and it took off. We just hit #13 most downloaded social app and we are growing on campuses now by helping students move from meeting in the app to meeting up for events.
How do you plan to weather tough economic conditions and lack of available VC funding? We are now cash flow positive, so we try to keep our burn low and continue to drive revenue.
Do you have an exit strategy? We would love for ZeeMee to become the go-to app to pull up at every stage of life beyond college to find new friends and connect in new communities. You graduate from college and move to a new neighborhood, you can use ZeeMee to see people in the neighborhood that share your same passions and interests and become friends. With that in mind, we would love to take the company public at some point. At the same time we are open to strategic M&A that would complement the existing experience on ZeeMee for our users and partner schools.
How do you plan to scale? We will be focusing on more college partnerships in 2023 and expanding on to campus to help students connect and combat loneliness, depression and anxiety. We also launched brand partnerships in 2022 and within three months we were partnered with Ed Sheeran, Def Jam Records and Super. We are going to continue to pour into brand partnerships and continue to expand our college base. We have now spread into grad schools, law schools and online schools looking to create community.
What other businesses and business leaders give you inspiration? Vanessa Didyk: Lately I've been really inspired by Sarah Friar at Nextdoor. Not only is she is a strong and compassionate leader who has made some incredible changes at that company, but she also manages to remain human and deeply connected to her employees and her user community. Adam Metcalf: I've always been inspired by Bandwidth.com founder Henry Kaestner. He has taught me a great deal about creating beautiful company culture and how to love your team well.