Diarra was then working as a digital consultant, and Smith was a business manager for hip-hop superstar Drake. The two holed up in a friend’s office and spent days bouncing ideas off one another, Diarra recalled.
“It was like being in a trance,” he said. “We just loved working together and how we think.”
The result of this furious brainstorm session was Surprize, a giveaway platform that allowed users to compete for prizes. It launched in 2018 and attracted a following of eager users, but Diarra said he and Smith quickly realized the giveaways were only one part of what was drawing people to the app.
“The main thing was that people loved deciding what drops and what doesn’t,” he said. “We were inundated with messages on social media and emails from people wanting to say ‘drop this, don’t drop that.’”
The two founders decided to refocus the business around this decision-making element and launched NewNew, a social media app that allows users to share customized polls with friends, giving other users the ability to weigh in on anything from wardrobe decisions to romantic relationships.
Both investors and other businesses have taken notice.
The company has raised seed funding from venture capital firms that include Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund and Canaan Partners.
The company declined to say exactly how much funding it has received overall, but according to PitchBook Data Inc., it’s at least $3.8 million. That makes NewNew one of fewer than 100 startups with a Black woman founder to raise more than $1 million, based on data collected in the 2020 ProjectDiane report from DIDTechnology Inc.
Last year, NewNew collaborated with Snap Inc. through the company’s Yellow Collabs initiative — a program facilitating development of new tools and features within the Snapchat app. As a result, Snapchat users can now integrate NewNew’s polls into messages shared with friends within the app.
“We are trying to build NewNew into something that works across your entire social graph,” Diarra said. “We see NewNew really invading your entire personal use case on a daily basis by enhancing your posts and making them more interactive with your audience.”
Should the app find success, Diarra said it could create new opportunities for brands to engage with customers and for social media influencers to interact with and gain followers.
“Whether you have subscribers on YouTube or followers on Instagram, it’s very easy to suck them into your world when you are vulnerable, and you open up and say, ‘You guys get to decide what I’m going to do today,’” Diarra said.
Jasmine Enberg, an analyst with marketing research firm eMarketer Inc., said NewNew appears poised to take advantage of trends in the social media sphere that have created new opportunities for influencers to capitalize on their legions of followers.
“We’ve been talking a lot about this idea of social entertainment,” Enberg said. “It’s not so much about that traditional idea of social networking but really about entertaining audiences. I think that’s going to be the sweet spot for brands and influencers to connect with followers in the years to come.”
Diarra said NewNew’s polls are designed to give users the opportunity to constantly give and solicit feedback from others, building familiarity and rapport between influencers and their followers.
Jess Hunichen, co-founder of Shine Influencers Inc., a talent agency for social media influencers, said it could be a challenge for unproven companies like NewNew to gain ground in the social media space because most influencers are comfortable working in platforms that already exist.
“It’s challenging to build an audience on a new platform,” Hunichen said.
Polls, quizzes and other forms of interaction already exist in some form on existing platforms, Hunichen points out. Still, she said, influencers and brands won’t hesitate to integrate new tools and features into their posts if they see value in doing so.
“Influencers always want to be giving back to their audiences,” Hunichen said.
Diarra said the NewNew app may change over time, but the company is committed to unlocking the value of engaging users in the decision-making process.
“You always want to know what people think of your choices,” Diarra said. “It’s such a visceral thing. We started to think about how to tap into that social interaction on a deeper level.”
The company is still new, and Diarra said he and Smith have learned a great deal since launching Surprize. Much of that knowledge has come through user feedback.
“The reality is our audiences and our users are the geniuses,” Diarra said. “We listen to what they want, and we adjust the app.”
The company has taken a similar trial-and-error approach to fundraising. Diarra recalled that he and Smith held as many as 50 meetings per week while soliciting seed funding for the business.
“It was a little like a dating game,” Diarra said. “We’d meet with investors and try to figure out if this is going to be a good relationship or a bad relationship.”
Diarra said he and Smith are excited to take what they’ve learned so far and use it to grow the app and attract new users.
“We’re much wiser,” he said. “We’re going to have a mature product, and we know the space.”
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