Yo! to invest

Why I’m so excited about our investment in Yo! 

Matt Hartman
Jul 18, 2014 · 5 min read

If you think “Yo” has two characters, you’re not counting in binary. Yo is your mailman putting up the mailbox flag. Yo is a buzzer going off letting you know your table is ready. Sure, person-to-person Yo’s can be fun and playful — I have a few friends I Yo just to let them know I’m thinking of them. Even sometimes functional — my dad Yo’s me to see if I’m in a place where I can Facetime. However, let’s set those aside those for a moment and focus on the true power of Yo, its API.

In a world where everyone implicitly assumes “there’s an app for that,” Yo has the potential to be a layer for all the products and services that don’t actually need — and where users don’t want — a dedicated app. Yo does this along three axes: notifications, buttons, and friction.


We are at a point where there is complete content overload. There are lots of places for over-communication yet few places designed for only the updates that are actually important/useful. Add to that the cognitive weight of that red badge in the corner of your email, Facebook, and Twitter apps. The result is more and more people completely disabling notifications for non-essential apps, effectively saying that so many have abused their privilege to notify me that now almost all notifications are turned off so nothing gets through — not even the notifications users might actually want.

As an API, Yo provides a new access point to users, with an implicit agreement only to notify about the most important thing. So, regardless of whether you have an app, you might still have a Yo account that alerts your users about something specific. For example, while I go to Product Hunt almost every day, I get a lot of utility from the Yo account PRODUCTHUNTED, which push notifies me whenever there’s a product that gets over 100 upvotes. When I get that notification, I know to make sure to check out what product everyone’s getting so excited about.

As notifications become more prominent in iOS 8, more companies will want access to that layer and they don’t all have compelling enough reasons for users to download their apps. In the restaurant buzzer example from earlier, it’s pretty unlikely I’d want to download the restaurant’s app just to be notified when my table is ready — even if it were an app that worked with multiple restaurants. I just wouldn’t use it enough for it to warrant downloading an app.

However, if all I have to do is give the restaurant my Yo name, then I instantly give them the ability to push notify me without downloading an app, and I don’t even have to give them my phone number to text me, which is nice as a privacy control. In fact, there’s no way for them to spam me afterwards because the context of “we’ll Yo you when your table is ready” is now gone.


The second side of the API is Yo as a button, or the input layer. Just like I don’t need an app for everything that wants to notify me, I don’t necessarily need an app for every function I want to perform. As IoT (Internet of Things) devices start to penetrate the market, do I need a separate app to turn on my coffee machine, to turn on my air conditioner? For these simple “power on” or binary actions, Yo may start to serve as the button layer for IoT devices without screens but with simple functionality. Sure, I might set the temperature manually, but to be able to turn my A/C on while I’m on my way home shouldn’t necessitate an entire app.

IFTTT recipe: If Yo, then Aros


For those who haven’t played with the Yo API, a regular Yo user account is different from an API account on Yo. From an API perspective, user names are really just “apps” on Yo. This is powerful.

Right now, there’s still a fair amount of friction to get users to download and try your app. You have to build the app, let potential users know about the app, then they have to download it, type in their password or thumbprint in the iTunes store, and wait for it to download. If they’ve forgotten about it, it’s relegated to the last screen (their anti-homescreen?), and if it wasn’t something they needed to use immediately, then four months later when they see it again on their anti-homescreen, they delete it figuring they would’ve used it by now if they really needed it.

Compare that to posting one sentence that says “Yo WORLDCUP to get a Yo whenever a goal is scored.” Better yet, Yo uses deeplinking in apps to shorten this to one click. Just use the url yo://YOAPPNAME and when users with the Yo app click that link on their mobile device, they’ve automatically added your YOAPPNAME to their Yo account as if they typed it in themselves. One click on that link on your iPhone and it’s added. That’s not very much friction.

Of course, this frictionless adoption only works when people have the Yo app to begin with. This will be difficult and Yo has a lot of work ahead of it. But all of the chatter about Yo helped them pick up over a million users. Not a bad start.

What it all means

Startups are risky. At betaworks, I’m lucky enough to be able to be part of an investment team that likes betting on unique, thoughtful products where the founders have an insight that few others see. Yo is exactly the type of company I hoped I could invest in when I joined — a compelling founder building a simply designed and beautifully executed product with an ambitious vision which could change the way that we communicate with the services and devices around us.

Join me at the Yo hackathon in nyc Saturday, July 26th. More information here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/yo-hackathon-nyc-2-letters-2-hours-ready-set-yo-tickets-12145608843

I’m @matthartman on twitter. To get a notification when I’ve written an essay, just Yo MATTHARTMANBLOGGED.

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