The Startup
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The Startup

Allow Me to Introduce My New Anti-Phubbing App Company

How we designed an app to stop awkward silences

I wanted to share a proud moment with my Medium family.

I’ve been writing on Medium for over four years. I’m the editor of Entrepreneur’s Handbook, where we publish early-stage stories about entrepreneurs that blend inspiration with practical takeaways.

I’ve interviewed Daymond John, Guy Raz, Scott Walchek, and the CEOs of Jersey Mikes Sub Sandwiches and Orangetheory Fitness.

In all the stories I tell, I’m usually writing about other entrepreneurs doing amazing things.

Today, I get to tell my own story.

I’m delighted to announce my co-founder and I incorporated our company and I’m officially the CEO of Party Qs, Inc. 🎊

From partyqs.com

In this story, I want to share what my cofounder and I built and why, the problems we’re trying to solve, and how we’ve been able to grow an app to over 3,000 monthly active users without spending a dime.

I know it’s early but I wanted to start documenting this journey now. I believe we’re at a critical juncture (with potentially really exciting news in the next few weeks).

But I wanted to share this story with you so that you can learn about how to turn an idea into an app for both iOS and Android.

The problems

My cofounder and I set out to address three problems in the world:

1. Social anxiety

At times, we all struggle in social gatherings, but for some of us, it’s a real problem (Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million adults in the US.)

Socializing can be exhausting. Introverted or extroverted, we don’t always know what to say when we’re around people. This is a problem.

2. Surface-level conversations and awkward silences

When nobody knows what to talk about, silence sets in. You know the feeling. Someone might fidget. Another person might hum and look away. Another person might excuse themselves “to use the bathroom.”

“Sedatephobia” means the fear of silence. And when silence happens and the thousands words not being spoken are amplified by the stillness, it can get awkward, especially around the more formal dinner table.

3. Phubbing (i.e., “phone snubbing”)

The Huffington Post and other publications write about how “phone snubbing” is becoming a real problem. Often, in today’s mobile world, people would rather be on their phones than have a face-to-face interaction.

This site about phubbing went viral a couple years ago:

Studies have shown our mobile devices can ram dividing walls between romantic couples, wreaking havoc in the relationship. The fastest way to kill a date is to take out your phone.

Plenty of competition is a good thing

When we thought about how to solve these problems, we turned to apps with conversation-starting questions (ice breakers).

We found a bountiful supply of questions apps. It seems almost every developer and their brother has built a questions app, but no one is actively focusing on fixing the bigger problems discussed above.

We quickly noticed that every conversation starter app had at least one of four problems:

  1. They were poorly designed. Clashing colors. Mismatched fonts. Crowded spacing. Typos, misspellings, and a non-intuitive user interface.
  2. They featured bad questions. I remember seeing one, “Would you rather sweat cheese or bleed mayonnaise?” Boring, close-ended, or juvenile, the questions were dodgy, dismissible, and sometimes even off-putting.
  3. They repeated questions from a small library. I saw one with 50 questions. That’s not a lot of questions. Repeating questions is a algorithmic and experiential weakness, in my humble opinion.
  4. Many of the apps are old and abandoned. The founders have moved on after trying to make a quick, passive buck. They built a questions app because it’s simple and easy, but lack the depth, passion, and commitment to help people solve serious social problems.

This presented a hole in the conversation app market — a market with plenty of entrenched, old, and stagnant players; One that’s ripe for disruption.

Origin story: how we got into this space

A couple of years ago, my wife and I hosted a weekly small group of friends at our one bedroom apartment in Tennessee.

Everyone crowded in and the chatter rose from a handful of disparate conversations.

To get everyone on the same page, feel welcomed and engaged, and to listen to each another, we started out with a single question. It was different every time, ranging from deep questions, such as:

“What makes you feel most alive?”

To fun questions, such as:

“If you could snap your fingers and something appeared every time, and you couldn’t pick money, what would you choose?”

After a good question was asked, the room hushed. Everyone focused on hearing what the others in the room would say. We went around to each person and the colorful answers lit up the room.

It was the perfect start to our night and everyone felt unified.

Like metal detector on the beach, I began compiling a list of these questions. And soon, I had a note in my phone with a list of several hundred interesting conversation starters. I reached out to my college hall-mate, a talented programmer, and we started to build an app.

Months later, we gave birth to the simplest app ever and called it Party Qs. Using React Native, we published the app in both the App Store and Play Store.

Screenshots of the Party Qs App

I’ll admit. The first few months were a slog. We didn’t think seriously about Party Qs until we launched on Product Hunt.

Then it launched on Product Hunt again.

Americanoize Magazine awarded it October 2017’s top new app.

Then a parkouring, back-flipping Instagram influencer couple, Austin Raye and Julian Diagre, gave Party Qs some love on their IG accounts.

Today, Party Qs has 786 curated questions (I entered every single question by hand) and over 3k monthly active users.

I hear stories about how people use Party Qs and a smile breaks over my face every time:

  • During an interview with the founder of RokBlok, I told him about Party Qs. He said, “No WAY. I use that app with my girlfriend when we’re long distance.”
  • One user visits his friends in prison and plays Party Qs to talk about something other than prison stuff.
  • A school teacher loves asking her class of middle schoolers a couple of Party Qs before class.
  • A megachurch youth pastor starts off the weekly youth group with an ice breaker from Party Qs. Party Qs is actually on the printed schedule.
  • Another user spends time with his 12-year-old cousin and uses Party Qs to go beyond the usual “How are you”, “How is school” questions.

Every weekend surges with new users.

Graph of daily app users from the last 180 days

The growth is exciting but we’re about to enter the most challenging part of growing a startup — business model.

The business model is how a startup makes money.

We’ve validated the concept. We know it works, the value is clear, and users enjoy it.

The next step is to generate revenue. And this is where we find out if we truly have a serious business on our hands, or just a side project…

Follow me to get part two of this story (I’m working on it right now).

Part two covers app monetization strategies, how we tested different revenue models, and which one we ended up going with.

Use these links to get Party Qs 100% free on iOS or Android.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 322,555+ people.

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Dave Schools

Dave Schools

#2 at Hopin. Bylines in CNBC, BI, Inc., Trends, Axios. Founder of Entrepreneur’s Handbook and Crypto Handbook. Cofounder of Party Qs app.