Fizz, a burgeoning social network established by two Stanford dropouts, captured the attention and interest of Stanford University students early on with its approach to anonymity and engagement. Now the two-year-old platform is gaining traction well beyond the Stanford campus but, like any social media company, it faces its share of challenges, too.
Fizz operates on a distinct model that invites individuals with a Stanford email address to join its network, allowing them to contribute and comment anonymously within the community. Other users can then upvote or downvote these posts, contributing to the “karma” score of the content and elevating certain users’ “fizzfluence,” even while their identities remain concealed.
Sunny Xun Liu, Associate Director of Stanford’s Social Media Lab, highlights the platform’s appeal, pointing out that Fizz permits open discussions on a wide range of topics, from “sex to drinks to drugs to which classes to come to” on campus. She believes Fizz’s connection to physical campus activities enhances its allure, with its focus on anonymity allowing content to take precedence over authorship.
Despite its local roots, Fizz is expanding its reach. CEO Rakesh Mathur says the network is accessible at more than 80 campuses across the nation and that it aims to expand to 250 schools by year’s end. That success has been accompanied by a substantial boost in funding, with earlier investors Owl Ventures and NEA newly injecting $25 million in Series B funding into the platform at a valuation that Mathur declines to share. (Owl chipped in $10 million, with NEA providing between $12 million and $15 million, according to one source.)
At a time when revenue has become a focal point for VCs, the round is notable. Indeed, the business model is still a “work in progress,” acknowledges Danielle Lay, a partner at NEA and an observer on Fizz’s board. Still, she cites the success of specialized vertical networks in coexisting alongside broader social platforms, noting for example that on a broader-based social network, few would know that Arrillaga, as Stanford students use the name, is a reference to the university’s gym. (The 75,000-square-foot gym was named after billionaire real estate developer and philanthropist John Arrillaga, who attended Stanford on a basketball scholarship.)
Lay also believes that Fizz’s appeal to incoming freshmen provides an added edge, with new students using the app to quickly wrap their heads around what’s going on at a school.
As for whether college students alone can fuel a vast social network one day, Emily Bennett, a principal at Owl Ventures, says she’s not concerned with Fizz’s limited focus today. Fizz can always figure out how to serve members of Gen Z as they graduate, she suggests, explaining that her own stints at Meta, Spotify and the New York Times as a product manager taught her when scaling consumer apps, the focus needs to be “creating real utility with your user base first.”
While Fizz’s rise has been promising, it’s not without hurdles. Fizz has been able to see quick pick-up at schools on the cheap — usually after paying “student ambassadors” to hand out fliers and crucially, suggests Mathur, donuts. But concerns about content moderation and privacy breaches have arisen. Volunteer moderators, primarily students, have the authority to take down posts they consider inappropriate or offensive, and accusations of bias have emerged.
In 2021, Fizz also encountered a privacy breach at the hands of three Stanford students who said afterward that they were “initially concerned by Fizz’s strong public claims of total anonymity.” A year later, Solomon told TechCrunch: “Our security practices have significantly evolved and we remain committed to the security and privacy of our users as Fizz grows.”
Comparisons have arisen between Fizz and YikYak, a once-prominent social network that also targeted college campuses. YikYak’s rapid ascent was overshadowed by concerns over hate speech and threats, eventually leading to its closure in 2017, four years after its launch. Mathur maintains that Fizz is distinct, boasting better onboarding and more stringent moderation, but the inherent complications of managing user-generated content persist.
Amid its challenges, Fizz’s growth continues. The platform has now secured $41.5 million in total funding through various investment rounds, with its founders, Teddy Solomon and Ashton Cofer, recently hinting at more plans for the network’s future, including testing out an online marketplace feature that allows students to sell items to one another.
Mathur further suggests that job listings could be on the horizon, and that a prominent (as yet unnamed) executive is joining Fizz as its chief product officer next month.