Today we’d like to introduce you to Vili Vaananen.
Vili, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was an exchange student here at USC 2017. One Friday as a student, I wanted to go out with my friends and have fun. We knew there were a lot of parties going on on and off campus but we didn’t know where and what was exactly going on. So, then we started to call to maybe 10 of our friends but no one really knew exact details about parties which amazed me and it felt frustrating.
I realized that there is no way to quickly find out about events. The only way we could find out about these parties were either word of mouth or facebook. Word of mouth wasn’t working and with facebook, we ran into the problem that we didn’t know which parties we were exactly looking for, so it wasn’t solving this problem for us at all. I realized that social media is missing this case and this is a real problem among students.
That’s when we came up with Highkey, an event platform for students and party organizers. It identifies the hottest house parties on campus during the week.
We launched at USC in August 2018 and our plan was trying to reach 4,000 students during this semester. I was distributing flyers around the campus and contacting house parties so that they tried out to post their parties into Highkey. First parties were successful, people started talking about Highkey and it took off. We reached our original 4,000 user goal in the first three weeks and we had 10k students using Highkey before fall semester ended.
We have just launched our app in six new campuses – seven campuses now overall. We have 23,000 signed up students and we have promoted 388 college events through the app within the first five weeks of school.
We are raising a seed round right now which will enable us to launch Highkey in 40 new colleges during next year.
That’s some really impressive growth! Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Entrepreneurial life is always a roller coaster but that’s what makes it fun. It’s hard to appreciate good times when you haven’t felt the bad times.
Like in every business there’s always something that doesn’t go like planned. We have struggled with hiring right people to be our campus marketing directors and bettering Highkey’s user experience. Struggles like these come and go – just need to take them in as challenges and enjoy the progress.
What else should we know?
Max Prokopenko (co-founder) and I have built already four apps together when we have been trying to figure out how to bring college students closer together. We are finally getting to understand how to create an app for them and what college students are looking for.
Max was also a professional DJ before Highkey and he has seen first hand what kind of hassle it is to promote your event, prepare for your party and manage it during the whole night. I have been in a guest judge in LA Hacks and Junction hackathon and I know how app developers usually go wrong with building too complex app ideas in the very beginning. Now we have a full knowledge about what kind of problem we are dealing with and ideas on how to solve it in the right way.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Our third core member of the team, Jesse Takkinen, completes our Finnish born trio and he’s been part of the team since the beginning we started developing our very first app together.
JR Johnson (Founder of Trippy) and Colin Digiaro (co-founder of MySpace) have been our mentors past 1 year and they have taught me tech business insights, strategies and helped me to lead this ship better. They also challenge our whole team to do better and plan our company’s vision&strategies together with me.
I would also want to add that all of our 20 campus marketing directors are doing a great job right now in new campuses and really buying in to make Highkey very beneficial for college students.