Fizz, the anonymous social app for Generation Z, opens up the market to college students

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Teddy Solomon recently moved to a new home in Palo Alto, so he turned to the Stanford community on Fizz to furnish his room.

“Every time I go to someone to buy something, I ask them about the market, because I’m really curious about their experience,” Solomon, Fizz’s co-founder, tells TechCrunch. He’s particularly excited about a $100 TV he got from a grad student who was about to move out for the summer.

“Did you tell them who you are?” asked Rakesh Mathur, a longtime entrepreneur and investor whom Solomon brought on to be CEO of Fizz.

“Yeah, because I asked him about 100 questions about the market,” Solomon said seriously.

When TechCrunch first met Fizz’s Stanford dropout co-founders in 2022, the anonymous social media platform — which has different communities for different school campuses — was only at a dozen colleges. Now, the app is operating on 240 college campuses and 60 high schools, and the team has expanded to 30 full-time employees and 4,000 volunteer moderators across schools. Fizz has raised $41.5 million across multiple funding rounds, fueling the app’s growing presence in campus culture.

Even in those early conversations, Solomon mentioned Fizz’s plan to open a marketplace where students could buy and sell things like clothes, textbooks, bikes, and more. College students often make these kinds of transactions because they move between dorms each year, and maybe they want some money back for their slightly used calculus textbook.

Image Credit: whistle

Solomon believes the market is wide open for a local, Gen-Z-focused buying and selling platform.

“There’s this stigma, like if I sell something on Craigslist, I might get kidnapped,” Solomon said. “And Facebook Marketplace … Gen Z isn’t using Facebook.”

His guess seems correct. The marketplace feature was rolled out to hundreds of Fizz campuses between March and May this year, to avoid the rush of potential end-of-semester sales. Solomon said Fizz has posted 50,000 listings on the platform, with 150,000 DMs sent about items. The most popular category is clothing, which accounts for about 25% of listings.

But beating Facebook Marketplace won’t be easy. Some younger Facebook users say they visit the platform only for the Marketplace. Even though fewer Gen Z users are on Facebook, Meta is working to recapture that generation’s attention.

Payments are not yet integrated into Fizz, so users are responsible for navigating their own sales. Solomon said Fizz may build out a payment structure to make the marketplace more user-friendly, but he’s not thinking about monetization yet. While Fizz may prosper in venture funding, this classic Silicon Valley move of prioritizing growth over profit isn’t as likely in the next generation of social media.

Fizz is completely anonymous, even in the marketplace. But to join a school’s Fizz community, you first need to verify a school email account. So, while there’s always a risk in meeting a stranger – even if they’re at your school – users are less hesitant to buy from their classmates.

Image Credit: whistle

“One statistic we really liked, which we were looking at the other day, is that on average, every seller has two people approach them before they sell,” Solomon said. “If you know they’re in the dorm next to you, you don’t have to figure out if they’re legitimate or not. It’s that easy.”

But like the anonymous social platforms that came before it, Fizz has struggled to maintain a safe environment on all of its campuses. In one high-profile case, the Fizz community wreaked havoc at a high school, as students hid behind the guise of anonymity to embarrass and harass other students and teachers.

“We had two communities that we voluntarily shut down because of the feedback we got from parents and administrators,” Solomon said. Since then, Fizz has refocused its commitment on content moderation. In the past, Fizz paid part-time student moderators to monitor its communities. Now, the company has dedicated staff who work on trust and safety, and it’s using OpenAI’s technology to make its automated moderation more robust.

However, these efforts may not be enough to ease concerns. On anonymous apps, school administrators have seen terrifying scenarios before – remember YikYak? The president of the University of North Carolina, which has 16 campuses, announced plans to ban anonymous apps like Fizz, Whisper, and SideChat from the school. Therefore, those students will not be able to buy used textbooks from Fizz’s marketplace.

“We are acutely aware that as an anonymous, Gen Z platform, moderation should be our core,” Mathur told TechCrunch.

TechCrunch accessed one university’s Fizz community. Students posted about sex and drugs — these topics are allowed on Fizz — but they weren’t threatening each other or promoting harmful dialogue. But this is just one community out of hundreds. While Fizz’s pace of growing its content moderation team is promising, even the largest, most resourced social platforms still struggle with toxicity.

Fizz’s argument in favour of the anonymous nature of the platform is that it encourages students to speak openly about how they’re really feeling – when a student sees posts about how others are stressed about exams or struggling socially, they’ll know they’re not alone in those experiences. The good thing is that users can find some great campus-specific memes. Or, now that there’s a marketplace, they can find great deals on TVs.

Updated, 7/3/24, 4:17 PM ET: Clothing makes up 25% of Fizz listings.

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