Designing an app and launching a company while still in college is a pretty big achievement. For Bellarmine University student Michael Brizendine, it was a feat made even more astounding considering what he had endured to that point.
When he was 10 years old, Brizendine was attending school in Port-au-Prince when a catastrophic earthquake rocked Haiti. He had just excused himself to go to the outside bathroom when his school building collapsed. He was the only student to survive. Meanwhile, his parents were killed when their home collapsed, leaving him with no living relatives.
Two years later, he was adopted by an American couple on a church mission trip. His adopted father, grandfather, and uncle are Bellarmine alums so deciding to attend the school was an easy one for him and one that he is happy he made. “At Bellarmine, you can get to know your professors and have coffee with them.,” he said.
A little over a year ago, Brizendine and a London-based friend who goes by Shaquile N. thought of an idea for a non-public social media space for friends and family. Brizendine designed the app and named it Yornest.
Louisville Future spoke with Brizendine about the tech behind his app and what the future holds.
What need does your app fill?
Brizendine: My co-founder and I felt that, although there’s a lot of social media space for groups of friends—Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook—the posts aren’t really private. Anything you post is out there. We wanted to create the same type of social space for our friends that is not public. We are both engineers, so it was easy for us to start coding it and get it off the ground.
How did you roll it out?
Brizendine: We rolled the beta out to friends and family at first. But word spread, and now we have 600 beta testers who are trying it out and helping us hone the product. We realized people really do want something like this, so we decided to create a startup around it.
How are you funded?
Brizendine: We haven’t gotten funded yet. We’ve just been working on this on our own. We are now starting to connect with investors and people who would like to help us move it forward.
How is Yornest different from a group chat in, say, iMessage?
Brizendine: Our product is social media in the form of a group chat. Think about group chat in your iMessage. You probably have a group chat for your family. We thought, what if we can bring cool features from Facebook and Instagram that people love so much (sharing pictures, videos) right into their group chats?
Instead of having to actually go out of iMessage, you can enjoy streaming features or whatever you love the most from typical social platforms right into it. So it looks different from typical texts. For example, you can send pictures, which are displayed just like you on Instagram without actually being on Instagram.
Did you design the app?
Brizendine: Yes, with my co-founder. I was not a designer. However, I didn’t have the capital to hire one, so I drew everything on paper. People didn’t understand the concept from that. So I had to learn design.
What are the next steps?
Brizendine: I’ve been looking at accelerators and such to help me navigate the world of fundraising. I hope to grow the company, and I hope people will find the value in it.
The app is available only for iPhones. You can download it from the App Store. For more on Brizendine’s story, click here.