If BlackTwitter and Slack Had a Baby

May 23, 2016 HBCUMade, Startups

Apple made waves last year when the tech giant unleashed a series of ethnic emoji updates as part of iOS 8.3.  But for many in the black community, the darkening of existing emojis just wasn’t enough.  For those hoping for a social platform that more accurately reflects their culture, look no further than new app Yarding.

Yarding, developed byAlabama State University alum Charles Varner, is a group messaging app that specifically targets urban millennials.  According to Varner, “Yarding works as well with 5 friends as with a community of thousands.  Yarding chats are designed to support large groups for many purposes.”  The app is ideal for every type of group conversation whether it’s personal, professional, or for pure entertainment.

The app sets itself apart from other messaging apps with GIF support and custom emoticons, two options that aren’t present in popular messaging alternatives like GroupMe and Slack.

“Art is my first love, and I believe it’s essential to the soul.” However, his strong desire to experience life at an HBCU took him from his roots in Georgia and planted him firmly in Alabama.  Varner credits his “love for the arts, illustration, and creativity” as part of his inspiration to create Yarding.  But the lack of representation of people of color on popular social media apps was what triggered his curiosity and moved him to action.

“I was browsing on IG and would see a lot of friends and family members substituting certain emojis for emojis reflecting their college and lifestyle experiences.  I thought to myself ‘why hasn’t anyone created emojis that relate to a certain demographic?’”

One popular alternative in most apps is the ‘copy and paste’ emoji.  But these are often of a lesser quality than the ones on your universal keyboard and they’re often much larger.  Varner wanted to create ‘real cultural emoticons that you would use no different than the universal emojis on your keypad’.  He knew that he would need to create an entirely new platform in order to make this a reality.

He also recalls another app with a similar concept hitting the market before he fully developed his concept.

“A new popular app amongst college campuses hit the market that further validated my concept.  This app sort of ruffled my feathers,” Varner said.  But it wasn’t because of this new app possibly infringing on his pending idea.  “When this app first launched, they compiled a list of every college/university in the nation so that users could select their campus or other campuses to view anonymous posts. I noticed they neglected to list any of our Historical Black Colleges. No Howard, no Spelman, no Morehouse.”

Varner was perturbed by the omission of HBCUs because the app’s headquarters was based in Atlanta, a city that’s not only home to HBCUs but also to a large black community.  From this frustration, Yarding was born as ‘a creative platform for us by us’.  The us isn’t just limited to those attending HBCUs.  It’s inclusive of all urban millennials.

What’s especially impressive about Varner’s development of Yarding is that he didn’t have coding experience but still fearlessly leapt forward into the project.

“We’ve been outsourcing for the past 3 years.  It’s been quite a learning experience.  I was recently invited to Silicon Valley for an Accelerator program where I made valuable connects with engineers and software developers.”  The freelance tech community has played a major role in Yarding’s development, and Varner welcomes all interested engineers to offer their expertise as the app continues to grow.

In terms of what’s next for Yarding, there are plans to release a second version in just a few weeks’ time.  Varner has also hinted at some further creative developments.

“We’re building something great here in DC.  While our main focus is building a dope platform for our users and building that audience, we def have some tricks up our sleeves.”

And when it comes to those HBCU students or alumni who are hoping to follow in Varner’s footsteps with a tech creation of their own, Varner urges them to move forward without hesitation and shake off the naysayers.

“Whether you have a tech background or not.  Do it. When they say your concept/business model won’t work or doesn’t make sense (because they will say that), keep pushing anyway. Believe in your startup.”  He also urges fellow HBCU business professionals to offer opportunities to fellow alum once they’ve made it.

You can currently download Yarding for iOS devices and learn more about the company at yardingapp.us.  Also, if you want to join in on the conversation via social media, use #GroupChattingForUs.