The Guy Who Created Yo Just Told Us His Turnaround Plan: 'If Yo Needs To Exist, It Needs To Make Money'

Or ArbelYo/HaaretzOr Arbel

There was a time when Yo was one of the biggest apps in the world. For four days in June 2014, Yo ruled the App Store charts, skyrocketing from obscurity to become, at its peak, the fourth most popular app in the US. 

But now, months after its meteoric rise to fame, Yo has all but disappeared, dismissed as a novelty app by many of the users who embraced it. Despite the change in its fortunes, Yo has been hiring staff, relocating the company from Israel to San Francisco, and attracting global brands to its platform.

Business Insider met with Yo’s CEO Or Arbel in London to discuss the app’s sudden and unexpected rise to fame, as well as the company’s attempt to save itself.

Sat in a central London restaurant, Arbel was using the downtime between meetings to work on Yo, writing code on his laptop amongst the noise.

Or Arbel and Moshe HogegYo/USA TodayOr Arbel (left) sits with Yo cofounder Moshe Hogeg.

Yo started life when Moshe Hogeg, chief executive of Israeli startup Mobli, mentioned to his friend Arbel, a former employee, that he wanted a simple app to call his assistant. Arbel liked the idea, and turned it into Yo after eight hours of coding. Yo is indeed a simple app: At its launch the only thing you could do was send the word “Yo” to another user. 

There was an initial flurry of press after Yo first launched on April Fool’s day. Tech blogger Robert Scoble posted about the app on Facebook, but Yo didn’t receive widespread interest. It launched with an ambitious aim: Arbel wanted to accrue many users quickly. But it didn’t quite go to plan.

“The plan said that we should acquire 250,000 users by the first two weeks, and we launched at the beginning of April and we didn’t get that. We got 50,000 for the whole two months.”

“It took about two months to decide to leave my current startup and do Yo full-time. And after I decided to go to San Francisco, I got a phone call from Tim at the Financial Times and another guy from ThinkProgress, and then the article came.” 

It’s possible to trace Yo’s sudden boost in popularity to a blog post written by the Financial Times’ Tim Bradford on June 18. The post described Yo as “messaging without the messages,” although it also said that the app was “ridiculous.” After the Financial Times post went live, Twitter users began to try Yo for themselves, often sharing mocking posts about it on Twitter.

The wave of lighthearted interest in Yo, often coming from journalists and bankers on Twitter, introduced Yo to an influential audience. Suddenly, everyone was on Yo.

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