That Michael Pinsky and Vaidhy Murti met by chance watching a Yankees game as freshmen at Princeton University is ironic given their current circumstances.
This week, the two young men took national a startup called Friendsy that relies on the power of technology to help college students meet new people on campus. And they're aiming high. As one venture capitalist recently told the pair, the app could do to Tinder what Facebook did to Myspace.
"It's not always so easy," Pinsky said during a recent phone interview, of making real-life connections.
Launched in May 2013, Friendsy soon expanded to about 40 campuses and about 24,000 users. On Monday, they went national to more than 1,600 campuses, and picked up more than 12,000 new users in just two days.
Call it arrogance or call it optimism, but the young men, both 21 and set to graduate this spring, say they think they can help college students connect with each other where established social networking sites like Facebook, Tinder, and Yik Yak fall short.
Friendsy is different, Pinsky says, because it's only open to people with .edu email addresses.
"People don't really like to have all those extra people diluting their network in college," he said.
But he bristles at the idea that Friendsy is simply vintage Facebook. Facebook has always offered people who meet in real life a chance to connect after-the-fact. Friendsy, Pinsky said, flips that.
The service, which started as a website and morphed into an app, shows students who else is on campus (or at a nearby campus, a recently added feature), and then lets them tap a button to express an interest in dating, hooking up with, or becoming friends.
The app also lets people chat with each other and offer anonymous compliments through a feature called "Murmurs."
Pinsky doesn't deny the potential creep factor involved, but says his team of seven manually monitors all comments.
"It makes it a really clean service," he said. "You can't really have a negative experience on Friendsy. It's a very positive space."
That stands in stark contrast to Facebook's origins as a "hot or not" site, and Pinsky said it is positivity that makes Friendsy unique in the social media realm.
But Pinsky, who is studying psychology and American Studies, acknowledged that maintaining that feel-good environment as the company grows is a challenge. His team is considering replacing people with a program coded to weed out negativity. All of them, including Murti, who is studying computer science, have "very technical backgrounds," he said.
And the company is growing.
Pinsky and Murti, who initially funded their dorm room-hatched idea on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, have raised about $200,000 in funding. The team has received support from Princeton through the university's summer accelerator and incubator programs. They're currently in talks with potential investors, but Pinsky is tightlipped beyond that, saying only "we have some people who are very interested."
There are no immediate plans to monetize, he said, adding that his team is watching how competitors — he names social networking giants like Whatsapp, Facebook, and Tinder — try to turn a profit. Tinder, he points out, just made users very unhappy by putting premium features behind a paywall. Put that under the "what not to do" column.
"We're kind of curious to see what the market does," Pinsky said, "but right now it's not a concern."
As with most startups, the current version of Friendsy looks different than the original. Students can now "match" with college students at nearby universities and aren't restricted to their own campus, a change the team made after hearing feedback from early users. They also ditched the initial website after discovering students preferred to use Friendsy on the move, but they might resurrect it in the future, Pinsky said.
They're also still deciding how to handle students once they graduate. Right now, they're unceremoniously booted off the site, but Pinsky says the team is considering "something along the lines of an alumni network." Unlike with Facebook, which lets people join pages and groups on their own, Friendsy would place people into networks.
After their own graduation, Pinsky and Murti will turn their full attention to growing Friendsy.
One issue the team is still grappling with is that at schools where students and faculty have similar email addresses, non-students might be able to sign up. But Pinsky says it hasn't been a problem and there's a "report user" feature that he's certain students would be quick to utilize if they spotted a professor lurking amongst them.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.