New startup joins social media world

Internet startup founder Scott Johnston ’82 spoke about his new website and the role of social media in modern relationships at a Wednesday master’s tea.

Johnston, co-founder and vice chairman of internet startup Wayin — a website founded in 2010 that encourages users to post photos with polls in the hopes of generating discussion — spoke to six students about the relationship between data and social media in his alma mater, Pierson College. Johnston emphasized that Wayin and other social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, can help people expand their social horizons and connect with strangers — redefining the way people approach friendships and relationships.

Johnston cited Dunbar’s Law, which states that one person can maintain a maximum of 150 stable friendships, and argued that social media sites have made it possible to exceed this friend limit.

“Social media lets you violate Dunbar’s Law,” Johnston quipped. “You never have to lose track of anyone ever again.”

Wayin, which Johnston co-founded with chairman Scott McNealy, aims to help users find common ground with an unlimited number of other users on the site through questionnaires, discussion forums and images. The goal, he said, was to create a centralized place where people could interact through the photos and accompanying questions they shared — from serious ethical inquiries to random trivia and opinions.

On Wayin, users must post both a photo and a question as a package, Johnston said. Questions can be left open-ended, or be created with a set of answer options that the user designs, he said. The site organizes questions by category, such as sports, politics, travel and photography, he added, and allows users to “follow” each other.

The polls Wayin offers are different from others available on the internet because it allows users to access the demographic information of people who answer their questions, Johnston said. He added that Wayin is particularly attractive to advertisers, as they can use the demographic information to determine which groups of people like their products most.

Johnston said Wayin’s founding was a “very improbable” story. After graduating from Yale, Johnston said he founded and served as the chief executive of hedge fund Peconic Management for 11 years. He then worked as a managing partner at the Belstar Group, a New York-based investing firm, and eventually left that job to pursue Wayin with McNealy. Though Johnston said heading an internet startup was not a viable career option when either he or McNealy graduated college, he added that technology has progressed dramatically since then.

“If you plucked one of us from 1982 to Yale now it would have been very confusing,” Johnston said. “A lot of it would have seemed like magic.”

As the site grows, Johnston said he envisions companies using Wayin to survey workplace morale, or teachers and professors using the site to encourage participation among quieter students.

Johnston also noted that his site has a privacy policy, which states that people should not sign up for accounts if they do not want their information made public or used for targeted advertising. He added that privacy concerns are a “very big deal” for all social media sites.

Two students interviewed, both of whom are considering careers in social media, said they found Johnston’s talk helpful and agreed that social media is a growing field.

Wen Hu ’12 said he thinks Wayin is unique in the social media world because it has the potential to be developed further. He added that Wayin could become another social media site that students use to waste time, much like Twitter or Facebook.

“It’s a very general platform, so you can do anything and everything on it,” Hu said.

Kevin Lai ’13 said he thought the talk was valuable for students interested in starting their own businesses.

Wayin currently has 100,000 users, according to Johnston.

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