College social app Fizz is growing fast — maybe too fast • TechCrunch


It is dark in the technology sector. However, Stanford is so reminiscent of Teddy Solomon’s story of founding Facebook that he was introduced to investor and current CEO Rakesh Mathur as “the next Mark Zuckerberg.” So, is it a good time to build a new busy social app, or is it a complete mess?

Venture capitalists at least seem determined to support the future of social media. Fizz closed a $4.5 million seed round in June, and earlier, the social media app for college students raised a $12 million Series A. This rapid growth from seed to Series A is unprecedented in a bear market, but Fizz seems to be embracing it. Ethic to move fast and (hopefully) break things.

Fizz is only available to college students, and users can access the Fizz community only for their own college. On the app, students can publish text posts, polls, and photos without a username or identifying information. Like Reddit, classmates can upvote or downvote what they see in their feed. Users can DM each other by choosing to reveal their identity if they wish.

When TechCrunch covered Fizz’s seeding in October, the app launched on 13 campuses (each campus has its own community). In less than two months, this number has doubled to 25 campuses. With a Series A round led by NEA with participation from Lightspeed, Rocketship, Owl Ventures, Smash Ventures and New Horizon, Fizz aims to reach 1,000 campuses by the end of 2023.

“What we’ve found is that Fizz is a diverse campus culture, from elite Ivy League schools to party schools and now HBCUs. “Fizz is about giving students a safer, more personal and engaging space, regardless of their experience living on the same college campus.”

He says he’s reached 95% penetration among iPhone users at campuses like Stanford, Dartmouth, Pepperdine and Bethune Cookman (it doesn’t yet have an Android app) — but says the small number of downloads may be inflated because Fizz uses such methods. Offering free donuts in exchange for regular downloads between college-based apps. Regardless, Fitz says that more than half of its users are engaging with the app on a daily basis, an impressive statistic in itself.

Fizz’s ascension was not without conflict, however.

As Stanford Daily reported earlier this month, Fizz had a major security breach in November 2021. Three Stanford students discovered that anyone can easily query the app’s Google Firestone-hosted database to identify the author of any post on the platform. They are paid anonymously. They also found users’ personal information such as phone numbers and email addresses – plus the database was editable, allowing them to edit posts and give any user moderator status.

“As soon as we became aware of the vulnerability, we worked with a security consultant to resolve that particular issue within 24 hours, ending our users’ concerns. We then communicated the fix to all of our users and published the changes on our website,” Fizz co-founder and COO Ashton Cofer told TechCrunch. Fitz told users about the problems in a blog post.

It is industry standard for bona fide researchers to report their results to the company so that they can be corrected before bad actors exploit them when they encounter such obvious weaknesses. But as these well-intentioned students told Stanford Daily, “Fizz’s attorney threatened us with criminal, civil, and disciplinary charges unless we agreed to remain silent about the exposure.” The student newspaper obtained a copy of the letter (note: Fitz was called Buzz at the time).

Lawyers from the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) responded to the three Stanford students’ legal threat.

“Your legal threats against the students jeopardize safety research, discourage exposure reporting, and ultimately reduce safety,” EFF attorneys responded to Fitz.

TechCrunch asked Fizz why the team chose to take legal action at the time. Coffer said he and Solomon followed the recommendations of a cybersecurity consultant.

“After the letter, we sat down with the kidnappers and resolved the matter amicably and no further legal action was taken,” he said. “Since we were a small team at the time, we chose to follow the advice of our advisors and legal advisors, and we’re glad we were able to close the discussion with the researchers.”

Cofer added that the security vulnerability was because the group was so small at the time – it was just Cofer and Solomon, then full-time college students. Now Coffer Fitz says it has a team of 25 employees, including engineers with decades of experience.

“Our security practices have evolved significantly and we are committed to protecting the security and privacy of our users as Fizz continues to grow. Following this incident, we have ensured that our users’ personally identifiable information (PII) is stored in a separate secure database, which is only accessible by Fizz administrators. This means that at any time users of Fizz; “Moderators or launch groups cannot see another user’s PII,” Coffer said.Fizz details its security practices on its website.



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