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Student-Created Music App “Vibe” Set for Relaunch

Published: 3 weeks ago | 0 comments

Starting in ninth or tenth grade, Ben Snow ’21 became interested in entrepreneurship—specifically social media apps. He viewed Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms as “a sort of Renaissance that changed our way of life and how we could interact and connect with each other.” In high school he spent much of his spare time trying to create his own frameworks and designs for new and different platforms.

During his first semester at Duke, he had the idea for Vibe, inspired by the universal experience of passing the aux cord while driving with friends. He imagined Vibe as a way of replicating that sense of connection through music. The app scans users’ Spotify or Apple Music profiles for their most frequently played artists to create their Vibe profile; users can shuffle through their friends’ libraries and share music, making browsing a social experience.

Snow explained, “From the beginning this was meant to be a positive platform where people could genuinely connect through music. Like Woodstock—the embodiment of how music connects us and can change a generation.”

He spent his whole first semester working on the idea, and in the spring he packaged what he’d developed and presented it to Howie Rhee, Managing Director of Student Programs at Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E). Rhee provided Snow a small grant from I&E and connected him with a graduate student coder.

“At that point, it was real,” Snow said. “I had someone who was actually designing my creative pursuit, which was kind of mind-blowing to me.”

He spent the summer beta testing Vibe—and realized he would need a full team of designers, developers, and ambassadors to power the app. He started with his new roommate, Gaurav Sharma, now Vibe’s CFO. Snow had met Sharma years before at a high school summer entrepreneurial incubator, and Sharma had just transferred to Duke from NYU. “I brought up the idea of Vibe to him,” Snow says, “and we just started talking about it constantly.” Sharma brought on current CTO James Randolph, a coder from Rutgers.

And then, Snow said, “We just got to work.”The student team behind music app Vibe

Throughout Fall 2018, the three worked at least several hours a night on Vibe, talking over a screenshare. They committed to a Spring 2019 launch and entered an intense recruiting period. Within a month they had 15 ambassadors and a development team.

While student representatives can earn swag by getting a certain number of new user signups, Snow says they’re motivated almost exclusively by their passion for music.

“It’s been amazing to see how many college students are just open and willing to work,” Snow said. “Often they get mischaracterized as being only motivated by money or credit, but at this point we have more than 70 ambassadors who have just heart and intrinsic motivation.”

Leading up to the launch, Vibe’s four developers pulled off four consecutive all-nighters to ensure the app was ready for its App Store debut. “It was unbelievably unhealthy and I was certainly concerned about them,” Snow said with a laugh.

Vibe got 500 users on the first day—and 1200 by the time they pulled it down. “The app itself wasn’t ready,” Snow explained. “You can’t rush dev, you can’t rush logic.”

So, after a whole week off, the team reconvened to spend the summer working on Vibe without having to manage a live platform, the ambassador program, or schoolwork. They worked on tech and design advances, as well as marketing and growing their ambassador programs.

After the Duke launch, Snow—who had previously planned to launch at 10 schools—decided to focus on Duke, USC, and the Claremont Colleges. (Snow, who lives in Los Angeles, has friends at the California schools and says that Vibe’s culture and brand “mesh well with California.”)

Now, readying for Vibe’s relaunch, Snow is reflective about his company’s journey. “I want to be cautious, deliberate, and very conscious throughout this process,” he said. “[Vibe] is about human-to-human interactions, and you have to ensure your humanity is present in everything you do. A lot of entrepreneurs have really active egos, and I think that brings them into ethical gray areas where they forget about why they started their companies in the first place.”

And he’s doing his best to avoid all-nighters. “I wake up at 6:00am and just really try to manage my time wisely,” Snow said. “I put my phone in black and white mode so I don’t spend too much time on it.”

Vibe is slated for a November 3 launch on the App Store.

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