Or Arbel looks understandably exhausted. In between a whirlwind media tour in Silicon Valley he’s stopped by to talk about the app he created earlier this summer over the course of eight hours, then published on April Fool’s Day.
That app, Yo, has inadvertently gone viral, attracting more than 2 million downloads with the simple premise of sending anyone the word “yo.” It has sparked derision and, with more than $1 million in funding, near certainty that a bubble is about to burst in Silicon Valley.
But it takes much to dampen Arbel’s spirits.
When he first shared the app with a trusted circle of advisors in Israel saying “Meet Yo, a zero-characters communication tool,” one of them called it “the stupidest app” he’d ever seen. Since then he’s learned to ignore the stream of snark in the press. “They said this will kill humanity,” he says, smiling.
There’s no doubt in Arbel’s mind that Yo will actually become more than just a service to annoy your friends, but change the way businesses communicate with their customers and governments with their citizens.
The key isn’t the message itself, he says, but the time and name behind it. And with the glut of text and photos we see on our phones every day, people are ready for a tool that takes far less effort to use. There’s some truth to that, but Arbel knows Yo needs to do more, so the next big feature he toying with is the ability to paste links and photos, with just two extra taps instead of six on traditional messaging apps. “That’s four taps you could be spending with your kids,” Arbel says, in a nod to Stephen Colbert’s satire on the app.
Thanks to its open API, 2,000 developers have already started creating services that integrate with Yo, he says, including an alert system in Israel to warn people of rockets being fired over Tel Aviv, a service called InstaYo, that sends you a “Yo” whenever a favorite Instagram user posts an image, and World Cup Yo, pinging you whenever someone in the tournament has scored goal.
“This isn’t going to replace WhatsApp,” says Arbel, “but add a layer of simple, lightweight, non-distraction notifications.” There’s no need to open the app and there is no anxiety-inducing red badge on its icon to show unread messages.
The immediate future is in restaurants. Arbel wants to see coffee shops like Starbucks asking customers for their Yo user names so they don’t have to scrawl them with a pen on a cup, and then shout them over the hubbub of other customers. “You have to stand there for three minutes instead of working on your laptop,” says Arbel, who admits to regularly working nights and weekends. “It’s primitive!” Instead customers can just “yo” the restaurant to receive “yo’s” in return.
It might sound far-fetched, but the Grand Cafe in Miami, whose co-owners are mutual friends of Yo’s founding team, is already planning to use Yo to notify customers about specials. Once they get a Yo, customers can check the cafe’s site for two-for-one coffee, 10% discounts or free desserts like chocolate mousse, tarts and cheese cake. The cafe will be introducing Yo in the next two weeks, says Meir Zefri, a co-owner of the restaurant. “It’s a great way to communicate with customers.”
Arbel’s wants to make it easier for more restaurants like Grand Cafe to use his service, so once his media tour is over he’ll be building out the app’s platform for businesses.
“Lots of people tell me the same reactions that we’re getting now about Yo, were the same reactions about Twitter,” Arbel says. “‘What can possibly be said on Twitter?’”
And who would possibly want to Yo? If things swing the right way, though, Arbel will manage to convince more than just a mass of curious individuals to try his simple tool over the next few weeks and months.