The void of intimacy was frustrating for John York to keep watching across social platforms, driving him to want to create one himself. The tech founder went on to team up with John McAdory, Terry Johnson, and Richard Berryman to launch Frequency People, a community-based social platform that encourages users to build engaging networks.
After launching in 2017, the app crossed major milestones such as raising capital but an internal legal battle as well as the drastic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic created a detour on the team’s path.
In an interview with AfroTech, York shared how Frequency People was able to bounce back after losing it all, what sets the app apart from fellow social media platforms, and its plans to tap into the power of AI.
Editorial Note: Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.
AfroTech: How did you first connect with John McAdory to create Frequency People?
John York: We actually have a total of four founders — myself, John McAdory (“Mac”), Terry Johnson, and Richard Berryman. When I had the idea to start the company, I initially reached out to Terry to see if he’d be interested in joining me on this journey. After some thought, Terry agreed. He then introduced me to Richard and John a little later. We all put our heads together and started what is now known as Frequency People.
Speaking of Mac, I can remember our first conversation over the phone. After that phone call, I immediately knew that he would be a huge asset to what we were building, and we had to have him. The rest is history.
AT: Although Frequency People is creating a new way to navigate social media, were there any social platforms that inspired you in the process?
JY: I believe inspiration can come from many different sources…desperation, frustration, etc. Mine came from a place of frustration. I was frustrated with the lack of intimacy in connectivity that was in the social media platforms. I focused on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I noticed what was working for each platform, and the pain points that others — and I — experienced in them. From there, we started building.
AT: What did that timeframe of going from backing from Google and investors to not having a functioning app look like on a personal level?
JY: This was very stressful and taxing. During that time, we brought in an experienced CEO to run the company and I became the CTO. Based on certain decisions that were made, we went from $2.2 million to less than $5,000 in a year. I almost walked away from my own company because of this season, but I had to remember why I started the company in the first place. After that CEO transitioned from our company, the real work began. I was a global consultant at the time. I can remember waking up in Hong Kong at 3 a.m. to jump on a call with our lawyers to ensure we wouldn’t get sued by parties who were wronged under the leadership of our previous CEO.
We essentially had to shut the platform down. After one and a half years of efforts to overcome past mistakes, we finally were able to position ourselves in a way where we could move forward without any hindrances from the past. These were the hardest years. I questioned myself on what I was fighting for. Why was I willfully putting myself through so much emotional and psychological toll? I had to constantly remind myself why the company was started in the first place. I had to remember that we had a great product that people loved. And I would not allow this company to be taken from underneath my feet, so my team and I stood strong and fought. Being on the other side of the journey, I can say that my team and I are much stronger and learned multiple lessons to ensure that we can stay successful in the future.
AT: In what ways do you believe having to build your company back from the ground up ultimately worked in you and your team’s favor?
JY: There is something known as ‘The Region Beta Paradox.’ I won’t go into too much detail, but the general concept is that sometimes, the worst situations can be better for you than better situations. Essentially, sometimes the worst things that happen to you are actually the catalyst that brings you to greatness. You have a job that you hate but are good at. You get laid off and are forced to think about what you will do next. In this process, you remember what you’re passionate about and pursue a small business doing that. Now, you’re making more money than you were in your previous job, and you love what you do! You getting laid off was the catalyst to pursue your passion.
Our rebuilding of the company became the catalyst. We were doing great before, but I believe we had the wrong team with a premature focus. By starting over, we have been able to build a strong team with key advisors whom we wouldn’t have met before. And one of our biggest features (Universes) would never have come into existence. As stressful as the rebuilding season was for all of us, I believe we’re all better for it.
AT: How do you believe that your app stands out from others that are also working to disrupt social media as we know it?
JY: Our Universe feature is the main thing that helps us to stand out. By allowing our users to create their own Universe, we’re essentially putting the power back in their hands and allowing them to truly do social media in a way that works best for them. No other solution allows users to have their own social media platform, but housed internally. By doing this, people can go from Universe to Universe and have a completely different experience.
AT: What do you envision for your app’s expansion in the next three to five years?
JY: We’re looking heavily into AI integrations on multiple fronts, as well as Web3 integration. Technology is improving at such a rapid pace, and we plan to leverage it all. These next three years will be very exciting for us on the tech side. We will also plan on truly becoming a global platform in every sense of the word. I can’t give too many details about this, but we plan on making the world feel smaller for our users.
On the business side of things, the goal is to expand on all fronts. Hiring more internal roles for the future we envision will be critical.
AT: What do you hope to take away from Blavity’s Growth Fellowship program and implement in your company?
JY: First, I’d like to thank Blavity.org for accepting us to join the 2023 Growth Fellowship program. We are honored to participate. Whenever multiple entrepreneurs can get together to support and learn from each other, your success rate increases. I am excited for the opportunity to meet with the Blavity team and the other entrepreneurs who will join me in the Fellowship program, and build relationships that could potentially go beyond the program.
AT: Lastly, is there anything additional you’d like to share with our AfroTech readers?
JY: We’re excited for you to check out the Frequency People platform. Your support means the world to us, and we hope that you enjoy your experience. Find Your Frequency!