Fizz, the anonymous social app for Gen Z, adds a marketplace for students

Teddy Solomon just moved into a new house in Palo Alto, so he enlisted the Stanford community at Fizz to help decorate his room.

“Every time I buy something from someone, I ask them about the market because I’m genuinely curious about their experience,” Solomon, co-founder of Fizz, told TechCrunch. He’s particularly excited about the $100 TV he got from a college student who was about to move away for the summer.

“Did you tell him who you are?” asked Rakesh Mathur, the early entrepreneur and investor who brought Solomon on board as Fizz’s CEO.

“Yes, because I asked him a hundred questions about the market,” Solomon said dryly.

When TechCrunch first met the Stanford dropout co-founders of Fizz in 2022, the anonymous social media platform — which has separate communities for individual school campuses — was active at only about a dozen colleges. Now, the app is active on 240 college campuses and 60 high schools, and the team has grown to 30 full-time employees and 4,000 volunteer moderators across all schools. Fizz has raised $41.5 million in multiple funding rounds, fueling the app’s growing presence in campus culture.

Even in those early conversations, Solomon mentioned Fizz’s plans to open a marketplace where students can buy and sell things like clothes, textbooks, bikes, and more. Students often make these kinds of transactions because they change dorms every year, and they might want some cash back for their lightly used calculus textbook.

Image credits: to effervesce

Solomon believes the market for a local, Gen Z-focused buying and selling platform is wide open.

“There’s a stigma, if I sell something on Craigslist, I might get kidnapped,” Solomon said. “And Facebook Marketplace… Gen Z doesn’t use Facebook.”

His suspicions appear to be correct. The marketplace feature was rolled out across hundreds of Fizz campuses between March and May of this year, in preparation for the predictable end-of-year rush to sell. Solomon said Fizz has placed 50,000 listings on the platform, with 150,000 DMs sent around items. The most popular category is clothing, which accounts for about 25% of listings.

But Facebook Marketplace won’t be an easy competitor to beat. Some young Facebook users say they’re joining the platform just for the marketplace. While there are fewer Gen Z users on Facebook, Meta is working to win back that generation’s attention.

Payments aren’t yet integrated into Fizz, so users are responsible for navigating their sales. Solomon said Fizz may build a payment structure to make the marketplace easier to use, but he’s not thinking about monetization just yet. While Fizz may be flush with venture capital, this classic Silicon Valley move of prioritizing growth over profit isn’t as viable in the next generation of social media.

Fizz is completely anonymous, even on the marketplace. But to even get into a school’s Fizz community, you have to verify a school email account. So while there’s always a risk of meeting a stranger — even if they go to your school — users seem less hesitant to buy from their classmates.

Image credits: to effervesce

“One of the statistics that we really like, and we looked at the other day, is that on average, two people contact each seller before they sell,” Solomon said. “If you know they’re in the dorm next to you, you have no reason to figure out if they’re legit or not. It’s pretty simple.”

But like the anonymous social platforms that came before it, Fizz has struggled to maintain a safe environment across its campuses. In one high-profile case, a Fizz community wreaked havoc at a high school as students hid behind anonymity to shame and harass other students and teachers.

“We’ve had two communities that we voluntarily shut down just because of feedback from parents and administrators,” Solomon said. Since then, Fizz has refocused its commitment to content moderation. In the past, Fizz paid part-time student moderators to monitor its communities. Now, the company has dedicated staff working on trust and safety, and it’s using technology from OpenAI to make its automated moderation more robust.

Those efforts may not be enough to assuage concerns. School administrators have seen horrific scenarios play out on anonymous apps before — remember YikYak? The president of the University of North Carolina, which has 16 campuses, announced plans to ban anonymous apps like Fizz, Whisper and Sidechat from the school. Those students won’t be able to buy used textbooks on Fizz’s marketplace.

“We’re very aware that moderation has to be at the core of our business as an anonymous Gen Z platform,” Mathur told TechCrunch.

TechCrunch gained access to a university’s Fizz community. Students posted about sex and drugs — topics that are allowed on Fizz — but didn’t bully each other or spark harmful dialogue. But this is just one community among hundreds. While Fizz’s momentum in growing its content moderation team is promising, even the largest, most facilitated social platforms still struggle with toxicity.

Fizz’s argument for the anonymous nature of the platform is that it encourages students to be open about how they’re really feeling — when a student sees posts about how other people might be stressed about an exam or struggling socially, they know they’re not the only ones going through it. On the plus side, users might find some great campus-specific memes. Or, now that there’s a market, they might be able to score a great deal on a TV.

Updated 7/3/24, 4:17 p.m. ET: Apparel makes up 25% of Fizz’s offerings.

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