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February 3, 2016

An Announcement from After School: Our Story, New Partnerships, Increased Safety Features, Series A Funding

Millions of teens are using private messages to share their thoughts, feelings, words of encouragement, funny statements and secrets with their school through the After School App. After School has exploded into the largest teen-only social network in the United States and has active communities at over 75% of U.S. high schools. The app was created by co-founders Michael Callahan (CEO) and Cory Levy (COO) to enable teenagers to freely communicate while providing them safety from judgment. The messages that have resulted from this commitment range from crush confessions to posts about tough situations teens have been faced with; including rape, sexual orientation, bullying, physical and emotional abuse, incest, and thoughts of committing suicide.

“Growing up, I dealt with my girlfriend’s attempted suicides, being bullied because I was different, child abuse, and being taken advantage of sexually as a child,” said CEO Michael Callahan. “I want to empower those who are not able to speak up,” Callahan continued. More of Michael’s story can be found here.

Our Story

In November of 2014, we released a test version of After School to see how it would be received and used; giving us the chance to adapt and improve it.

The app caught fire almost immediately.

In just two weeks, the After School App was in 50% of U.S. high schools. However, along with the heart-warming, supportive, funny, and positive posts, came threats, bullying, graphic content, concerns from parents, schools and police all in the first month.

“For a couple of weeks, I would wake up with my heart pounding from a shot of adrenaline as I reached for my phone. Each morning, we would be faced with a new problem created by something a student had posted. A teacher was arrested for having sex with a student, a bomb threat was made which we immediately reported to the police, and the media wanted to know what we were going to do next,” says Callahan.

An intense focus on safety is what we needed. We worked with Apple to put this desire into practice.

Behind their metallic exterior are legions of the most thoughtful and caring people on the planet.  Together with Apple, we developed best practices and made a commitment to become not only the largest social network for teens, but the safest. Our goal was to set a new standard for safety.

For example, most networks and apps have some type of “age verification.” In reality, an underage kid who wants access to a restricted area of an app or website will just change what they enter to “meet” the requirements to use that app or website.

So we asked ourselves, “If true age verification doesn’t exist, how can we invent it?”. How do you ACTUALLY know a user is 17 or over when you can’t see who’s behind the screen?  

Should we call their mom and ask?

Require a birth certificate?

Guess their age by scanning their face?

Our team came up with 20 options and worked through all of the possible scenarios that allow children and others to bypass age verification. After breaking down the problem and looking through all of the possibilities, what became clear as the best option was to scan the barcode of a user’s Driver’s License; allowing age verification without storing identifying information. Reading the barcode on a license is different in each of the 50 states, creating a long and hard road towards implementation, but the work to enable this method was worth it to have the assurance that the students who are using the app are in fact the age they claim to be. The two levels of protection gained from using this verification method are:

1) Children under our age requirements don’t have a Driver’s License.

2) Age can be verified to ensure the license carrier is the appropriate age, meaning just the existence of a license does not allow access to the app.

When industry standards aren’t acceptable, innovation takes place. Technology is still a ways away from 100% accurate security mechanisms, but our goal to improve this process to a more than acceptable level of security allowed us to create something significantly more effective than the industry standard.

Age verification was just one of more than a dozen areas we chose to improve. The entire team worked day and night over the course of several months to problem solve and dream of ideal solutions, which we would then build. In 2015, we created fourteen new safety measures to protect and better serve teens using After School, along with a collection of resources for users, parents, and schools, including:

  • 24/7 Text Helpline popup for at­-risk users using advanced detection and partnerships with trained counseling help.
  • FIRST (Nationwide First Responder System): A state of the art response system that contacts local authorities and school administrators if a potential threat is detected.
  • 24/7 Moderation: Every single post goes through proactive moderation, and posts that are viewed on a school’s feed are first viewed by a human moderator.
  • Community Guidelines alert upon registration. Every signee is now presented with app guidelines to inform them of proper use.
  • Publicly listed policies and terms.
  • Report mechanism. Users are given the opportunity to report inappropriate content. One report immediately removes a post from the feed of a school.
  • Parental Review Board made up of parents across the US was created.
  • Reporting system for parents.
  • Local image filtering for GIFs.
  • Improved proactive keyword filters.
  • Massive image filtering and tagging.
  • Robust automatic post-flagging for inappropriate words.
  • Personalized filters which allow users to select their exposure to mature content.
  • Zero-tolerance policy against cyberbullying, including the banning and blocking of users who violate it.
  • Social Media Safety Board

 

But even after the successful implementation of the above updates and changes, we continued adding support and creating new ways to improve the user experience and the safety of the app. One of those additional changes, announced in October of 2015, is the inclusion of the Ad Council’s #IAmAWitness eye emoji into our reporting feature — helping to activate the silent majority to stop cyberbullying.

New features that we are announcing for the first time are:

DoSomething.org Partnership

The partnership with DoSomething.org, one of the largest global organizations for young people and social change, will engage teens in social causes and campaigns to create positive change.

Students will be able to register for and participate in DoSomething.org campaigns with friends; giving millions of students the chance to volunteer and get involved in social causes while creating and strengthening friendships in just a few clicks.

The first DoSomething.org campaign to be implemented into After School is Mirror Messages. The Mirror Messages campaign encourages students to post positive messages to boost the self-esteem of their peers and helps them find ways to do so, including posting sticky notes on bathroom mirrors. “I love that DoSomething.org and After School are able to figure out how to use social media and technology in a positive way,” said Aria Finger, CEO of DoSomething.org.

Crisis Text Line Partnership

Teens posting messages that are cries for help or warning signs are offered free, anonymous support from trained Crisis Counselors with Crisis Text Line. Teens can also text HI TIGER to 741-741. “Partnership with After School means providing people in crisis with free, 24/7 support – meeting them where they’re at. We’re psyched to be able to do so!” said Baylee Greenberg, COO of Crisis Text Line. 

After School Double Check

After School Double Check, our newest safety feature, utilizes technology to instantly conduct quality assurance on our team of human moderators. The sophisticated program monitors all of our moderators and forces them to double-confirm any suspicious content. The new feature is being added to our current three levels of moderation and advanced threat detection to set a new standard of safety and protection.

Series A Fundraising

We recently closed our Series A round of funding, which raised $16.4 million. The round was led by Accomplice (formerly known as Atlas Ventures), Tikhon Bernstam, and Naval Ravikant, with participation from investor Lee Linden, Cowboy Ventures, and others. After School has raised a total of $17.65 million. Seed investors include: Keith Rabois, Gary Vaynerchuk, SV Angel, Marc Randolph, and others.

The funding allows us to help more teens by integrating opportunities like DoSomething.org campaigns and access to trained counselors into what we provide. It will be used to increase our impact and continue to improve the lives of teenagers around the US.

Here are what a few of our investors have to say about why they support After School:

Naval Ravikant, Founder and CEO of AngelList, After School Investor: “After making a small initial seed investment from my fund The Hit Forge, I upped my commitment 20x due to their ability to tackle any challenge. They are becoming ubiquitous amongst teenagers while going above and beyond industry standards when it comes to building positive communities.”

Dustin Dolginow, Venture Partner at Accomplice: I rarely meet founders as committed to their users and mission as Michael and Cory. They are shaping a new social space for teenagers anchored on candor, positivity and community. If Facebook gave us a more connected world, After School brings teens a more human and honest one. Watching how they built safety into each decision they make is inspiring. We are excited to partner with them to write the next chapter of online communities.”

Tikhon Bernstam, Angel Investor, Parse & Scribd Founder: “We’re thrilled to be investors in After School. The team is stellar and their growth and engagement metrics have been extraordinary. Given the strong network effect that exists in and between schools, we expect to see this growth continue to increase.

Cory Levy, Michael Callahan, and the rest of the team feel very strongly about making sure that After School has a positive impact on the lives of teens. We see this reflected in the product itself, particularly the screening tools, features, and partnerships that the team is constantly building and improving upon.

After School has struck a chord with teens in a way that few apps have done to date, and we’re delighted to be involved.”

Noah Lichtenstein, Entrepreneur, Investor and Partner of Cowboy Ventures: “Being a teen has always been difficult, and in today’s digital age there are few outlets for teens to share their true feelings without fear of ridicule and judgment. After School uses anonymity to enable teens to freely share what’s on their mind and fosters meaningful online-to-offline connections based on shared mutual interest.”

Safety and Support

We deeply care about today’s teenagers. Because of our experiences and those of others we’ve known, we know that being a teen isn’t easy. This difficult time in life brings unique challenges and pressures that aren’t felt at any other point in our lives. They face suicide, bullying, and depression. Giving them a safe place to share and be themselves is a simple concept, but something that comes with responsibility, and we are taking that responsibility by making our network the safest it possibly can be.

“After School has already raised the bar in online safety for the entire industry, and I look forward to helping them get to the next level. It’s unusual to find co-founders of an online company who have safety in their core DNA,” said Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam, CEO of SSPBlue, Former Chief Security Officer of MySpace and new Safety Advisor for After School.

From feedback from teens and advisors to statistics of the number of lives we’ve touched, it’s clear that After School is making a positive difference and on the right path to making life better for those that use our app. To date, our 24/7 Text Helpline feature, which allows at-risk teens to chat with trained counselors, has helped over 57,250 young adults.

Out of the millions and millions of messages students share on After School, less than 1% is reported as inappropriate content.

We will always work to create a better and safer experience. Part of that effort is to receive feedback from our users. The responses we get confirm our belief in what we’re doing and the students who use our app continue to inspire us on a daily basis. Here are a few that we have received:

    • “I like that it allows students to express their feelings, experiences and thoughts in an anonymous fashion, making it a very free environment.” — Anonymous

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.44.05 PM

    • “I really like how you can be 100% anonymous! I also like that people are being mature on it and not bullying!” — Anonymous
    • “I liked how people from my school are actually being nice. Most of them are not that nice in person…including myself.” — Anonymous
    • “It really lets people share their feelings.” — Anonymous

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.44.00 PM

    • “I loved how it was an anti bully app. And how you could answer questions about others, and if you both answered yes to the same question it told you.” – Stephen Lucas Alcorn from Discovery Canyon
    • “I enjoy the gif feature related to the posts and that there’s usually funny polls or questions asked.” – Amanda from Mansfield Frontier High School
    • “I really like that I can see all the things people think about me.” – Katelynn Townsend from Westside High School
    • “The theme. Pretty hip with the hop.” – Joshua Eang from Santa Fe High School

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.43.51 PM

    • “One thing I like most about the After School App is the safety measures you all have taken to protect users.” – Anonymous Student from Clifton Forge, VA
    • “I absolutely love After School because it gives you a chance to connect to people who you don’t normally talk to on a daily basis. I love answering the yes or no questions that are like “would you…with…?”, too!” – Sarah Madeline Broughton

A month and a half ago, we asked students why they love After School. Here are the responses we received.

Among the inspiring things we’ve seen on After School are the tremendous amounts of support that students have given their peers. From encouraging them not to commit suicide to supporting them as they come out as being gay for the first time. The difference these students make in the lives of others through words of encouragement and support is in some cases life-changing.  

Curious

We embrace our past because it’s what has allowed our present — a fun and safe environment for teens to connect with each other. In what can be a challenging time in life, we want to help more students pick each other up, helping at-risk teens who are showing warning signs get the appropriate support. At the end of the day, we want the exact things that their parents and teachers want — to improve their lives and see them succeed. There are no limitations to what can be achieved through communication, and we have designed After School to help increase communication among teens.  

Statement from Michael Callahan, Co-Founder and CEO

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“The last year has been one of significant growth. The After School App has matured, our team has grown, and we’ve received a tremendous amount of support from teens who use the app, investors, nonprofit partners and our safety and advisory boards. We are proud to provide teens with a safe and secure place to be themselves, share with their school, and to connect with new friends. After School is more than an app. It’s the voice of today’s teenager.

After School was created with an end goal in mind — to make a significant and measurable social impact. In just over a year since the test version of After School was released in November of 2014, we’ve set new standards in safety and moderation in the industry, and have been able to create unique opportunities for our users not available on other social networks. We’ve been able to get a lot of people’s attention, and we are doing positive things with that attention.

After School is serving a real need. There are millions of teens facing tough decisions and issues that they want to talk about, but they don’t always have a safe place to do that. We strive to capture all of the positive benefits of giving these students a place to safely and securely share without the negatives.

We are on our way to creating the safest social network and impacting many people’s lives in a positive manner. It’s a mission that anyone can get behind. Today they’re the teens of America, but in the future, they’re the adults of America. They are the doctors, lawyers, businessmen and business women. If we can make a positive impact on their life now, it will translate into the country and the world being a better place tomorrow.  

In the upcoming months and years, After School will continue to evolve and change, and we will continue to empower teens while addressing issues and challenges that they wrestle with.

We’re really excited about our partnership with DoSomething.org because we share a similar mission with respect to caring for teens and doing social good. Getting future adults aware, involved and engaged with opportunities and ways they can impact others is an amazing opportunity. This will have a big impact on millions of teens and we’ve been working hard behind the scenes on this partnership for months.

The money raised from our Series A round will be applied to continuing to make our system safe and strengthening our team with respect to moderation and safety, as well as developing more systems like our new Double Check moderation process, which will help our staff understand the complexities of language and deter misuse.

We have chosen to raise the bar with respect to moderation and the social networking services we provide. These efforts started shortly after our launch over a year ago and we are constantly improving and innovating our procedures. We know that computers today can’t yet comprehend the complexities of language, which is why we have proactive moderation with people. We’re continuing to improve safety and introduce new features, and we’re very excited about how new features, like After School Double Check, will increase the effectiveness of our moderation process.”

Statement from Cory Levy, Co-Founder and COO

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“After School was created to solve and lessen the hardest parts of being a teenager. The most significant aspect of our Series A round of funding is what it gives us the ability to do – help more teens who use After School to share their feelings online and connect with their school.

Our new partnership with DoSomething.org, one of the largest social organizations for young people, is one of many current and future partnerships and features we’ve created to improve the lives of the teens we serve. The partnership will help millions of teens get involved with philanthropic and social campaigns that create positive change in the world. I had my first interactions with DoSomething.org as a teen participating in a leadership conference in San Diego.

This partnership has involved months of hard work on both sides and we are launching campaigns within the app this month. The partnership has been made possible thanks to our team’s dedication to social change, our investors who fully support our efforts to provide additional opportunities and services to teens, and the team at DoSomething.org.

Today’s teens want a positive atmosphere to connect with the kids from their school and be themselves, and they want to help the world become a better place. Incorporating efforts to create social change and help teens has powered our growth to tens of thousands of high schools and millions of students.

We’re thankful to our investors for believing in our vision to build a business while creating a significant social impact.”

Press inquiries, please contact: Press@AfterSchoolApp.com

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