Courtne Smith, founder, and CEO of NewNew, has been selected as one of a handful of founders that will participate in Snapchat’s Yellow Collabs partnership program. NewNew, a group poll and decision-making app, will let Snapchat story users vote on things like what outfit to wear and will become integrated into the platform in the first quarter of 2021.
We stood out to Snap because we looked and thought differently, said Smith. Snap was there to be a sounding board in terms of your journey as you integrate with their product. The accessibility is almost more beneficial than the integration itself.
At 32, Smith is the lone Black woman in the inaugural class of a relatively diverse group of founders. NewNew is one of only nine companies selected to participate in the 13-week incubator. Unlike Snapchat's accelerator program, there is no monetary incentive for startups to participate in Yellow Collabs, but Smith says what she's gained has been invaluable.
My co-founder and I found it cool that they chose our company, which is led by a Black female, to be a part of the team because it shows they're progressive and mindful of the place in the world that we're in, Smith said. t 's nice to see Snap taking steps to be a part of the change.
Smith's inclusion may hold more weight after several companies, including Snapchat, very publicly declared their solidarity with the Black community in the wake of a racial justice movement that spawned this summer. Snapchat notes that the criteria for the program certainly wasn’t based on how founders self-identified.
As a Black man I have to say that I am proud of the passion and commitment to diversity that the company has focused on, said Gervis Cash, Snapchat Senior Manager of Developer Relations. The pride that I have is that not only are the business use cases all unique but the people behind them are unique. The more you take existing relationships within the ecosystem and encourage people from different areas to apply it ends up birthing a class like this.
Snap's strategy for innovation and app integration has included finding use cases that bring in members of their community that may feel like they don't have a product experience that speaks to them. We lean on creating new unique representations of things that don’t exist and people solving a problem based on a void, Cash said.
Almost Fun, a non-profit focused on creating inclusive SAT prep materials that feature cultural references relevant to low-income Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students, is also among the first nine companies to take advantage of the Yellow Collabs integration. NewNew, founded in 2018, is Smith's latest venture. She started her career working on Drake's management team a decade ago and only made the pivot to work in tech in 2015 when she launched her first startup, the now-acquired hair extension sales platform Tharen.
However, Smith and long-time cofounder Filip Diarra wanted a tech-focused venture. This was the impetus for founding now-defunct Surpize, a gamified giveaway platform that Smith and Diarra bootstrapped in 2016. Smith's pivot to tech was accompanied by a rude awakening.
It sounds naive but I had no idea of the obstacles, bias, and racism that existed in tech when I first set out to raise money, Smith said. I went into it thinking I was as equal as everyone else.
Smith described being ghosted by 90% of the VCs she cold-pitched. She eventually got a big break when a former Facebook employee, Jared Morgenstern, wrote NewNew its first check. The company now has an undisclosed amount of funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, among others.
People of color and women who are bringing unique and diverse perspectives can build companies that don't exist because the hierarchy of innovation in the technology industry has traditionally been very white and very male, Cash said. As long as the [diverse] people building these products see that we have opportunities the hope is that, if we can incentivize them, they will come.