Creating Community with Brian Endo (’15) and Chris Davis (’15)
For most college students, the question of “What am I going to do after graduation?” can appear rather frightening. Outside of the safety bubble of college lie fears surrounding adjusting to a new place, self-sufficiency, and choosing the right career.
For Cornell graduates Brian Endo and Chris Davis, this is the same sense of fear that motivates them to work on their new social media app, Baton. Baton is a video-based collaboration platform where users can start and respond to threads about their experiences on their college campus. Brian and Chris created Baton to help alleviate the growing disconnect between individuals and their broader campus community.
Brian and Chris both graduated from the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management one year early in 2015 so that they could solely focus on making Baton a success. For more on why Brian and Chris believe Baton is the next big video platform, read more below:
What do you love most about Baton?
Brian: We look at Baton as a video collaboration tool for a college campus. It’s a new way for college students to talk with one another, even though they don’t know each other. The focus of the conversation would be interests, campus news, different events happening, and random topics that may occur. We really believe in this because Cornell is a big community, and while we made friends during our time there, we didn’t feel part of the community. There was a disconnect between us and all of the other students. Baton is a great way for students to share different perspectives and knowledge on school. It’s combining that to create a better Cornell community.
Was there an a-ha moment that made you want to develop Baton?
Chris: The way we work, we don’t have an a-ha moment, but as we make products, we start to figure out and get closer to what that moment is over the span of weeks or months. In working on this, we realized there’s a disconnect between an individual on campus and the campus as a whole. People get involved by joining clubs or Greek life, but you’re still only getting a small chunk of the overall experience. That can leave you longing for a greater connection with the Cornell community.
How do you envision your ideal user using the app?
Chris: The basic idea is you get involved in a dialogue that’s happening on the app. You get onto the app and start a conversation that’s relevant to the community, or you jump onto another conversation. We want it to be a student-driven experience and a social experience. It’s not serious conversations, but people connect on small talk types of conversations. Those conversations are very powerful in getting people to engage in deeper dialogue.
Brian: An example thread would be “Men’s Hockey Game Tonight.” From there people can say, “They’re playing Harvard. This is a must see game,” or a hockey player can chime in and say, “Come out guys, it’s going to be a great time.” It’s this idea of people coming together because its relevant to all of the people on the platform.
What do you see as your core competency?
Chris: Whereas Snapchat is more interested in capturing moments, we want to capture dialogues. It’s more about the idea of having conversations as opposed to moments even though the medium is the same. We have to emphasize that this is a different way to use a familiar medium.
Why is this meaningful for you?
Brian: Throughout my life in school or in a job, I was told what to do. You never get the autonomy to completely pursue an idea without someone saying that it’s good or bad. I have full control of what I’m doing now, and that control is freedom. It helps me to think openly, and it’s okay to fail because I’m able to fully push myself. I can express my full self, which is an empowering feeling.
Chris: I look at it as an artistic endeavor. Business is core to a startup, but the aspect of creativity and originality is important. Whether you make films or make music, it’s the same type of fulfillment here. It’s the art of making things other people can find valuable, and that’s really personally rewarding. It’s my chance to make an impact on the world.
What makes a good co-founder?
Brian: One of the biggest things for us was that Chris and I were friends before we wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. We have that level of connection where we know how to push each other in particular ways. That level of understanding is very important. Being able to segment roles within the company is important as well. We started off doing the same things, but over time, I started to take control of the technical stuff while Chris worked on the sales and reaching out to people. We know we’re capable of doing everything if we wanted to, but it’s important to hand off different parts and concentrate on specific things.
Chris: For me, the easiest way to think about it is getting away from the dialogue about co-founders and thinking about it more as finding people who share your creative pursuit. When we started doing this, we didn’t have any skills relevant to making the product. Today, we have more skills, but for us, it was about saying all of those things can be learned. Let’s start from the understanding that this is something that we both value. If we’re both passionate about this project, it becomes easier to delegate.
What resources have you used that have helped you to create the business?
Brian: On the technical side, YouTube and Stack Overflow. If you’re trying to learn coding, start with a mini-project without the step-by-step guide. Think about something you want to build, but try to do it on your own, and look up the steps where you get stuck. For understanding startups, we have this process of listening to different founders and listening to people in particular industries with different things to say.
Chris: One of the most helpful things we did was watch videos and then talk to each other about them. In general, the rule of thumb is to try to come up with the idea first and then think about how you want to put it together. You can learn the skills.
What do you think the most important aspect of entrepreneurship is?
Chris: It’s like a fear. There’s fear of success, failure, doing something independently, doing something wrong. It’s realizing that there will always be fear. It’s not about conquering fear, but it’s living with fear and learning how to use that fear positively. It was important for us to get out of college because it puts our backs up against the wall. We’re only working on this. This is everything to us. It raises the bar, and gives you a sense of focus that you don’t get when you have a bunch of different things on your plate. We’re fortunate to have all of our attention focused on Baton.
Brian: To add on to that, being an entrepreneur is not great all the time. You feel bad more often than you feel good. It’s a cycle of, “We have the greatest thing ever” to, “This is not going to work.” You keep bouncing back and forth, and it’s a roller coaster. In media, it seems like it’s all great or it was all a breeze. In day to day life, it’s pretty tough, but Chris and I enjoy that. It makes life interesting.
For more on Baton, check out their website. You can also contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org and Chris at email@example.com.