PRWin: So Dumb It Might Be Genius

Email, phone messages, texts – they’re pretty much ubiquitous ways to communicate nowadays, so convenient that we can do all of it and so much more from a single device that fits in the palm of our hand.

So, when even the common text messaging app becomes inconvenient, what does one do? For one app developer, it could be summed up in a single word – Yo.

Yo is a messaging app created by San Francisco developer Or Arbel specifically for the CEO of Mobli, a social mobile photo and video-sharing website, who wanted an app that would use one-character to notify his personal assistant, wife, or anyone else for that matter, saving him the time of writing out responses. Arbel initially rejected the idea, but then reconsidered after he examined his own texting habits and realized that often he and his friends would send each other texts as short as a single letter.1 Arbel then went ahead on development, and on April 1st (‘cause it was in part a joke) Yo became available to download for iOS and Android. Within the two months of release, Yo had about 500,000 users. You can see for yourself just how simple this app really is here.

Investors took notice, awarding Yo one million dollars in funding. And all the while people poked fun at this one-trick pony (yeah, I did it, too), Yo’s parent company Mobil snatched up another 10 million in funding.2

You might be asking yourself, what am I missing here. How does an app that literally did only one thing – send a “Yo” to someone – manage to gain any sort of real traction in an age we put so much value in messaging apps that utilize feature emojis, video, etc.

It turns out it had a lot to do with the media coverage. And in the spirit of the Yo app’s creation, some of it was with tongue planted firmly in cheek — cue The Colbert Report.

And that was just the start of the media’s affair with the app:


The Wall Street Journal: An App Like Yo Could Turn Out to Be Bigger Than Twitter

Independent: Yo App: The New Million Dollar App That Let’s You Send Just One Word to Your Friends

CNN Business: The million-dollar app that says ‘yo’

TechCrunch: Why A Stupid App Like Yo May Have Billion-Dollar Platform Potential


We could chalk this up to a case of sheer luck for an upstart app, but I’d like to go back to the origin of Yo – because it didn’t start out as a joke at all. It was a proposed solution to a problem that actually wasn’t unique to just one CEO – the time demands for sending messages to people on any given day can add up. For someone like a busy CEO, their time is precious – and there are a lot of people trying to carve out some of this limited resource. Yo gives the user the means to respond quickly and in a minimum amount of time. As Yo creator’s explains, it’s a “…single-tap zero-character communication tool.” and “…everything and anything, it all depends on you, the recipient and the time of the Yo”.3

In other words, “Yo” can mean anything to anyone – it’s all about the context of the conversation.

Whether or not you agree about its meaning, people were using it. Roughly two months after launch, users had already sent each other more than 4 million Yos. So apparently, thousands of other people viewed the app as a solution they needed as well.

People value their time, and if they can accomplish a task with a single tap – add up those “Yos” – and well, I can start to see the appeal myself.

Yo’s very simplicity was its disruptive appeal – it solves a problem with a single tap. How many upstarts can say their product or service does the same? Perhaps the genius was in the “dumbness” that we actually wanted and needed.

So many texts, so little time…

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  1. Shontell, Amy and Cosco, Joey. “10 Brilliant Marketing Stunts That Put Startups On The Map.” Business Insider, 4 August 2014,
  2. Paul Choudary, Sangeet. “Why A Stupid App Like Yo May Have Billion-Dollar Platform Potential.” TechCrunch, 26 July 2014,
  3. Vincent, James. “Yo App: The New Million Dollar App That Let’s You Send Just One Word to Your Friends.” TechCrunch, 19 June 2014,