Friday, Nov 19, 2021
Isaiah Jean-Baptise '20 and Brook Wilson ‘19 are two founders of Vora
by Adam Grybowski
A pair of Rider alumni have collaborated with a third founder to create Vora, an app that connects fans and social media influencers through video chats. They hope to make a splash in the multi-billion-dollar influencer economy.
Created by Isaiah Jean-Baptiste ’20, Brook Wilson ’19 and Derik Gadson, Vora helps fans go from merely consuming content from those they follow online to interacting with them directly. It opens up new opportunities to engage with people first hand while also creating a new revenue stream for those who command attention online.
“Our product is inherently here to help influencers and their core problem, which is making money,” says Jean-Baptiste, Vora’s chief executive officer.
Jean-Baptiste and Wilson say their concept will likely benefit those with smaller but still significant followings rather than big names with astronomical follower accounts. “The beauty of Vora is that anyone can find value in a conversation,” says Jean-Baptiste. “There are so many different kinds of people out there — you can be a comedian, a chef or a teacher. If you have fans who want to talk to you, that’s a valuable thing.”
The initial concept for Vora, which is open to investors, was to create a dating app centered on video as the primary means of communication instead of text. The founders believed having users initiate contact through video instead of texting would better simulate what it’s like to meet people in real life. The idea evolved over time as they pitched it to investors and began assembling a team to work on the product. Video chat remained central, but instead of connecting those in the dating pool, they gradually expanded the scope to include all sorts of people.
“We made lots of mistakes the first year, but even through the first demo we did, the biggest thing we realized is that people love to talk about certain topics,” says Wilson, Vora’s chief product officer who is also a senior data engineer at Accenture AI. “Joining a conversation is something people enjoy and are drawn to.”
The current vision for Vora snapped into place after Jean-Baptiste and Wilson met a social media personality who has about 100,000 followers on Instagram. He wanted to commit full-time to being an influencer but wasn’t making quite enough money to do so. Wilson and Jean-Baptiste reasoned that among all those followers, some would jump at the chance for direct access to him. Some might even pay for it.
As the pair began to work to move their concept to reality, they brought on Gadson, who owns a software development company, as an adviser. Eventually they asked him to come on as the chief technology officer.
“I've worked with a lot of startups and there are a lot of good ideas out there,” Gadson says. “But there was something about these two guys. I had an inherent trust and a feeling that this product was going to go far. They have the drive and the determination and the openness to hear ideas and are eager to learn.”
That drive has been present at least since they were undergraduates at Rider. Jean-Baptiste and Wilson, both information systems majors at Rider, describe themselves as “extremely ambitious” students.
Both ran on the track and field team, joined DAARSTOC, which is the University’s executive skill-building organization, and the Leadership Development Program, and founded clubs — Wilson, the University’s Technology Club, and Jean-Baptiste, a student association called Black Men Unified.
“We were very involved at Rider, and we wanted to master networking while at Rider,” Jean-Baptise says. “As students, we always tried to talk to all of these different professionals and we just got better and better at meeting people and talking to people. We fell in love with the idea of meeting new people. That kind of stuck with us.”
Looking back, they say their experience at Rider provided ample training for their entrepreneurial spirit. “We feel like we are meant to be where we’re at now, and college set us up perfectly for that,” Wilson says.