CHAPEL HILL – Imagine utilizing a social media app that links you with friends and family but also acts as a location service and provides means of sending an emergency alert, all within a data secure environment. Well, imagine no longer. Just check out Nina Barnett’s Grooop.
In these days of growing concern about safety at school and on campus and with all the controversy surrounding Facebook use of user data, Grooop is distinct. It can be an answer for people who want more than “Likes” yet don’t want the world knowing all there is to know about them personally or geographically.
Talk about breaking from group think. This app does so in part because it was designed not by a tech conglomerate but by a UNC-Chapel Hill student who also is CEO of her own company. And today could be a significant one for her as and entrepreneur. She is in San Diego addressing some of the world’s thought leaders in education and technology – including a former US President – about why Grooop is much more than a Facebook clone.
Barnett [pictured above] conceived and developed an app that does the best of social (linking, communicating, sharing) yet also focuses on safety with an emergency alert suite. And while many startups aspire to present at events such as Google Demo Day, Barnett is talking about her app the annual ASU + GSU Summit in San Diego.
Put on by Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley with support from such benefactors as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the education and technology event draws thousands of attendees annually. Among the headliners this year is former President George Bush. Barnett is taking a brief bit of time away from her studies (currently in the United Kingdom) to brief the world.
Not that she isn’t quite busy already at UNC with a double major in physics and drama as well as a minor in mathematics. Yet her ambition already extends beyond education to expand Grooop’s reach to international audiences. It’s already available as a download for both Apple and Android devices.
The Skinny caught up with Barnett just ahead of her summit appearance for an email Q&A.
First, how in the world do you manage the time required for all your commitments?
Balancing time can be hard, but I love operating in a fully packed schedule, I’m pursuing a double major in Physics and Drama with a minor in Math. There are times that I have to set aside social activities, but I still have free time to hang out with friends, workout out.
I’m traveling abroad this semester as well. I don’t have time to procrastinate, and my lifestyle is not for the slow paced individual, but I don’t have trouble balancing, I still make time for fun!
What advice can you offer other students who go ahead and launch their ideas even as they continue their studies?
Pursue all of your ideas!
My worst nightmare would have been sitting back on my idea and seeing someone else capitalize on it. College is a great time to launch an idea because you have such a great network of people around you.
I always say that your idea will only go as far as you believe in it, and if you believe in something it does not matter if you are 20 or 40 years old, faith and passion always ensue success.
Why did you choose to launch this while you were still a student? Weren’t you worried about job over studies? Why have you remained in school?
This app focuses on college students and young adults, and I believe launching it while it still has a personal connection to my life has been very valuable.
No, I’m not the girl with the 4.0, but I can apply most of my studies to my job and vice versa, so I didn’t stress about juggling the two.
I have remained in school because I believe that education is valuable, and I love college, it’s hard not to at the best school in the area (Go Heels!).
Is this a business, not a hobby?
This is definitely a business and not a hobby.
I have a team of developers at [Durham-based digital product agency] Smashing Boxes, my dad [Hall Barnett] is the president of Grooop, my mom [Barbara Barnett] is on the creative team and I have two amazing girls that work with me as well.
Cori Patrick, also a junior at UNC, runs our social media, and Kennedy McGuinness runs our campus ambassador [Advocate] program.
[Note: “Campus Advocates are college students or college graduates living in a college town,” Grooop says. “We are looking for individuals that are passionate about promoting a safe environment on their campus. Campus Advocates will help us promote campus safety for all students.”]
My team has been so valuable to me, and I couldn’t do any of it without them!
OK, how does the app make money?
The app has a choice of three revenue models. We can take it towards sponsorship through universities and organizations, towards targeted ads or subscription within the app.
Right now the main focus is on building the user base because I made the decision that I wanted to prioritize the users before making money.
My main goal is to change campus safety and to genuinely change lives, not to make money.
In what ways does it differ from other apps? What are the needs you are trying to address?
Grooop is different because it is the first hybrid social-safety app. I realized that there really were no apps that were engaging, simple and fun for young adults to use in order to stay safe.
Grooop taps into a different part of people’s psyche. It’s not a bar hopping tool, but it’s not a tight leash either.
Grooop is different because it is something that can be used every day, but it is also there when you need it the most.
Grooop, the mission
As a student, I have experienced the burden of feeling unsafe on campus. It’s no secret that even on a Tuesday, walking home from the library at 1AM can feel dangerous. I refused to spend the rest of my college experience feeling unsafe, so I created grooop for the millions of students like me.
Grooop is simple: college students use an intuitive app to feel confident on campus. Anytime, anywhere.
In view of the Facebook controversy over data mining/harvesting, how do you ensure user privacy? Is this a key point of your app?
Privacy is a huge part of Grooop. I wanted an app that was not going to be invasive, but also offered a sense of ease.
Another reason Grooop is unique is because it does not display your location unless requested/accepted or an alert is sent out.
Privacy is key for grooops of people such as co-workers, travel groups and study abroad programs because you may not know these people as well as your family or best friends, so this allows you to only display your exact location when you need to.
How did you land the event invitation, and how do you hope to benefit from it?
I landed this honorable invitation because of a great woman and family friend, Deborah Quazzo. Deborah leads and runs most of the summit. She is one of the most successful and inspirational women that I know, and I strive to lead a life like hers.
The summit is for tech leaders around the world specifically focusing on education. Because Grooop is mainly targeted towards college and high school students, I was able to land a position to speak at the summit.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I graduate in May of 2019. Through the amazing program at UNC called the Adams Apprenticeship, I have been able to explore tons of different entrepreneurial careers that I would possibly want to get into.
As of right now, I have no set plan. My life changes all the time based on my company, my passion for acting and singing and my entrepreneurial spirit. I plan to be pursuing these passions and continuing to run my company.
What factors got you interested in high tech and then social media?
I went to Ravenscroft School and graduated in 2015. I always knew that I wanted to be involved with math or science along with acting and singing.
I believe my first passion for tech and this “entrepreneurial spirit” came from Chris Kelly, my physics teacher in high school.
A huge factor into my passion for tech was the lack of women in the field. It is such an interesting field and women have the opportunity to make a large impact, and I knew that is something I couldn’t pass up.
My passion for social media comes from the fact that I have been part of the guinea pig generation for all of social media.