July 6, 2021
We're excited to announce that Wildfire is joining Opendoor! As part of the Opendoor team, we will continue to build and scale products focused on local markets. Specifically, we will be bringing our proven expertise in understanding and creating innovative products that solve consumer needs.
With this transition, we will be sunsetting Wildfire starting on July 6th so we can focus on building the future at Opendoor. We started Wildfire during our senior year at UC Berkeley as a safety alert app for colleges. Wildfire quickly grew beyond a campus safety tool to a social news app, which empowered people to spread the word quickly to their community when something significant happened nearby. Over six years, we've sent 65 million alerts to nearly 1 million users. To every single member of the Wildfire community, thank you for joining us on this journey and letting us build Wildfire with you.
Mid-October 2015, Hriday was walking home past the Valley Life Sciences building in the middle of Berkeley's campus. While walking into Eucalyptus Grove, he saw a man and women emerge from behind nearby bushes, pulling out a ski mask and gloves as they approached him. He had heard about people getting mugged in that area but never thought it would happen to him. He turned to walk the other way as they continued to follow him and fortunately, a group of students was walking towards him, stopping the couple in their pursuit.
After calling the police, Hriday posted in a popular Berkeley Facebook group, warning them not to walk home that way. One hour later, the post went viral in the group with over 500 likes and he received 20 DMs from thanking him for the PSA. Along with Jay and Vinay, he realized there was no practical way to communicate with those around you in real-time. UC Berkeley had 27,000 students, but he could only reach the 500 who happened to be in that Facebook group and happened to be looking at their phones at that moment.
We set out to build Wildfire, with the mission of helping you spread the word to your nearby community if something significant happened nearby, specifically focusing on crime and safety alerts at college. Seeing Hriday's PSA "spread like Wildfire" inspired us to build the product before you with the same namesake:
Users post on Wildfire and depending on the location, timeliness, and credibility of a post, an alert would go out to nearby Wildfire users in real-time.
We spent the next several months talking to different campus organizations and members of different communities. We understood that other local social apps that preceded us faced problems, including moderation, credibility, and racial profiling. We built Wildfire from the ground up with these problems in mind and launched Wildfire in February of 2016. We launched Wildfire via a post in that same Berkeley Facebook group Hriday posted his safety PSA in and by the end of the night had our 50 first Wildfire users.
The very next day on Wednesday Febuary 10, 2016, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, sat down with the Chancellor Dirks of Berkeley in Zellerbach Hall. There were protestors staged outside representing the student labor union who managed to get into the venue during the talk. Hriday and Jay were sitting in the back of the very same auditorium and took a picture and got out one of our very first Wildfire alerts before the protestors reached the first few rows. One of the 50 students who happened to download Wildfire the night before happened to be sitting in the second row and received the Wildfire alert before the protestors reached his row. He told others seated around him about Wildfire and by the end of the night Wildfire organically grew to 100 users. That night was the magical moment that showed us we were onto something, and that this had the potential to beneficially impact our community.
We graduated college believing in the vision and need for a safety app like Wildfire in the world, and decided to forgo jobs to continue working on this mission. We wanted to be the ultimate users of our product, so in the early days, we were first on the scene to post about major events on campus from protests to fires. During Halloween, the team even chased down a creepy clown holding a knife reportedly spotted on Berkeley’s campus. Looking back, we recognize that this isn’t the safest way to start a company 😅, but these are also some of the fondest moments we have as a team. It helped us understand the spread of information at a local level and the impact of what we were building.
On October 16, 2016, a shooting occurred three blocks away from Berkeley's campus. A user posted within 2 minutes of the shooting, and Wildfire alerted 4,000 students within a mile radius. The local newspaper only reported it two hours later, and campus officials sent out an official email the next day at 4pm. Wildfire informed students faster and more effectively than any other news source, growing to 10,000 users purely through word of mouth in a single weekend. We saw the potential for Wildfire to become a service that could help spread vital real-time information to every member of a community.
DAU chart of the number of Wildfire users during the Fall 2016 semester
We initially built Wildfire as a crime and safety alert app, but as more of the community adopted it, and we launched more campuses (such as UC Davis, UT Austin, and UNC Greensboro) we started seeing other use cases emerge. We soon realized that safety was the utilitarian hook to adopt local communities and build something larger: a social news app. Safety resonates with local communities because of three traits: timeliness, relevance (proximity), and relatability (because it impacts you or someone you care about). We saw the community members use Wildfire for different use cases such as finding events, making friends, joining study groups, and even ending up in relationships (there's even been a Wildfire marriage!). It turns out that there are other categories of "local news" that share the same traits as safety. As Wildfire members started to expand their use of the app, we expanded the product to follow.
These past six years have been quite a ride and we sometimes forget all the things that this team has accomplished over the years. We raised $3.1 million in venture funding from the some of the best VCs in Silicon Valley, launched at 200 universities, sending 65 million alerts to nearly a million users. We ranked Top 5 in the “News Category” right below Twitter, Reddit, and Nextdoor and above CNN and the New York Times. We were honored to be selected for Forbes 30 under 30 in 2020. In an age where there are more mass shootings than there are days in a year we were able to build a product that sent millions of safety alerts to keep communities better informed of crime, safety and other important happenings nearby.
When COVID-19 hit and colleges went remote we quickly built out real-time coronavirus updates to keep our communities informed. Because of the coronavirus, we were worried that our ultimate use case was no longer relevant since many college students were no longer on campus. We soon realized community communication was more important now than ever before. Wildfire started as a safety alerts app but it was always about community, and that rings true now more than ever.
COVID-19 gave us time to consider our next chapter in life as new opportunities arose. We are excited to finally "graduate college" and join Opendoor. Speaking with Opendoor leadership, we realized how much of an overlap there was between our journeys, product, and user bases. We're excited to take our experience in understanding and building products that solve consumers needs at a local level and build some exciting new things at Opendoor 🤫.
It takes many members to form a community and there are so many people who have helped us along this journey. Thank you to our friends and family who've been supporting us through the ups and downs of this startup journey. Thank you to members of our team who helped up build Wildfire: Tim Hyon, Vince Sun, Jesse Fornear, Kenneth Le, Josh Williams, Zack Hargett, Dylan Tran, David Xie, Trent Greene and many others who helped partner or work with us during this journey.
Thank you to our investors and advisors for believing in us, mentoring us, providing us capital, and sharing your experiences with us during this truly formative adventure of our lives. Thank you so much - Amit Kumar from Accel, Evan Moore, Ben Ling, Keith Rabois, and Delian Asparouhov from Khosla Ventures, Jeremy Fiance and Cameron Baradar from The House Fund, Josh Elman from Greylock, Ryan Sarver from Redpoint, Dalton Caldwell, Eric Migicovsky, Michael Seibel and the other partners from Y Combinator, Paul Buchheit, Steve Jang, Ramtin Naimi, Caroline Winnett and Suzanne Levi from Skydeck, Nikita Bier, Ivan Zhou, and Erik Berlin and Leah Culver from Breaker.
And thank you to every single member of the Wildfire community. Every user who posted, who made a friend, who helped foster their community, or even informed their entire campus in real-time about a major event. We've had the pleasure of traveling to your campuses and meeting many of you. It still puts a smile on our face when we run into you in the wild and hear about how Wildfire impacted you. We tried to keep the focus on the product and mission during this journey, but we just want to share this story with you and let you know that you all have had one of the biggest impacts on our lives. For that, we sincerely say thank you!
Wildfire Cofounders left to right: Vinay (COO), Hriday (CEO), and Jay (CTO)