Almost two years ago, LSA senior Ryan Wolande and Engineering senior Kevin Li felt frustrated with connections present-day social media provided — sparking a desire to create an app that made connecting online a more personal and interactive experience.

For Wolande and Li, that desire turned into developing Branch, a social app that aims to harnesses people’s desire to connect with others in a more personal way. After users of the app post anonymously to a “Spot” on campus, such as the Shapiro Undergraduate Library or the Michigan Union, anyone can respond to their post and start a conversation. If the users conversing feel comfortable, they can later send each other a “profile share request” to reveal their identities and meet up in the real world.

“People are glued to their phones,” Wolande said. “Social media today is not a social experience, it’s an experience with a phone.”

Wolande said Branch, now available on iOS and coming to Android mid-February, allows users to connect one-on-one and post exact locations. He added that Branch is different than apps like Tinder, which people also use to meet each other in person, because it focuses more on real connections rather than appearance.

“It’s the only one that allows you to start as anonymous so you can express yourself fully without being concerned of being judged, while it still has the potential of meeting people in the real world,” Wolande said.

Currently, Branch has about 100 active users and a total of 300 to 400 downloads. However, Wolande said he and Li hope the usage of the app will increase exponentially once they start marketing Branch in mid-to-late February.

He noted that the Branch team has secured a $20,000 investment from an unexpected angel investor and plan to use the money to promote the app by hosting events at bars and handing out free merchandise, like T-shirts, koozies and lighters.

“We hope to have 5,000 to 10,000 users by the end of the semester and then hopefully achieve campus-wide use after the beginning of next semester,” Wolande said.

If Branch becomes more popular campuswide, Wolande said he thinks it will be a useful social tool for incoming freshmen in particular by making the University seem less overwhelming.

So far, users have posted questions on the app concerning schoolwork, like the latest statistics problem set or EECS 314 homework. Some posts ask for advice on things, such as where to live, what classes to take or where to order Chinese food.

When asked what future he envisions for Branch, Wolande answered simply.

“I just hope it becomes the natural solution for someone who wants to get a quick game of pickup basketball going,” he said.

 

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