Earlier this summer, high school students around the country realized that there was one small but essential graduation moment they would miss during the pandemic: signing yearbooks in-person. This tradition is so ingrained in American culture that it dates back to the late 17th century. In the grand scheme of things, the practice may seem trivial, but we miss these in-person traditions the most in a crisis.
A Los Angeles high schooler decided to do something about it. When the pandemic prevented Jameel Shivji from finishing the school year in person, the 18-year old teamed up with his sister Suraya and their 19-year old co-founder James Dale to create a student yearbook powered by Snapchat. Dubbed HAGS ("have a great summer"), the app was an immediate success, drawing tens of thousands of users. People I knew were buzzing about the company, so I proactively reached out to Suraya, the company's CEO, to see if she wanted to meet for a virtual coffee.
What struck me about that first meeting is that the HAGS founders are incredible consumer product thinkers. Their emphasis on building and designing intuitive apps that conjure a particular feeling like nostalgia and simultaneously offer a clear utility is compelling. I started my career as a computer scientist and product manager, and digital creatives and product-oriented founders are the people I understand the most. I immediately clicked with the HAGS team and jumped at the opportunity to lead the company's seed round that was announced today.
With HAGS, we're placing an early bet on a founding team that is part of, and profoundly understands, a generation shaping the cultural landscape. HAGS is precisely the type of early-stage team I enjoy partnering with: those who build creatively, thoughtfully, intuitively and are entirely unbothered by Silicon Valley hype cycles. They have their fingers on their demographic's pulse and have figured out how to build an intuitive place for a lifetime of memories.
Gen-Z is coming of age, entering the workforce, and shaping the world. They're hard-working, leaning into chaos, and ready to disrupt traditional systems. How we think about money, culture, politics, and the future is increasingly shaped by this cohort. And it won't end with just yearbooks: as we shift to an increasingly virtual world, HAGS plans to keep the nostalgia alive with an entirely new digital format for students to have fun and hang out with their classmates. How do we maintain trust, fun, and nostalgia in a virtual space? HAGS is exploring this by building a product by, and for, Gen-Z.
None of us could have predicted what 2020 would bring, but I'm certain that Suraya, Jameel, James, and the next generation of leaders will design us a more human-centered way of hanging out on the internet, and I can't wait to find out.