New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Beyond NYU: Maintaining memories through shared albums

How a Tandon student is helping college students keep connections from a night out.
(Courtesy photo by Weilyn Chong)

Tandon student Alexandra Debow always dreaded having to say goodbye to strangers after a night out. After many nights out and multiple missed connections, she decided to create an app that would allow people, like herself, to stay in touch with new friends. 

During her junior year at NYU, Debow was able to garner millions of dollars in venture capital funding to create swsh — an app where users can keep in touch with the people they meet through shared photo albums. While swsh currently boasts thousands of users, Debow is working full time to expand the startup to focus on college students. 

In an interview with WSN, Debow discussed her love for computer engineering, the inspiration behind swsh and the decision to switch to entrepreneurship full time.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: How did you come up with the idea for swsh? 

Debow: Growing up in Hong Kong, it was really difficult to stay in touch with people. I wanted to build a way that you would be able to go deeper with a few connections that really matter to you if you go to a party or meet a bunch of people. This is a cool way to reconnect with people afterwards. Photo albums have always been reconnected, but they’ve never been done with artificial intelligence in a way that helps you find the best photos of you, that helps you figure out which photos are good for sharing, which aren’t good for sharing, which ones you want to share with your family chat — a bunch of different things there.

Debow started studying data science at NYU Shanghai in 2020 but decided to transfer to the Tandon School of Engineering in 2022 to fulfill her lifelong dream of living in New York City.

WSN: Why did you decide to transfer to NYU Tandon and study computer engineering? 

Debow: Being able to be challenged and being outside my comfort zone is when I learned the most. I was always excited about building something, but I didn’t know at which stage. Coming to New York was a cool way for me to be able to be around more engineers. I love technology, and I love inviting and connecting people, and New York is a hub for that. I always wanted to build stuff and I knew that one of the coolest ways to do so was by building things for my friends and for people that I was around. Computer engineering was a nice way to be able to really help accelerate that.

Once a user creates a photo album on swsh, they can add pictures from a night out and share it with those who were also there. Anyone included in the album can tag themselves and other attendees, including Instagram and Snapchat accounts. The app also uses facial recognition technology to immediately filter photos for each individual user.

WSN: What inspired the name swsh?

Debow: I hated saying goodbye as I was growing up. So instead of saying goodbye, I’d say, ‘I’d love to see you again. See you somewhere, somehow.’ This began this hopeful phrase that I really wanted to use to reconnect with people. But at the end of the day, it’s really difficult to do so, so we wanted to start a company called somewhere, somehow that was all about strengthening those connections.

Debow is now taking a gap year from NYU to work on growing swsh. The decision came after she was named one of 20 Thiel Fellows in March, awarding her with $100,000 to take two years off of school and work full-time on her startup. She said that while the swsh team already raised $2 million in venture capital funding last year, the Thiel Foundation’s recognition and network of support from investors and scientists will be beneficial to the startup’s growth.  

Her co-founders, two of her friends from high school, are also taking gap years at their respective universities to work on developing swsh. The group of friends worked to build five different apps over the past year, including a social calendar and a personality game.

WSN: Why did you decide to focus on swsh over the other apps that you created? 

Debow: We realized swsh was something that was a true skill. It wasn’t just social media for the sake of social media. There was a real reason why you would open it. You go to a party, and after, share all the photos, everyone can upload their photos, everyone can download the photos. It doesn’t matter if you have the app or not. It’s very easy to see who’s tagged and get everyone’s information after. We realized that was a very clear problem that we were solving, and we realized that we were using the app too. A lot of the other things we were building we thought were cool, but if we weren’t using it ourselves, who else is going to use it?

Debow and her co-founders work with an engineer and a designer out of a headquarters in the Flatiron district to speak with users and investors, recruit more engineers and pursue partnerships to expand swsh’s outreach — particularly to college students. 

The company is partnering with Greek life communities at universities — including Vanderbilt University, Syracuse University and NYU — to create a culture of sharing photos on the app among students nationwide, according to Debow.

WSN: What are your plans for the future of swsh? 

Debow: We’re excited about being able to build upon existing products and really getting people who would love the app to use it more. But, there’s still a lot to grow, and I’m really excited. We want to hit 100,000 users, have super high retention, have people share their Instagram stories and use it at their parties in the summer. We’re working with sororities and frats, specifically at some schools that are suburban or rural that have a large Greek life and host a lot of parties. We’re partnering with them in the summer to launch with them in the fall. At parties, our partners take a bunch of photos, sometimes we’ll send a photographer, and they upload them on swsh after. We’ve been able to really get a nice cohort of users, but being able to scale that up in the next few months is gonna be really exciting for us.

Contact Aashna Miharia at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Aashna Miharia
Aashna Miharia, Deputy News Editor
Aashna Miharia is a first-year studying journalism and public policy with a minor in business studies. She’s from the Boston area and a novelist, coffee enthusiast and lover of independent bookstores. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while wandering around New York City or on Instagram @aashnamiharia.

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