The founders of what is likely Waco’s first homegrown social media platform have a message those for obsessed with esoteric fictional universes: It’s OK to be a nerd.
A team of young programmers spent long nights at a downtown business incubator to create NrdFeed.com for people like themselves who can’t get enough of fantasy movies, comics, cards, books and games.
The site, which officially launched Saturday, has room for a growing list of fandoms, including Middle Earth, anime, “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” “Doctor Who” and “Game of Thrones.”
Once there, fans can share photos and memes, connect with like-minded enthusiasts and read articles written by a team of “gurus” from around the world, said NrdFeed CEO Zach Krizan, a self-avowed nerd.
“I’m so excited about creating an outlet for people who live and breathe these fandoms to express themselves,” he said. He said the site already has close to 1,000 members without doing any marketing.
“This is not just for hardcore nerds but also housewives that really enjoy ‘The Walking Dead,’ ” he said. “They could stumble on the site. With media the way it is right now, everyone’s a nerd. They just don’t know it yet.”
Krizan and his friends have spent the better part of the past year coding the site, mostly at ThincSpace, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s business incubator at 514 Franklin Ave.
They would come in at night to the shared office space and work until morning, fueled by Mountain Dew and enthusiasm for creating something new.
Krizan, a Waco native who has a computer-related degree from Texas A&M-Central Texas, quit a salaried job to follow his dream.
“I’ve learned more here in six months than in my entire college career,” he said.
Leaders of the team included Krizan and fellow programmers/nerd culture fans Robert Toups, the COO; and Mitch Eichblatt, chief technology officer.
Chris McGowan, a chamber official who oversees the incubator, said he has been impressed with the team’s dedication and ambition.
“What these guys are doing is definitely creative,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone else in Waco is trying to do a social media platform. I don’t know that anyone else is trying to reach out to the whole world from Waco, Texas.”
Krizan said the incubator was a key to the success of the venture because it provided a low-cost work space and a chance to network with other entrepreneurs. He and a group of about 10 friends had been working on the project out of his apartment until his roommate got fed up and kicked him out, he said.
Krizan said there’s no shortage of online sites dedicated to fantasy media and “cosplay,” or costumed role-playing. But he said no one has brought all of those streams together into one social media platform with original content.
“We’re the only ones covering all the fandoms,” he said. “The other thing that’s original about us is that we allow experts to write the content. Each one of our gurus is a master of their craft. It’s incredible how some of these people work. . . . Some days we’ll wake up and see there’s eight articles ready to post.”
The programmers are all part of a Waco fantasy and game subculture that orbits around stores such as the Game Closet and recent comic book and gaming conventions in Waco.
“A lot of social network platforms are online reflections of a real-life social network that actually exists,” Eichblatt said. “NrdFeed is in essence an online reflection of the Waco nerd culture. We’re hoping to spread it to the Texas nerd culture and the world nerd culture.”
Refining the platform
Eichblatt said the team will continue to expand and refine the platform.
“The idea of NrdFeed is that we can get all the things nerds like and put them in one place,” he said. “And then we can use statistical analysis to find out what nerds really like and what they want to see.”
The business plan for NrdFeed.com includes selling items such as clothing for various fandoms. For now, the site doesn’t have advertising, but it may adopt targeted advertising based on individual users’ tastes.
Krizan said he has been into nerd culture — mostly DC and Marvel Comics — since he was a boy, though he didn’t usually call himself a nerd when he was attending Midway High School. Now, he says, more people are embracing the identity.
“We’re kind of redefining nerd,” he said. “Now, being a nerd is a good thing. There’s a little bit of nerd in everyone.”