Astin Hayes launches TipOff, a black culture pun app


Astin Hayes (Photo courtesy of Astin Hayes)

Astin Hayes knows a thing or two about bringing people together. As a brand manager for a popular spirits company, she hosts parties and gatherings throughout Chicago. It’s no surprise, then, that its first foray into tech involved a gaming app called TipOff, an urban taboo-style game that celebrates the dark through culturally relevant guessing themes.

Tell us a bit about TipOff and the design of the app.

TipOff is a guessing game that celebrates black culture. We like to say it’s like Taboo, but for you. The app is a multi-player game that can be played in person or remotely. Users divide into teams and take turns tilting each other on the keywords without saying any of the 5 words listed on the card. Each member of the team plays in turn the role of “player” and “hater”. The player describes the keyword while the enemy keeps the player on each card to make sure he doesn’t break the rules.

About 10 years ago, I created a physical card game right out of college. It became a favorite among my friends and family at gatherings and the plan was to make it a card game, but I was young and inexperienced in how to do it at the time. Eventually apps popped up and I was focusing on making an app because it was the wave of the future.

One of the advantages of TipOff is that it uses black subjects. Why was the integration of culture important?

TipOff was created in response to a lack of African American mobile games. TipOff strives to be a source of laughter for black people and those [who] love them.

After downloading the game the concept is amazing, but I can only play when four people are immediately available. Is the idea to bring people together, or are there ways to create a person versus computer and / or two player option in the future?

Not for the moment. Technology is a two-edged sword. One of the best things about it is that it helps bring people together, but one of the worst things about it is that it keeps people apart. Part of the game was about helping people get back to the simplicity of socializing, while still being able to integrate technology. TipOff is a game that a 13-year-old could easily play with their mom and grandmother after Sunday dinner, or play on Facetime with their older brother in college.

Do you have a background in technology? If not, what has been your biggest learning curve?

I have no tech experience at all, but was able to build a team with my current business partner, Amanda Spann, Technology Consultant [who] created three apps before TipOff. She’s a wealth of knowledge and taught me a lot, but she handles most of the technical parts. We often meet about the direction in which I see the app and it helps me bring my vision to life and keep me updated.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received on getting started with tech?

“Make sure I give back.” There’s no [many] Blacks or women in technology. So that motivates me to work harder to show young people that we can and will be successful in STEM. The majority of in-app purchase category packs are related to redistribution to organizations that focus on minorities and young people in STEM.

What are your three main inspirations?

My grandfather, my mother and my grandmother. I would like to think that I have pieces of all of them. My grandfather was a visionary and a brilliant entrepreneur who didn’t hesitate to take risks. My mom is super creative and has ventured into entrepreneurship in the past as well, and the biggest lesson she has ever taught me is to live life and be happy for yourself. If I woke up and decided to be a sanitation worker and this is what made me happy every day, she would support me by helping me to be the best sanitation worker I can be. My grandmother was the most sociable and generous person I know to date. She has always loved being with people and making sure they are taken care of. I get these qualities from her.

Now that you have a platform, is the goal to increase the number of users and find investors or something?

The goal is certainly to increase the number of users and to find the right investors. We’re still developing a plan for how we ultimately want to see the app’s relationship with investors, but that’s definitely the plan.

A lot of people are intimidated by technology. Either they think it’s too expensive or they don’t have the skills. What did you have to overcome to dive?

I totally understand that. This app would have been released years ago if I had come in contact with someone like my business partner, Amanda [who] could fill all the gaps I needed. The key is to make a plan. Network and meet people who have the skills you lack and who you trust to build a strong team. It may take a little longer than you want, or even cost more than you expected, but if you really believe in it, you have to keep pushing to make it happen.

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