Wildfire’s flame following COVID-19: Opendoor

photo of Wildfire app landing page on an iphone
Eliana Marcu/Staff
The community alert app Wildfire officially shut down July 11. A statement from the app's founders announced that Wildfire will be merging with real-estate app Opendoor.

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On July 6, Wildfire began sizzling out of its original flame and capturing a new one. With its sunset period already complete, Wildfire began its transition to joining Opendoor.

One of the app’s co-founders, Hriday Kemburu, launched Wildfire as a way to keep college students informed and safe, according to Wildfire’s website. Since 2016, the Wildfire app has notified students at UC Berkeley and many other colleges of campus safety issues and emergencies, the website adds.

The app included four notable categories: safety, celebrity sightings, protests and classes canceled. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the app struggled to stay afloat alone, according to the website. Without in-person classes and events, the app decided to “graduate” to a different platform, Opendoor. 

Kemburu, now a campus alumnus, co-founded the app with his former classmates Jay Patel and Vinay Ramesh. According to the website, Wildfire users were able to export their data during the app’s sunset period, which ended July 11, before user data was deleted.

“Excited to share that my company Wildfire is joining Opendoor! Jay Patel, Vinay Ramesh, and I started Wildfire over 6 years ago during our senior year at Berkeley. In that time we sent 65 million alerts to nearly 1 million users,” Kemburu said in a Facebook post.  

An Opendoor spokesperson lauded the union between Wildfire and Opendoor, noting that the company has a mission of “empower(ment)” and seeks “talent,” which lays a firm foundation for the Wildfire team and its work.

The collaboration between Opendoor and Wildfire will help guide the app toward change, according to Wildfire’s website. The app saw growth in its followers after the founders used it to send an alert in a Berkeley Facebook group about a protest outside former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s talk on campus February 2016, a day after the app’s launch.

“Core to our mission of empowering everyone with the freedom to move is world-class talent. It’s the technical skills and mission-driven mentality of our team members that’s allowed Opendoor to scale to nearly 40 markets nationwide and surpass 100,000 home transactions. But we’re still just getting started,” the Opendoor spokesperson said in an email.

When creating the app, the founders noted issues that previous social apps faced, including questions on moderation, credibility and racial profiling. According to the Wildfire website, the app aimed to address those issues while informing students “faster and more effectively” than other news sources.

During the app’s lifetime, Wildfire went from only providing updates on crime and safety to giving college students community updates and helping connect students, the website adds.

“We’re thrilled to be able to welcome the Wildfire team to the Opendoor family, and we look forward to building the future of real estate together,” the Opendoor spokesperson said in the email.

Contact Nadia Farjami at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @Nadiafarjami.