Steven Cravotta hugs director of Boost! West Oakland Ty-Licia Hooker. Cravotta partnered with “Wordle” creator Josh Wardle to donate $50,000 to educational nonprofit Boost! after Cravotta profited from ads in his “Wordle!” app. Photo courtesy of Steven Cravotta
Around Christmas 2021, Pepperdine alumnus Steven Cravotta (’20) noticed an app he created six years ago gained 500,000 downloads in three days. Now, the app, which is available exclusively on Apple devices, has over 10 million total downloads.
“Wordle!” and “Wordle” are similar games, have similar names and both went viral in the past three months — but they have different creators. Cravotta, the founder of “Wordle!” said he was shocked when he saw downloads skyrocket for something he created in high school.
“My main goal with this platform is to encourage young entrepreneurs to take a bet on themselves,” Cravotta said. “I only built ‘Wordle!’ because I was passionate about coding and building apps. If you take enough of those bets on yourself, you never know what could happen — something like this could happen. You can catch a big break.”
Cravotta — who majored in Advertising at Pepperdine — developed “Wordle!” when he was 18 years old, hoping it would give him experience in coding, he said. He did small-scale marketing on social media and then did not check back in on statistics as time passed.
“I got a decent amount of downloads — maybe 75,000 — but after that I let the project die out,” Cravotta said. “I still had it in the back of my mind. It got maybe one or two downloads per day for the past five years, so it was pretty much a dead app.”
“Wordle!” is a game in which users guess a word based on scrambled letters in a matter of seconds. Browser-based “Wordle” gives users six tries to guess a word and has no time constraint.
During the winter of 2021, Cravotta said he visited his family in Atlanta , Ga. for the holidays and decided to log into his Apple Developer Dashboard, only to see a chart with a line going straight up showing exponential growth in “Wordle!” downloads.
“I had no idea what was going on, so I did a quick Google search of ‘Wordle,’ and the first thing to come up was a New York Times article called, ‘Wordle is a Love Story,’” Cravotta said. “I thought, ‘What? There is no way this is my ‘Wordle!’’ That’s how I came to find out Josh Wardle had built a browser-only application called, ‘Wordle.’”
Cravotta said after speaking with Wardle, he learned Wardle created his “Wordle” at the end of 2021 with the goal of giving people a free and easy-to-access mind game. Cravotta said people looked to find the popular app on the Apple App Store, and because his game is virtually identical to Wardle’s, people not only downloaded it, but also played it.
“It [‘Wordle!’] is a fun game,” Cravotta said. “I built it when I was 18, so it wasn’t the most polished game ever, but it is a good game.”
With in-app purchases and ads, Cravotta said he began making a lot of money off the millions of “Wordle!” downloads. Cravotta said once he saw how much money he was making, he reached out to Wardle and asked if they could mutually agree on a charity to donate the money Cravotta made off the app.
“I said, ‘Hey man, your game is sending a lot of traction my way,’” Cravotta said. “His whole mission was that he did not want to profit off of his game, so he didn’t show ads and that’s why it is free. I was like, ‘I respect that, and as a developer I get that. What I would love to do is find some literacy-focused charity that I can donate these proceeds to because, ultimately, this Wordle thing is crazy. No one expected this to happen, so let’s do something amazing with it.’”
Not long after, Cravotta said Wardle was on board, connecting them to a charity called “Boost! West Oakland.” Cravotta said Wardle’s wife had an affiliation with “Boost!” and the location was close enough to Cravotta’s home in Santa Monica to visit the facilities in person.
“Boost!” is a free tutoring and mentorship organization for students in grades K-6 in urban areas of California, according to its website. The goal is to inspire children in underserved communities for success and give them opportunities to thrive academically and personally.
“I met the director of the organization, her name is Ty-Licia [Hooker] and she is absolutely amazing and one of the greatest people I have ever met,” Cravotta said. “I met a bunch of the tutors who work at ‘Boost!’, and I met some of the students, too. They told me a bunch of stories about how ‘Boost!’ has changed their lives and really helped the youth stay on track and out of trouble.”
Cravotta said he has been building a new app since his junior year at Pepperdine called “Puff Count,” which helps people quit vaping. He said he hopes this new app, which tracks vaping usage, can gain people’s attention following the growth of ‘Wordle!’
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