Harvard Dropouts Make GIF-Making Easy with GIFYouTube

'GIFs are just super cool. We just want more people to make more GIFs.'

Rory and Kieran O'Reilly

Rory and Kieran O’Reilly. / Photo Provided

A GIF is sometimes the only way to properly express an emotion. And now, thanks to brothers and Harvard dropouts Rory and Kieran O’Reilly, manufacturing those animated feelings has never been easier.

The pair launched GIFYT in July 2014, making it possible for any YouTube video to be turned into a GIF—either through their app or by typing in “GIF” before “YouTube” in a video’s URL.


The idea was born at Harvard, a university with its own channel on GIF search engine Giphy. The initial vision was to create an iOS app similar to Giphy called “GIF Messaging”; students could sift animations by category and then send them to a friend.

The concept gained quick popularity, inspiring the brothers to drop out of Harvard and head west to Silicon Valley.

“There was no risk in going out to California,” Rory says. “The sheer magnitude of [venture capitalists] in Silicon Valley is crazy.”

Once on the West Coast, the siblings realized that while people enjoyed sharing GIFs, actually making them was a painstaking process. The duo shifted their focus to creation, confident they were on to something when they launched the website and it crashed multiple times a day—not because of faulty engineering, but because of sheer buzz.

Since launch, more than two million GIFs have been created, and those GIFs have been viewed over a half a billion times.

“We are shaping how people use GIFs and giving them the tools they need to build the things they want,” Kieran says. “It’s for people who want to build a GIF but might not know how.”

GIFYT caught the attention of Boston-area student-run investment firm Rough Draft Ventures, which awarded the startup $25,000, and the Thiel Foundation, started by PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel.

The Foundation announced Friday its latest cohort of Thiel Fellows—the O’Reilly brothers among them, picked from a record 2,800 applicants. By accepting the fellowship, the pair will receive $100,000 and mentorship in exchange for dropping out of college to participate full-time in the two-year program.

“We were already taking time off school,” Rory says, adding, “I don’t see myself returning.”

Twenty fellows, all age 22 or younger, were accepted into the 2015 class and will join a network of roughly 80 other student entrepreneurs, who have collectively raised more than $142 million in venture capital and generated $41 million in revenue.

Raising money and generating revenue aren’t the team’s top priorities, however.

“One day, we’ll have to make money to support the team,” Rory adds. For now, they are focused on evolving the brand. How they will do that, though, “it’s under wraps.”

“A lot of GIF stuff is coming soon,” Rory says. “GIFs are just super cool. We just want more people to make more GIFs.”