[This article was originally published in Forbes]
It’s not difficult to make friends and find others on the internet, but sometimes making real connections with people who are interested in the same thing as you are can be more difficult than it needs to be. So say the founders of Narvii, developer of a family of mobile apps that bring people together by very specific topics.
“If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, having a sense of belonging and having people who care about you and what you’re saying are two very fundamental human desires,” says Narvii co-founder Ben Anderson.
Narvii’s Amino apps offer community to its 300,000+ mostly youthful users.
Anderson and co-founder Yin Wang met while the two attended Boston’s Northeastern University. Anderson studied the music business and did time at startups Nimbit and Ourstage, as well as some work for PayPal Media Network. Wang, a computer science PhD, had been an app developer and won $125,000 as part of the Google Android Developer Challenge in 2008.
The two built the platform and launched in the summer of 2012. “We can aggregate people from all over the world into these micro-communities… that we call ‘aminos’.” Narvii’s Amino apps cover interests like travel, movies, music, food, photography, gaming, and others. There’s also a “Virtual Space” where users can create their own focused groups.
The interface takes users to a news feed, discussion boards, images, and allows members to search for like-minded people near them with a geographical map. So far the company has accrued over 300,000 registered users.
Anderson’s childhood interest in robotics atrophied over time because he just couldn’t find a community of others who were as taken with the field as he was. “I always kind of wondered what it would have been like if I had peer group support to pursue that interest further.” Searching for and befriending like-minded people on Narvii makes problems like he experienced a thing of the past.
One area where Narvii has found great traction is among fans of Anime—hand-drawn or computer-generated Japanese-style animation. “You’ll see blog posts with lots of images, videos related to the anime that people are watching,” Anderson explained.
Monetization plans include opening up the communities for brands, organizations and celebrities to create communities for their passionate following. From there, contests and other promotions are possible. Launching accompanying sales platforms is also an option. Those types of strategies will kick in once Narvii’s Amino apps draw over a million users, which Anderson expects by Q3 2014, banking on the launch of a number of additional communities in the near future.
Narvii thinks it could have an upperhand on other social platforms like Facebook given its users’ engagement. “A lot of people have Facebook fan pages and Twitter profiles—the interesting thing about that is that on those fan pages there’re a lot of ‘zombie fans,’ they really don’t do anything,” Anderson said. The Amino apps, he added, are made up of users that want to interact with one another and the platform is built to encourage that.
So far Narvii has raised startup capital from angels like Joe Caruso and Michael Dornbrook. Boston-based serial angel investor and Narvii mentor, Semyon Dukach, wasn’t sold on the idea of the apps until he let his 14-year-old daughter, Miranda, play with them.
“When she got involved with this app she was on it all the time, much moreso than Facebook,” Dukach told FORBES. “But it was the way she interacted with the community. There’re hundreds of thousands of users on this—kids all into the same activity. Somehow it was just so fundamentally positive—I could tell she had these meaningful, positive, real relationships with the new kids she’d met around the interest that they had.”(See the interview with Semyon Dukach here)
After making a splash with his daughter, Dukach brought her to an investors’ meeting and she practically ran the beginning of that gathering with her enthusiasm for the product. “All the investors in the room ended up writing a check on the spot,” says Anderson. Narvii made $150,000 that day.
Investors will have another opportunity to invest in Narvii soon. The two-person company plans to raise between $2 million and $4 million in the first quarter of 2014.