Over the last decade, there has been a rapid increase in the number of startups and venture capital activity around the world. In 2009, there was an estimated $39 billion invested in startups, while in 2017, that number increased to over $171 billion – over four times the amount in only eight years. Companies have been increasing their focus on utilizing various technologies to improve the world for individuals. Whether it be creating a gaming platform that uses virtual reality, or creating an online shopping platform that provides the opportunity for consumers to shop at the click of a button – if you have thought of it, it has most likely been created. This push for technology on our everyday lives, however, has created a shift in human relationships, ultimately reducing individuals’ connections with the people around them.
Ashley Brasier, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, a San Francisco based venture capital firm, has noticed that the pendulum is starting to swing in the opposite direction. She says there is an increased desire for people to meet up in real life to share passions, learn new hobbies, and trade ideas. . Accordingly, she believes there is an opportunity to create online platforms that bring people together in real life – i.e., URL to IRL. According to Brasier, “the pendulum for social interaction is swinging away from purely digital relationships.”
Ashley Brasier has been working in the high growth tech sector for years. Her combined experience makes her a leader in the startup sector. Prior to joining Lightspeed Venture Partners she worked independently as a growth advisor and consultant for various growth stage companies; as category manager at Thumbtack, an online service that matched customers with local professionals; and as a senior associate consultant at Bain and Company, a management consulting firm that advises leaders on strategy, marketing, organization, operations, IT and M&A, across all industries. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts (BA) of Visual and Media Studies, Markets and Management from Duke University and her Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
How Has Technology Impacted Relationships?
The technology responsible for distancing relationships can be looked at from two different perspectives. First, interacting with technology itself is an independent action, resulting in more time spent alone. Secondly, constant interfacing is reducing the amount of time individuals engage with one another; for example, online gaming causes people to interact only with the digital world for days at a time. Therefore, people are spending less and less time together.
It is time for a change. For over a decade researchers have been analyzing the negative impact this technology has had on relationships. According to a study titled Digital Swelling, Technology in Couple and Family Relationships, conducted by Katherina M. Hertlein at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, technology has impacted three major aspects of relationships. Identified as the multi-theoretical model, Hertlein concluded that technology has negatively impacted the structure and process of relationships. When analyzing the structure, technology has redefined rules and boundaries around the couple and family systems. When analyzing the process, technology has redefined intimacy, relationship initiation and formation processes, and relationship maintenance. In essence, basic human connections are being replaced by online communication. Furthermore, attention in relationships is also diminishing, creating a challenge for long-term and ongoing relationships.
The recognition of this negative impact goes beyond the academic world and individuals themselves have noticed a change in their relationship behaviors. Specifically women have noticed a loss of connection with their partners: 62% said technology interferes with their leisure time together; 40% said their partner gets distracted by the TV during a conversation; 35% said their partner will pull out his phone if he receives a notification even if they are in the middle of a conversation; 33% said that their partner checks his phone during mealtimes that they spend together; and, 25% said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations.
This impact of technology is not limited to couples and families, nor is it limited to affecting women. These are merely studies that reveal the downfall of the technological era and provide evidence as to why there is a shift in current trends.
URL to IRL
With the recognition of the consequences of constant online interactions, companies are now privy to a new world of innovations – that is, they are identifying the benefits of creating platforms that allow for social interaction. This is not limited to interactions via telecommunications online, but rather by providing opportunities for people to meet up and interact one on one.
Brasier, who is an established member of the world of venture capitalism, has extensive knowledge on how early-stage companies build a successful growth strategy. One way to penetrate the overly competitive market of startups is to create a new space that connects with an audience. To her, this new space is simple – IRL platforms.
IRL platforms, or “in real life” platforms, are projects that are directed towards bringing consumers together. Due to the overwhelming amount of services offered at the simple click of a button, people are now seeking a more personalized experience.
The Millennial Generation
The demand for the change is being introduced by generations seeking more face to face interactions – specifically, millennials. They are the first generation to utilize technology at maximum capacity: 92% use smartphones, compared with the 85% of Gen Xers and 67% of Baby Boomers, and 85% use social media. They utilize messaging platforms and emails in both their work and personal lives for communication, and they understand the importance of technology for a successful business. However, with this constant interaction with online platforms, they are starting to seek out a new concept for their generation – meeting up for one on one activities.
One of the first concepts of this platform was introduced long before the recent push for in-person interaction. Meetup, which was created in 2002 by CEO Scott Heiferman and four other co-founders, was ahead of its time. The early version of the platform charged a fee to venues in exchange for bringing Meetup users to their business. Today, it is one of the largest online services with over 35 million users, and it is used to create groups that host local in-person events. It is “a platform for finding and building local communities. People use Meetup to meet new people, learn new things, find support, get out of their comfort zones, and pursue their passions, together.”
Today, however, platforms are being created that are more specific to their audience. One of the most popular for entrepreneurs to target today are millennial women, and two companies that are finding success in this space include The Wing and The Assembly.
The Wing is “a network of work and community space designed for women. [They] create spaces where [their] members feel safe and empowered to create, connect and generate opportunities.” Their mission “is the professional, civic, social, and economic advancement of women through community.” They are “committed to living [their] mission through partnerships with local non-profits, and a scholarships program that offers free memberships to individuals whose work supports the advancement of marginalized women and girls.” Their team, which is headquartered in New York City, “is made up of experts across fields, from construction to food and beverage, marketing, tech, finance, and more.”
The Assembly is similar to that of The Wing but with a different focus. They are “a community focused on physical and personal wellness. The Assembly is for those who want to grow together and feel good every single day. [This] sacred place is designed for [women] to come together, learn, and move in ways that build strength from the inside. Housed within the walls of a historic church, this group of creators, creatives, and passionate humans gather every day.” The Assembly “is a safe place to practice self-care, whether that means finding a solitary area to reflect, learning a new practice, or reaching out to build connections within the community. [Their] doors are open for [anyone] to come to find out what it means and looks like to truly give yourself space.”
Both of these companies have created a platform that introduces women to new communities. These women start by reviewing the online presence, and then they can connect with women by participating in the club.
The Impact of Venture Capital
Companies that are targeting this new concept are experiencing the financial benefits of this new trend as well; and, they are doing it with the help of venture capital firms.
For example, The Wing, which was founded by CEO Audrey Gelman and chief operating officer Lauren Kassan, has now raised $117.5 million (as of December 2018). The company was launched in 2016 with one location in New York City. Now the club is set to expand to over nine cities in the United States and abroad with thanks to their most recent Series C funding, in which they raised $75 million. The Wing “now has 6,000 members to its $2,350-a-year-physical spaces, which offer programming and community-building alongside their offerings as workspaces, and has moved into media with a magazine and a podcast.”
Years prior, this concept would have had various challenges with finding such success. Venture capital firms were focusing on startups directed towards the tech industry. However, the impact of the past is catching up and platforms such as The Wing and The Assembly are finding massive success.
Catching the Attention of Middlers
While this trend towards IRL meet-ups has largely been directed towards millennials, several entrepreneurs are recognizing that other demographics, especially the Middlers, could also benefit from more IRL interactions. .
Who Are The Middlers?
The term “The Middlers” was recently coined by Ashley Brasier in an article she posted titled Meet The Middlers. According to Brasier, the Middlers are older adultswith a youthful mindset. “Middlers are older adults living with great vitality. They’re fiercely independent and tech-savvy, owning smartphones, smart TVs, and sometimes even smart homes. Middlers enjoy long vacations, home improvement projects, and are focused on staying healthy. The majority of today’s Middlers are part of the Baby Boomer generation. But let’s be clear — not all Boomers are Middlers, and not all Middlers are Boomers. Membership in this group is about a state of mind and way of life, rather than a specific age.”
Brasier claims that “instead of grouping everyone age 60 plus into one category, I think it’s time we carve-out a separate category to describe older adults that are in the middle — no longer working adults, yet not ready for caregiving or assisted living. ”
Success in the Space
According to Brasier, the importance of “creating a distinction between Middlers and Seniors is helpful for businesses in understanding the vastly different needs and behaviors of these two different populations. Whereas seniors spend the majority of time at home, Middlers can be found at the mall, eating out, or visiting friends and family. And whereas seniors need caregiving and assisted living solutions, Middlers need engaging activities. Accordingly, it’s important for consumer businesses that serve these two populations to create differentiated products and services with distinct messaging.”
Success in this space has been witnessed by the growth of CIRKEL. Founded by Charlotte Japp, she had a similar perspective as Ashley Brasier and created a new concept for IRL meetups based on her “deep appreciation for her parents and other older, wiser people.” “Early in her career, Charlotte noticed a huge gap between the 20-somethings she worked with and baby boomers like her parents, who had decades of experience but were forced to retire or start secondary careers due to ageist hiring trends. Her friends and colleagues wanted career mentorship and life advice, while her parents and their friends were looking for new skills and trend reports to stay relevant in their careers.” This realization led her to create CIRKEL, an “intergenerational platform that brings people from different age groups together for mutual growth – both personally and professionally.”
With an online interface, the primary aspect of CIKEL is related to their in-person events. The events host speakers that are chosen to connect with multiple generations, including Middlers, and provide an avenue for the experienced to connect with the inspired.
Creating New Brands
Beyond technology, innovators penetrating the market for venture capital funding include companies that are focusing on the new ideology to get out and get active. REI, a company that has been around since 1938, has been focusing on this space for generations. They have for a long time understood the necessity of marketing to the active older adult group. However, with the introduction of technology, including the television and the internet, many companies redirected their focus to adopting a different mindset; but, time is turning back to 1938 and more companies are starting to understand the importance of getting out, especially to the current generations controlling the markets. Millennials and Middlers want to interact with the world around them, and companies can utilize this shift in thinking to create marketing material directed at this mindset.
Another company that is promoting IRL meetups is . The company is founded on the idea that “We Believe in Doing Things – moving your body and having fun with friends.” They are a technical apparel company for recreation, dedicated to making clothes for sweating in, including “interchangeable layers that play nice in any season or activity. From dog jogs to dodgeball, [they are] after a wardrobe that spans gym-life and life-life without sweating the small stuff.” They make hi-tech, hi-touch apparel for active lives. Created by Tyler Haney in 2013, the company is now recognized as “taking over the fitness-apparel world.” Since its conception, the company has “expanded from a small essentials kit to a quickly growing brand that has attracted tens of millions of dollars in investment, with a booming e-commerce business and retail locations popping up across the United States.”
Far from the technology world, Haney found a gap in the market that would serve those individuals seeking a more active lifestyle – those that were transitioning out of the independent and isolated world of the past into one in which social interaction was the norm. In addition, Haney utilized this new concept as a marketing tool that promoted both better health and a more mobile lifestyle.
The Benefits of Social Interaction
The shift to platforms that promote social interaction is good for business, but also important for the health of society at large. “Social support and social interaction are one of the most important factors predicting the health and well-being of everyone” [source]. Good social support helps people cope with stress and major life changes. It improves people’s immune systems and decreases symptoms related to depression and anxiety. It can aid in one’s ability to recover and improve quality of life when fighting chronic diseases. According to the National Institute on Aging, there is a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults, and studies have suggested that social isolation may have significant adverse effects for older adults. Overall, social interaction has the ability to improve entire communities mental and physical health.