In December 2017, I wrote a piece called Let’s Go Beyond Superficial Virtual Interactions in 2018 encouraging my readers to look for opportunities to interact more in person through meaningful activities. I shared my own experience with our literary group Caravanserai Literati.
At the end of 2019, I published our Literati Reading List as my readers wanted to know what we were reading.
Well, little did I know that the Literati, to self-preserve, would have to go virtual and operate through a video conferencing platform in the wake of the Covid menace!
Nonetheless, every evolutionary process comes with its own set of problems and opportunities.
Today, I’m going to reflect on a startup idea that is born out of the isolation that humanity is facing in the post Covid world.
Long before the Coronavirus pandemic, humanity was already experiencing a loneliness pandemic. In quarantine, a lot of people living alone found themselves starved for emotional connection.
As I watched Zoom become the social network of the Covid era, I also observed that it is not easy to spend an hour on small talk through video. In my own social network, I started suggesting salon-style discussion topics so that six people can actually have a meaningful conversation, rather than chit chat and shoot the breeze. The latter is wholly unsatisfying and leaves one empty and irritated.
Through all this, Literati transitioned effortlessly into a lovely congregation of a dozen people discussing Sadat Hasan Manto’s Bitter Fruit in April, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in May, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in June. We are currently reading Vladimir’s Nabokov’s luscious memoir, Speak Memory, and will meet on July 8 for the discussion. Following that, in August, we will tackle James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
A New Social Network?
This makes me wonder if a social network can be built on top of Zoom (or another video conferencing platform) to bring together small literary groups that can explore meaningful friendships and deep connections.
In doing so, I still believe that the in-person nature of the interaction needs to be the ultimate goal. Today’s virtual-only interaction is not going to be a permanent condition. Humanity will again sit around the table and share meals. Thus, one of the primary conditions I would impose on this network is that it should be based on proximity. How far are members willing to drive? Thirty minutes may be ideal.
There may be other clustering algorithms that can drive matches for groups of 8-12 people to come together. Shared alma maters could be one. Shared taste in literature could be another. Our Literati, for example, reads a lot of classics and masterpieces. Another group may be interested in reading crime fiction from various countries like Australia (Miss Fisher), Botswana (Mma Precious Ramotswe), and so on.
There is something magical about a group of people getting to know one another through literature. The consistency of convening around meaningful, meaty topics on a regular basis has the recipe for long term relationships taking root.
And when these interactions eventually get back to being over meals, in person, these connections would further intensify.
Notice, the framework I am discussing is one that consists ONLY of small groups with 8-12 people, no more. It’s effectiveness is in the concentrated attention, the process of getting to know one another. Deeply. Quite the opposite of the superficial virtual interactions flooding Facebook and TikTok.
In reflecting upon what features and functions such a network would need to have, I go back to the Literati’s workflow.
We use Doodles for scheduling.
One of us leads each salon, and is required to put together study notes and discussion points. We use Google Docs and email for this purpose. The downside is that we do not have a central repository where we could access everything long term. It would be nice to have.
After each salon (in person), we upload photos to a Facebook group.
We celebrate birthdays.
Nothing terribly complicated, but some gentle workflow elements that enable a dozen people to collaborate and interact on an ongoing basis.
The additional and more significant value of the social network would be in the matchmaking and clustering of bringing compatible people together.
We built our group within our social network. Everyone in it is someone’s friend. Most of us have known one another for many years.
But the social network we’re considering would need to be able to bring compatible strangers together. In doing so successfully, it would contribute immensely towards alleviating the loneliness pandemic that is likely to last well beyond Covid-19.
There is also the opportunity to create user generated content around study guides and discussion notes to be shared across groups.
And finally, virtual interactions around specific books that multiple groups are reading.
Business Model and Market Size
My guess is that participants should be charged $10/month or $100/year to be in this community.
This means, with 1 million users, we’re looking at a $100 million Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) business.
Is this possible? I think so.
Can it be larger? I hope so. The population of lonely people who are also literature aficionados, presumably, is much larger than a million.
Besides, the groups could also be built around Film or Theater.
In any case, a $100 million ARR business would be valued at a billion dollars, so in principle, this is a Unicorn idea.
If the ARR level gets to a billion based on 10 million users, now we’re talking serious numbers.
Healthy, not Creepy
Humanity’s search for human connection in the pre-Covid world led us to creepy trends like Tinder, swiping for matches and on-demand hook-ups. Unhealthy to the extreme, damaging to self-esteem, soul-destroying, dangerous to the body, these trends have left people feeling hollow.
I believe that a healthy, wholesome, soulful, literature and film based social network would create a different organizing principle for engineering small, deeply anchored communities.
They would fill the world with meaningful friendships, and even romance that blossoms in natural, organic ways.
Not the creepy sort.
If you want to work on these ideas and are looking for mentoring, start by going through our free Bootstrapping Course, especially the Bootstrapping with a Paycheck module, and then come to our Free Public Roundtables. We hold them weekly.
This segment is a part in the series : Startup Ideas for the Post Covid World