When Janete Perez first moved from Seattle to San Francisco six years ago, she realized how hard it was to make friends. The former Microsoft program manager had landed a job at Zynga in the Bay Area, but even with an office full of digitally connected colleagues, Perez remembers the challenge of forming a new social group in person.
“We’re very digitally connected to people we already know,” she says. “But it’s hard to make new friends with existing services,” says Perez, whether it’s for professional networking or learning a new hobby, or finding volunteer and other opportunities. ways to give back to the community. Existing social platforms weren’t promoting meaningful conversations, she argues, instead of focusing on sharing and likes.
Perez eventually found his place, but the problem reappeared when another distant friend moved to the Bay Area and was looking to start a fitness group. Perez, who worked at Facebook on its Messenger app, began to consider creating a platform that would facilitate the creation of long-term relationships bridging the real world and the virtual world.
The result is Present, an app coming out of beta today. Perez says the experience of helping people log in while she was working on Messenger revealed just how much of a huge opportunity there is to log in. But social media connections often leave people more lonely than ever. A survey of 1,787 American adults aged 19 to 32 by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that those who reported spending more than two hours a day on social media were twice as likely to feel isolated than those who spent less than half an hour there. .
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Perez wondered exactly how someone goes from a stranger to a new friend. Part of the solution she and her co-founder Bob Lee (the former CTO of Square) landed on is proximity. Perez says they really wanted to take advantage of the general location to allow people to discover new friends without sacrificing their privacy. This, she argues, “is a really differentiated way of connecting.” Dating and networking apps like Tinder and Bumble don’t offer specific locations, but show a person’s proximity in miles to a potential connection. Present only shows how close a circle or event is to the user. This, says Perez, “builds trust with our users.”
Another thing that sets Present apart is that it is exclusively aimed at women. Perez argues that now, more than ever, it’s important for women to be in supported and positive environments “and really learn from each other.” She points out that Present beta testers reported a high level of intention to give back and support each other. This support ranges from learning from local women-owned businesses to nonprofit and community organizations aligned with their interests.
Of course, there are also circles where women can meet to exercise, eat out, practice conversation in foreign languages and other social activities, as well as more career-oriented groups for entrepreneurs. , minorities under-represented in technology, etc.
The way it works is simple. Download the app (currently on iOS and web, Android is in beta) for free and verify your profile through Facebook. When I logged in I also got to see what the Women in Circles based on my interests were already discussing by reading the Circles chat history. You can also connect directly with someone by sending them a private message.
The startup raised a seed funding round (amount was not disclosed) and the Present team has grown to nine full-time people, most of whom are women. While membership is currently limited to Bay Area residents, Perez says they will expand to other cities soon, but did not give a specific timeline and did not share the current number. users. The idea, says Perez, is to make it so that anyone in a larger community can join in so that people can meet others who are not in their immediate social graph. “As we grow up, you will be able to move to another city and see what issues women are talking about there,” says Perez, who was inspired by her recent participation in the Women’s Convention in Detroit as well as to the Women’s March of this past. January. However, there are no plans to extend membership to men.
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Having a male co-founder, Perez is thrilled that Bob Lee is an ally and the father of two daughters who are both approaching the age of using social media independently. Does it feel weird to build a network that he can’t be a part of? Lee points out that her mother was a feminist, journalist and activist and instilled in her a passion for empowering women. At Square, Lee says, he helped create a product that enabled women to accept credit cards and start their own businesses where they previously couldn’t due to biases in existing systems. “I prioritized recruiting female engineers and helped launch Code Camp, Square’s program for high school and college girls,” he says. “Today, I lead by example and I build a better future for my daughters thanks to the present. “
Perez emphasizes the need to create “a truly positive space for women”. She, like many other tech founders, believes this networking app has the power to change the world, one powerful (real) connection at a time. “How do we help share information locally? She reflects, “What’s going on in your community?” Given the news from Washington, the Russian hack, the rising tide of harassment allegations, and other issues that spark outrage but not a lot of activism, Perez sees the app as a way to make a real change. the basics. “How can you be more Present? she said jokingly, “It’s all about the here and now.”