When you move to or visit a new place, you bring your hobbies, tastes, and preferences with you, but discovering and finding people in your new surrounding who enjoy the same niche activities and cat videos you do isn’t easy. Even in our social media-saturated, Facebook-sponsored world.
So, today Toronto-based UrbanOrca is jumping into the hot online-to-offline market by launching a social network for realworld activities. And UrbanOrca wants to distinguish: The platform isn’t for friend discovery that ends in dating, or checking up on the friends you already know, UrbanOrca is for people living in bustling urban centers who are looking for platonic relationships with people and groups that share the same interests. Whether that’s jogging, playing chess, Trout fishing, coding, is up to you, UrbanOrca just provides a Twitter-meets-Meetup.com model that’s simple and easy for you to use in your quest for discovery.
UrbanOrca users can stay in touch with people nearby through a daily email of new people who match their criteria, and they can create profiles that contain several geographical zones, like home, work, school, on-the-go, etc, and UrbanOrca matches you with other folks based on each zone. But, again, the focus is on activities: Profiles are photo-less from the start, and users can then share their photos once they’ve chatted, so that the interest stays viable and isn’t based on whether or not you think the person is attractive.
After several months of private beta, the UrbanOrca team’s research led to the conclusion that activities occurring within the next 2 weeks, with 2 to 10 people, are the primary target for most users. And, so far, the most popular activities people are looking for include: hanging out to discuss mutual interests, pick-up sports and exercise buddies, learning a new language (over coffee), discovering new restaurants, as well as music and arts (e.g. finding band members, checking out an art show, making short films, etc.).
“No sex, just local activities”, promises UrbanOrca Co-founder and CEO Andrew Sider. While his comment is obviously tongue-in-cheek, it also reveals a bit of the problem with the current “friend discovery” formula. When you think about meeting someone, the initial conversation can be awkward. But, if you remove the dating or romantic aspect, and replace it with a mutual interest, there’s an engaging alibi to get out there and meet new people.
The comment is also slightly ironic in context, because Sider’s co-founder is Hesam Hosseini, the former general manager of Match.com. Hosseini obviously brings significant experience with the meetup model and said that he had thought a lot about this issue during his time at Match. Over time, he kept coming back to the idea that people need a better way to discover potential friends and organize all the information about the people around them.
While creating a simple UX is important for an activities-based social network (and the co-founders said they had originally established 20 activities categories but reduced that number to 8 for sake of simplicity), so is trust. UrbanOrca aims to put explicit controls in the hands of its users, starting with pulling in third-party data, like verifying names from Facebook and Twitter accounts and including number of friends, etc. They’ve also included a “trust badge” to give people more confidence in those potential friends out there.
UrbanOrca, which matches users with potential friends based on keywords they’ve selected, also requires people to put up a post about themselves and what they’re interested in before they can start using, another move aimed at filtering out the trolls.
In terms of the ever-illusive dollar, Sider and Hosseini said that top their top priority has been building a site that people actually want to use. UX is king. But the founders have their eye on hyper-local advertising, or a Groupon-like coupon service as potential revenue streams. At this point, UrbanOrca is bootstrapped, but there’s been some early investor interest, they said.
What’s more, it’s a steep hill to climb, in terms of getting enough people on the site that it becomes a bustling community and a usable resource. Adoption is key. There’s also quite a bit of competition out there from sites like Meetup.com, PeekYou, and a nifty site called Zenergo we wrote about last month. But we all like choices, and these Canadian entrepreneurs are hoping that they’ve given users a reason to start visiting UrbanOrca.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering “why Orcas?” Orcas just happen to be one of the more social creatures on the planet. Well, at least in the ocean. And they hate creepers.