ASMALLWORLD launched its invite-only social network for the rich and famous in 2004. Today it’s becoming even more exclusive and pivoting away from its advertising model, as its relaunching as a subscription travel club where the elite meet to enjoy perks around the globe. With $105 a year and an invite, ASMALLWORLD (ASW) helps you make friends with its trusted 250,000-member community wherever you go.
Though it was supposed to be ready this morning, ASW tells me its site should go live this afternoon. Until then the site is password-protected, but you can get a sneak-peek below.
Have you ever been on sites designed for “meeting new people”? They’re often pretty seedy, filled with spammers, fakes, and swarms of sketchy dudes. They’re by no means premium, and not where you’d want to find a stranger to hang out with far from home. But there’s a real market for meeting not just new people, but great people. Whether for some laughs, networking or romance, paid access to a curated subset of humans and activities to share with them could work. Every concert, conference and travel method already has a VIP option for this reason. ASW could be a VIP club for the world if it keeps its standards high.
CEO Sabine Heller explains that with ASW, “You can turn up in a city where you don’t know anyone and you can have a social travel experience, a sense of belonging. You can go to Capetown and through ASMALLWORLD you’re entitled to five hotels that will do something nice for you, five tours where you get a perk, and groups of locals and travelers you can tap into. It’s not about logging onto the website, it’s that you might meet your husband through ASMALLWORLD, or get a job, or meet a whole new group of friends.”
To create a trusted community that people aspire to join, though, ASW had to give some bad actors the boot. “We did a round of thousands of membership terminations,” says Heller about expelling people from the old ASMALLWORLD club. Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods were among the people kicked to the curb as the startup seeks a more reliable image. If you’re meeting strangers off of ASW in the middle of the night in Beirut, you might not want them to have Lohan’s nasty habits.
The business model needed an overhaul, too. ASW was profitable for a while, which helped convince film producer Harvey Weinstein to buy a majority stake in the 45-person company before selling to Swiss investor Patrick Liotard-Vogt. But with a purposefully small but geographically distributed userbase, selling tiny ad campaigns to luxury brands around the world was a drag. No matter how influential the audience, advertising is still a quantity game. The startup’s new subscription model trades on the quality of its community. Travel destinations give ASW perks and free services to pass on to its members in hopes that they become regular customers.
Considering most social networks are free, what does $105 a year get you? First there’s the website with authenticated profiles to help you meet other ASMALLWORLDers. The ASW app helps you plan trips and read custom ASW travel guides. But what’s special is the membership card that gives you access to a wide array of perks including:
- Discounts – special access and deals for hotels, airlines, salons, spas, gyms, and luxury designer goods
- Nightlife – membership to global nightlife concierge service “The World’s Finest Clubs” and guaranteed access to 120 nightclubs (which retails for $2,500)
- Events – 5o yearly events organized by ASW, including parties, getaways and concerts
- Workspaces – A spare desk in New York and Berlin where you can do some work or print something
- Car Service – Free airport pickup from New York, London, Paris and Milan
- Vacation – A free one-week stay at a Caribbean resort
Those perks add up to well over the $105 subscription fee. Hell, a desk in Manhattan alone is worth much more. The idea is that by getting high-powered ASW clientele to try their services, these hotels, airlines, clubs, and what have you will develop loyal customers. It sounds good on paper, but ASW will need to show its sponsors return on investment if it hopes to make the model sustainable. Luckily between Liotard-Vogt and a small, secret funding round it recently raised, ASW doesn’t have to break even right away.
Today, ASW will begin emailing existing members of its old site ASMALLWORLD.net about the transition towards travel, and Heller tells me it will invite its “more valued members” to subscribe to the new service. A percentage of members will have the ability to invite others to join.
And that is what will decide whether ASW thrives or fails. Managing membership of any exclusive community is a dark art, requiring a careful balance of beauty, wealth, success, excitement, and interconnection. Too little of any and the whole thing breaks down. Nobody wants to be in a club of creepy old tycoons, gold-digging young moochers, or boring people willing to pay a price for friends. Creating a vibrant, coveted community will be ASMALLWORLD’s real challenge. With the right buzz and people, it could have everyone clamoring for an invite. Otherwise, it might end up a glitzy ghost town.