Amino Raises $1.65M To Replace Old-School Forums With Mobile Communities

Amino, a TechStars-incubated startup that’s building mobile communities around topics like anime and Doctor Who, is announcing that it has raised $1.65 million in seed funding led by Union Square Ventures.

Co-founder and CEO Ben Anderson told me that his engagement with “passionate niche interests” goes back to when he was a teenager and excited about robots, but not sure how to find others who were similarly excited. Certainly, there are plenty of online communities and forums, but Anderson said they remain “a little bit old fashioned” and not particularly well-suited for smartphones.

In fact, when Amino is ready to launch a new community, not only does it ask existing users for input, Anderson said it also looks for areas where there’s already “an active forum ripe for disruption.”

There are currently 15 communities listed on the Amino website, including ones for K-pop, Minecraft, video games and art. Anderson suggested that the number could eventually reach the hundreds, creating an “app constellation” where users just register once and can then join a number of communities. Apparently 40 percent of existing users have already joined more than one community, though Anderson noted that their identities are separate on each one.

“We found that humans in general are more complicated than just one identity,” he said. “It’s actually really freeing from a self-expression standpoint to have an account for just this one slice of your life.”

And while it might be faster to turn Amino into a self-serve platform where anyone can create a community, Anderson said the plan is to continue building the apps with his team, leading to “a very curated selection of communities — we want to keep the quality of the communities really high for now.”

I downloaded the Doctor Who Amino app today. It has an appealing simplicity — it’s easy to jump in and start browsing or commenting. There’s a newsfeed of popular content posted by other users, a forum for more in-depth discussions and, coolest of all, a map view that shows (in a general way) where other users are located.

In a blog post about the investment, Union Square’s Andy Weissman noted that Amino’s apps have been downloaded a total of 500,000 times. He wrote:

Communities have long been an integral part of the Internet, online places where people can connect and share their passions and interests. And communities can have great network dynamics, where they increase in value as participants join and share more. Union Square Ventures has a long history of funding these types of businesses.

Amino apps are only available on iOS right now, but Anderson said there are also plans for Android.

Other investors in the seed round include Google Ventures, SV Angel, Box Group, Scott Belsky, Slow Ventures, Paul English (Co-founder of Kayak), Kal Vepuri, Launch Angels and David Chang.