There are a number of ways member-based organizations can network online – Facebook, shared calendars, Meetup.com, etc. – but these groups today still struggle to keep members engaged and informed about upcoming events and other activities. A startup called GroupAhead is working to solve those challenges by introducing a platform that allows any organization to have their own dedicated mobile app for communicating with members.
The Y Combinator -backed company was founded in 2013 by ex-Googlers Brian Glick and Julian Frumar, who met while at working at YouTube. And Glick more recently was involved in launching the Google+ Communities platform, which gave him further insight into how groups communicate.
“We spent a lot of time looking at the space and thought there really aren’t good solutions for very close-knit, very personal, very intimate communities that get together in person,” explains Glick. “And we’re also living in a world now where smartphones and tablets are in everyone’s pocket or in everyone’s home, and they offer a way to connect in a tighter way than was possible before,” he adds.
With GroupAhead, the idea is to provide these organizations with their own self-branded application where they can manage basic group administration tasks like maintaining a member list, keeping a calendar of events, enabling discussions and sharing announcements, for example.
After talking to various organizations and gaining feedback, GroupAhead launched its product into pilot testing in mid-2014 and now has around 16 apps live on the iTunes App Store and Google Play for groups that range from the Freemasons to clubs like the running organization the SF FrontRunners.
To get started with the service, each organization provides GroupAhead with their logo or other photos they want to use to brand the app. The team then imports the other data from the group, like a .CSV file containing members’ names, emails and phone numbers. It also syncs up with their third-party calendar, like Google Calendar, if provided. After set up is complete, group admins can access a web-based dashboard so they can continue to keep things updated going forward, like adding or removing members, for example.
As the company exits its pilot testing phase, it’s still not charging a set-up fee for this part of the service, but it does charge groups monthly fees based on their size and a few other factors. For smaller groups up to 150 members, the service is $49 per month, and, at the high-end, groups over 750 members are $149 per month. The middle tier is $89 per month.
Today, the average group on GroupAhead is around 250 to 300 members in size, but the company is now having discussions with larger organizations thanks to its initial involvement bringing on local chapters and branches, they say.
Asked if GroupAhead would expand its service to reach even smaller organizations at freemium price points, like, say, a group of moms who organize playdates, the founders said they’ve had that request before and are considering it. If they choose to do so, their service could potentially become more of a Meetup competitor where many of these sorts of groups maintain a presence today for a small monthly fee.
However, Meetup group admin can sometimes find it difficult to keep members engaged with the community and they eventually closed up shop so as not to waste money paying for a service when a group becomes inactive. A freemium-tiered GroupAhead could keep these groups alive, and better connect members because group access would only be a tap away instead of buried within a larger site.
Another request from early testers is to enable some sort of payments mechanism in the app for things like member dues or events with fees. That, too, is something the team wants add in the future.
The company closed on a seed round of funding just before joining the Y Combinator accelerator program, and reports its round was oversubscribed. The plan was to raise around $300,000 to $400,000, says Glick, but they ended up bringing in just under half a million instead. Backers include Y Combinator, and several angel investors, such as YouTube’s Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, as well as MessageMe’s Arjun Sethi.
GroupAhead is looking to raise additional funding after YC’s upcoming Demo Day.
While you can’t test out the GroupAhead platform without being a member of one of the groups using the service, you can get a sense of how GroupAhead looks and operates by diving into the app stores and viewing the group apps that are live now, either on iTunes or Google Play.