Social planning apps are a dime a dozen, but none have risen to become a mainstay in our digital lives. IRL, founded by Abe Shafi and Scott Banister, is looking to break the pattern, focusing on positivity to get people excited about hanging out offline.
When users first sign up, they’re asked a series of multiple choice questions about their friends: “Who is the best at building pillow forts?” or “Who has the best style?” with four of your contacts as possible answers. These ‘nominations’ are meant to catalyze making plans with those friends. Those nominations stay anonymous.
From there, users can choose from a wide variety of interests like “Netflix and Chill,” “Grab Burgers,” or “Watch the World Cup.” Once they’ve chosen an interest, they can mark the time (today, soon, or pick a date) and send an invite to friends, at which point the group comes up with the right time and place for the plans.
According to cofounder and CEO Abe Shafi, the structure of IRL is meant to take the pressure off of any one person from being the ‘host.’
“We designed IRL so that people could send out lightweight invitations,” said Shafi. “We want people to be able to say ‘hey, I want to do something’ and send it out to a larger group of friends, letting people opt in and decide what they want to do. Creating a safe container that lets people opt in helps with social anxiety around making plans.”
This isn’t Shafi’s first go-round in the world of tech startups. Shafi sold his startup GetTalent to Dice in 2013. Shafi said that one of the difficulties in enterprise software was that he felt less and less connected to the problems he was solving, and knew that he felt at his best spending time with friends and family.
“I knew I didn’t want to participate in the distraction economy,” said Shafi. “More and more articles came out saying the healthiest thing you can do is spend time with people. I thought more about creating an app to help people get together, which in many ways is the white whale of consumer web.”
That’s how the idea for IRL started. But it wasn’t always called IRL. In fact, Shafi first launched an app called Gather, which we wrote about in early 2017.
Gather did an incredibly poor job of notifying users when it was sending out texts to their friends and contacts to join the app. While social apps have a limited window to get people on the app with their friends, Gather’s approach was reckless and ended up backfiring.
“That was our biggest mistake,” said Shafi. “We had a lot of really bad UX and UI that didn’t make it clear at all when you were inviting someone to Gather whether they were on or off the app, and it made people really confused.”