Human beings are naturally driven to form relationships and communities. Unfortunately, much of the social Web lends itself to duplicating existing relationships rather than fostering new ones. This may be fine for those content with the status quo, but for anyone looking to broaden their horizons, move to a new city, or take on a new hobby, the experience can be stifling.
Three-month-old Los Angeles startup At the Pool is a bit of a digital outlier, taking the best of algorithm driven dating sites like eHarmony.com and combining them with the choose-your-own-adventure verticalization of Meetup.com to deliver offline introductions between users around areas of shared interest. This is not (just) about dating, but about friendship and professional connections as well. Today, the company is announcing a new round of financing, some strong growth metrics, and a bevy of product updates.
At the Pool has closed $750,000 to date of what is looking like a significantly oversubscribed $1 million Seed round, and expects to finalize the outstanding quarter million from among existing interested parties by year’s end. The latest round is being led by Clearstone Venture Partners, with participation from Canyon Creek Capital, and existing investors, Amplify co-founder David Carter and UCLA professor Lenoard Kleinrock. In conjunction with the financing, the company has moved its operations into Clearstone’s Santa Monica offices.
At the Pool encourages users to join various interest-based “Pools” around pre-existing communities such as those within neighborhoods, affinity groups, universities, non-profits, businesses, and brands – examples include, cooking, cycling, startups, veganism, Malibu, etc. Users are then matched up with local members of those same networks. The platform uses proprietary algorithms to make a single new introduction each day to which users have 24 hours to respond. The platform encourages offline, face-to-face interaction for each new introduction, which can be as simple as a coffee meeting, or as adventurous as planning a rock climbing trip. The point is that people connect in person around shared interests.
The initial response to At the Pool has been bigger, and broader than the founders anticipated. Founder and CEO Alex Capecelatro launched this summer planning a slow, controlled US only roll-out. In a matter of months, the platform grew organically to attract users in 50 countries and every major US city, with its largest international presence India, Australia, and UK. Only with today’s update does the site even support international locations. According to the company, 55 percent of its users are female, with 85 percent under the age of 35, 55 percent under 25. Illustrating the healthy engagement levels, 30 percent of members return daily, 100 percent of members to date have added photos, and 25 percent filled profile out their profile completely.
The redesign also expands the user interface beyond only “Daily Match” to offer navigation by “Activities,” “Updates,” and “Notifications.” The homepage, aka Tide Pool, offers each user a stream of personally relevant content and updates. A newly added share page for the first time allows members to invite friends directly – and earn rewards for doing so – without waiting for the company to approve their application.
Under Activities, users can post activities that they want to do nearby, such as “Hike Runyon Canyon,” and the site will coordinate introductions around this event. Previously, intros were made and users subsequently discussed events, dates, and times to meetup. Updates is the most like a traditional social network, offering social discovery around previous matches, such as when they change pictures or modify their profile. Notifications offers information on new Pools, contests, and upcoming At The Pool affiliated events.
Several months in, At the Pool is now getting the level of engagement and growth that makes investors and entrepreneurs excited. But, Cleartone and others made the decision to invest with very little data, evaluating primarily the concept and the impressive team. “They’re as good as any team I’ve invested in,” says Clearstone Managing Director Sumant Mandal. “I’m continually impressed at how well they understand human nature and their ability to take existing behaviors and move them online.”
At the Pool is Clearstone’s first social network investment, but the company has extensive experience in the machine learning and big data space, as well as the consumer Web as demonstrated by previous investments in PayPal, Internet Brands, Overture, United Online, and Rubicon Project – which was also incubated within its offices.
While At the Pool isn’t the first startup to attempt facilitating offline introductions, it comes along at a time when its chances of success are far greater than those of companies that tried and failed previously. First and foremost, the notion of creating online profiles and meeting people online, for romantic, professional, or social reasons is increasingly commonplace. Furthermore, the barriers to creating large, global networks seem to decrease almost daily. The impact of both of these trends are immediately visible in At the Pool’s early results.
The company has yet to explore monetization opportunities and has no plans to do so in the near future. That said, given its hyper-local nature and wealth of interest based data, there are a number of obvious and likely fruitful options when the time comes. At this stage, the company is focusing on growing its user base and “closing the loop,” or in other words, better understanding what happens offline after people are introduced.
Meeting new people can be intimidating. Sites that offer a bit of intelligent matchmaking have the potential to simplify this process. At the Pool seems to have struck a chord with its early audience. Expect this to grow stronger with every serendipitous new connection.
[User who wish to explore At the Pool and meet others interested in startups and technology are invited to join the newly created PandoDaily Pool.]