Thiel Fellow Debuts the “Real” App for Making Friends & Social Good

For millennials looking for a new way to make friends—and just friends—in a new city, the founder behind the Real app says she has created a way to remove the superficial behavior seen with other options on the market.

Ocean Pleasant, a 19-year-old Thiel Fellow in New York, says her latest idea creates social connections based on shared mutual interests instead of photos.

Pleasant says the Real app, which launched last Thursday, will let people find new friends without the pretenses, hang-ups, or creepiness of folks who focus on looks.

The app conceals users’ identities, including gender and personal photos, until they both agree to connect. This lets them find friends who really just want to be friends, Pleasant says. A feature in the app shows the matches where they can meet up nearby in the real world. The startup has pre-seed backing from 1517 Fund.

The app also has a social good component, which is in beta testing, that lets organizations send push notifications to alert users, based on their interests, to a call-to-action or volunteer opportunities nearby. Those organizations will pay a monthly subscription to get those messages out. “All of my previous work has been done around social justice causes,” Pleasant says. “I see our Web portal as a platform for organizations, nonprofits, even startups to find socially minded millennials.”

The introduction of the app represents a pivot for the Real brand. Pleasant launched the Real Teen Mag when she was 17 years old, with content emphasizing social justice causes of interest to a young audience. The publication had about 100,000 readers, she says, and was available through retailers such as Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.

Late last year, Pleasant decided to change directions from a print magazine to development of the app. “The purpose of the pivot was to capitalize off that community [of readers] by connecting them,” she says. “It really stemmed from a need to create a platform where there was no sexual pretense and no gender bias.”

Other existing apps for making friends, such as Skout and Wiith, present photos up front. Pleasant says that means looks can play a significant role in people’s choices to connect. “On Real, you swipe on personality rather than appearance,” she says.

Users of the app pick some keywords they believe represent who they are. They also choose stock photos from Unsplash for their avatar and select interests such as human rights, animal welfare, technology, environment, education, and entertainment. “That’s because over 75 percent of millennials are passionate about social good,” Pleasant says.

Development of the app’s personality algorithm included some expertise from an advisor, J. Galen Buckwalter, who was chief scientist on the founding team of dating site eHarmony. As users get started with the Real app, they must pick two photos from 10 random images that reflect their personality. Then users indicate which personality types they best get along with, and answer questions about what they love.

Once a user’s avatar is complete, they can start swiping to potentially make new connections. If there is a match, then both parties’ photos are revealed.

Parameters such as distance and age of potential matches can be set by the user. The target audience for Real is ages 18 to 25, Pleasant says, particularly students starting a new college semester and looking to make friends.

As the child of a journalist who covered different parts of the world, Pleasant says growing up she moved many times. “It was super hard to meet people,” she says. “I grew up in a tree house, living on dirt floors, in jungles and rainforests.”

When technology became a vessel for social connections, Pleasant saw an opportunity to create something for people who are frequently on the go, have a hard time relating to others, or want to share mutual interests beyond memes and favorite bands. “I mulled on this idea to create a ‘Tinder for friends’ for a while,” she says.

Real is available for users in New York now, with Austin, TX, Houston, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to follow in the coming months. A nationwide rollout is expected sometime in 2017.

Pleasant says with the debut of the app, she hopes to tap into the community of millennials who have moved to New York for school or just graduated and are getting the lay of the land. “We want to help connect people who otherwise wouldn’t meet,” she says.

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