For the founders behind the IRL social startup 222, it’s all about the “magic of the backyard.”
222, which launched in Los Angeles in 2021, began as a research project studying personalities and compatibility by first gathering people into a Zoom call, then as a series of backyard dinners.
Founded by three friends, Keyan Kazemian (24), Danial Hashemi (23), and Arman Roshannai (22) — Kazemian and Hashemi went to the same high school in California, Hashemi and Roshannai went to the same university — 222 is an attempt to rekindle the serendipity of chance encounters via curated events and experiences.
But don’t go labeling 222 as a dating app, friend-making service, or social-media platform.
The 222 team classifies itself as a “social consumer marketplace,” CEO Kazemian said, though they also use phrases like “full-stack social experience” or “IRL social” to explain to investors and users what it is they offer.
Here’s a rundown of how 222 works. First, people fill out a questionnaire with nearly 100 prompts — from basics like where you live to details as personal as opinions on abortion — and the startup matches groups of people according to the results using machine learning. The 222 team then organizes a multi-stage meetup, which includes a restaurant as well as another venue like a museum or a bar. Details about the event are released the night before or the day of. There are question prompts, disposable cameras, as well as food and drinks.
At its events, 222 wants attendees to feel comfortable and leave “judgment at the door,” said Hashemi, 222 ‘s COO.
Attendees pay a one-time “curation” fee of about $17, or they can pay for a $22 monthly subscription. After an experience, 222 surveys its attendees, and that feedback data trains its “social prediction model that improves over time,” Kazemian said.
The startup, which wrapped up its time at Y Combinator in April, is now announcing that it raised a $2.5 million seed investment with participants like 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, Upfront Ventures, Dropbox founder Arash Ferdowsi, and others (General Catalyst and 1517 are returning investors from 222’s pre-seed raise). This brings 222’s total funding to $3.6 million, per the company.
In January, the 222 team of five (it hired two engineers in 2023) moved to New York to expand its events and community in the broader New York City area — just as it also prepares to launch an iOS app on February 6.
Placing bets on IRL and fundraising amid an AI frenzy
When 222 first began to turn its social experiment into a consumer-focused product, the fundraising landscape looked very different than it looks in 2024.
It was 2022, and the tech industry was still chasing the tails of the Web3 and NFT craze, about to turn a corner as AI quickly became the latest buzziest topic.
“Every other investor would say, ‘Have you tokenized your event?'” Hashemi said, which was the “complete opposite” of what they were trying to build. “We were not being taken seriously.”
That same year, however, 222 scored its first checks, including a $10,000 check from Cory Levy’s startup activator Z Fellows and investments from 1517 Fund and General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos. While Hashemi and Roshannai were finishing up their last year at the University of Southern California, the initial institutional backing 222 received was enough for Kazemian to leave his full-time job.
Then, the startup got a call from YC (222 had applied twice, and the first time, never heard back). The decision was easy. They couldn’t turn down the opportunity — and it paid off.
“We hit our 18-month goals in two months through YC,” Kazemian said.
Leading up to YC’s demo day, the 222 team was back to raising money.
“What helped us with YC was the AI hype cycle,” said CTO Roshannai, whose tech background is in machine learning. “The company also has a machine learning core to it.”
And this time around, 222’s founders knew to seek out investors who bought into their idea of IRL experiences.
“In our pre-seed, we spent too much time talking to folks that were just never turned on to this idea in the first place,” Kazemian said. “They were too cynical and jaded from 10 years of consumer history.”
Being in the business of relationships
But in the intervening time, the need for IRL experiences and social utilities to help people connect has been brought even more into the forefront of the cultural conversation.
“A lot more people are coming around to this idea of in real-life social,” Hashemi said. “People are waking up to all these studies that are coming out saying our generation is lonelier than the last, the US Surgeon General’s report that there’s a loneliness epidemic in the US and that it’s having adverse physical health effects, not just mental health.”
“Tech right now is unsustainable,” Roshannai said. “Everyone is on social media for so many hours a day, so disconnected.”
Kazemian, Hashemi, and Roshannai, meanwhile, want to help swing the pendulum back to IRL — back to real relationships.
“From day one, one of our main points was we have to have a business model that promises that the incentives that we have as a business are aligned with what we’re promising our consumers,” Hashemi said. “We only make money if people go out in real life and actually meet each other and enjoy it enough to keep coming back.”
Read the full article here