How this father built Affimity, an interest-based networking platform, out of Palo Alto and Bengaluru

20th Feb 2016
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Networking has become an important catchphrase. Social networks now are moving from people connectivity to interest and group connectivity. Joining this bandwagon is Palo Alto and Benglauru-based Affimity. This mobile platform helps people with similar interests connect and have meaningful conversations.

“Most of today’s social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are centred on people you friend or follow. You are connected to all of their thoughts regardless of your interest, resulting in a lot of noise from your perspective,” says 44-year-old Parveen Mittal, Co-founder, Affimity.

To ensure that they bring in the relevant connections, the team reached out to niche segments like food bloggers, upcoming book authors, music cover artists, and others. The idea of starting Affimity came to Venkata Ramana, when he faced the interesting dilemma of being an older parent of toddle twins. Most of his friends had kids in school and their discussions revolved around other parenting milestones.

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Team @ Affimity

Finding relevant sources of conversation starters

Being the odd one out, Venkata was in the lookout for a community that would empathise with him. While on some level the different Facebook groups did that, the overall experience wasn’t as satisfactory and he felt that the privacy rules were confusing. In conversation with friends, Venkata realised that there isn’t a real platform available that brings together people sharing specific interests. Be it parenting, sports, or technology.

Venkata believed that this gap could be sealed by simply attending to user interests first; rather than their acquaintances. He had worked with Amar J. Singh and Parveen earlier and continued to be in touch. While Venkata had his own pain-point, the other two realised that they had limited options of networking.

The idea of building an alternative social platform appealed to the trio and they decided to start Affimity. Venkata, IIT Chennai and Stanford alumnus, is out of the Bay Area and is a successful technologist and entrepreneur. He previously co-founded Stratify, a Data Discovery company.

Parveen, IIT Bombay and IIM-A alumnus, is based out of Bengaluru and was leading HP's Big Data R&D team in India before joining Affimity. Amar is based in the Bay Area and has proven experience in managing large scale IT operations.

Not yet another social networking site

Parveen adds that Affimity doesn’t want to just replicate your physical social network online, but helps you reinvent and expand your social circle based on your interest. He adds they as the team understand that people may be passionate about one or more things in life and those things may change over time. “Affimity's channel-based social network helps you follow your passion without worrying about privacy or what your extended family might say,” adds Parveen.

While enabling better connections, content, and communities for its users, Affimity can better discern the true breadth of their interests and depth of their passions. Since the user interacts with content and people in specific interest channels, Affimity understands the context of that interaction better than monolithic networks that have to deal with inherently weak signals.

Base and future

Within six months of their launch, the team claims to have few hundred thousands of app downloads. The website brings in just about 10 per cent of total user engagement.

Parveen states that 50 per cent of their user base is from India and the USA, with the rest from all corners of the globe. “More importantly, we are seeing a steep increase in user interaction, with many more posts, comments, and friends requests,” adds Parveen.

Affimity is built on an open-source technology stack and is hosted on AWS. It also provides a platform on which any number of channels can be created. Users can subscribe to one or more channels. They can share their thoughts, ask questions or just browse, make friends or follow people. Unlike other social networks, Affimity does not associate a user with his real-life friends but enables him to discover like-minded people.

The team secured $1.2 million of angel funding from Silicon Valley angel investors. They will be using this funding to expand their services in India and other parts of the globe.

Affimity plans to be the platform of choice for anyone looking to share his interests with others. Their immediate plan is to provide better content and community experience as they intend to reach out to more people. Parveen says they are continuously adding channels as well as customising each of them to suit the requirement of that particular community.

The networking space

 Over the past few years, the number of social networking sites and interest social networking platforms have increased. Some of these include Smartican, Brigge, and Gurgaon-based DIKY. All of these platforms were formed with the idea of helping connect like-minded people and not just friends and family.

If you look at the growth of the social networking sites, by the end of 2012, there were close to 1.6 billion individuals regularly using social networking sites across the globe. By end of 2013, this number touched 1.8 billion marking 70 per cent of the Internet users and by 2017 this number will be 2.5 billion.

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