[Exclusive] Naval Ravikant's AirChat plans to make social media authentic and fun
Social media platform AirChat intends to facilitate natural and free-flowing conversations that transcend language barriers.
Conversations, whether offline or online, should be authentic and meaningful, unlike the one-way communication we’ve become accustomed to, says entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant.
In an exclusive interview with YourStory, the investor revealed he is trying to bring back banter with his latest startup—.
Ravikant, Founder of AngelList and an investor in companies like Twitter and Uber, calls his venture “a dinner party in your pocket”.
YourStory spoke to Ravikant, via the new platform, about his latest project and how it is different from other social media platforms.
[YourStory] What made you start AirChat, given that many social media platforms are facing scepticism?
[Naval Ravikant] I don't care about social media scepticism because this (AirChat) isn't for other people. This is just to scratch my own itch of being able to talk to smart people anytime I want.
As long as I've been sentient, I've been trying to have conversations with intelligent people. In fact, I carry a list in my pocket of people by city.
The current social media platforms just aren't designed for conversation. Most of them are broadcast media, some of them are live. They don't have the right privacy or moderation features, there's too much censorship and top-down control.
I've invested in lots of social media platforms, and I've advised lots of them. I just got tired of talking to people and trying to convince them to do it my way. So, I just decided, I’ll do it.
I have a co-founder, Brian Norgard, former Head of Product at Tinder. There's an incredible team that I'm really happy to work with.
[YS] What makes the platform engaging for users?
[NR] One of our users hypothesised that the reason why AirChat is more engaging than YouTube, Audible, or Twitter is because we're communicating in voice, our natural medium that's been around forever.
We're doing it actively with an expectation to respond, or at least to generate new ideas in our head that we may then need to respond to, as opposed to just passively consuming content. In fact, as Arjun, who works with us, says, AirChat is active audio.
[YS] There is a lot of curiosity about AirChat. How do you plan to get people on the platform?
[NR] There's no plan, right now it's invitation only, so people who are regular users of the app get invitations.
Think of it like a real-life house party. You just walked into someone's party. You were invited by someone, and they introduced you around. Is this a good time for you to be inviting your friends to the house party? No, you don't know anybody. So once you know people, you’ve made friends, and got to know the hosts a bit, then it makes sense to invite people.
We want to curate an authentic and intimate feel, we're not ready to scale yet. We're still working on bugs, features, and user interface. We're also hammering out an Android client, which will be very important for India. In the meantime, we have some users on the app who are organic, and are helping us figure it out and build it.
[YS] Tell us about BabelChat, where people can talk in different languages with each other.
[NR] BabelChat is just a demo. It shows what the platform can already do. You can start talking in Hindi and if you give it a minute, you'll get automatically translated into the listener's language. So people can listen to you in Japanese, they can listen to you in English and so on.
There will be a slight delay in translations. I should just warn you about that. They are more complicated.
[YS] What is your plan for monetisation?
[NR] We don't care about monetisation. We're a small team, it's not expensive. We'll make money. Social networks, when they win, they win really big.
There are many, many different ways to make money for anyone who stops to think about it for a moment. We'll just figure out what to do in the most authentic way possible when the time comes, and the one that involves hiring the least salespeople and having the least gigantic organisation, because we want to stay lean and nimble.
There's always stress in building a company, but it's enjoyable stress. I don't waste much time on management, most of my time is spent on product. We’re small and lean and self-financed. The stress just comes from thinking if we are building the best product possible for our users and for ourselves, and are we doing it fast enough?
[YS] What do you mean when you say AirChat is asynchronous?
[NR] That’s one of the fun things about this app. While I am talking to you, I am actually having 13 simultaneous conversations. Ten of them are in private rooms with my team or with heavy users of the app, and three of them are in public rooms, including this one.
So the asynchronous nature of it just allows me to talk to multiple people at the same time. Obviously, you could do the same thing on WhatsApp or Signal, but you couldn't do it with public forums.
[YS] How do you moderate discussions in different rooms? How does gatekeeping work?
[NR] Unlike a podcast where we have to listen to an interviewer, intermediate everything, here the users can participate directly.
I hate to say it, but the age of the gatekeeper, the middleman interviewer, the person who just sits there and asks questions of the guest is going away. The guests are going to talk directly to the audience and the audience will talk directly to the guest.
[YS] Most social platforms began with the right intentions, but have now lost their way. How will you ensure AirChat remains true to its purpose?
[NR] This platform is about conversations. AirChat makes no sense for broadcasters. It is a conversation. Just like in a real-life conversation, you don't drop 30 minutes of dialogue or monologue without giving anybody else a chance to speak.
Social media is focused on what media type it is addressing. Twitter is about short form text, Instagram is about photos, and now TikTok and YouTube are about videos. Our model is about conversations. The best conversation you can possibly have with the most like-minded, easygoing person that you can find.
Regardless of where they are and how they choose to talk, one person can text another person, video a third person. Input and output don't matter here as long as it keeps the conversation going. We have very powerful moderation tools that we give to our users so they can curate their rooms and keep them intimate and authentic. Also, we have very little discovery.