- There’s a loneliness epidemic, but can technology help?
- Mallory Loar, an ex-Discord employee, wants to build tech for the “relationship economy.”
- She cofounded a new app called Whatever to help friends — and now couples — connect IRL.
Mallory Loar’s internet presence began during the Neopets era. But as she — and the internet — grew older, the feelings of joy and community she experienced on the internet morphed into something very different.
“It started feeling like everything was hyper-curated and very performative,” said Loar, who spent much of her career on the internet, from running a Tumblr blog to managing Twitch channels to being one of Discord’s first employees.
Loar, like many other social-media users, began to avoid posting to apps such as Twitter (now known as X) and even deleted her Facebook account. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to stay at home, that anxiety was compounded by loneliness.
“During the pandemic, I realized how I was taking IRL experiences for granted and working remotely, spending less time with friends, I just felt extremely isolated,” Loar told me.
So, after more than five years at Discord, Loar left in 2021 to create her own solution to her loneliness. According to US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, loneliness is an epidemic, not just a problem for Loar.
Whatever, a new app Loar is developing with two former Discord colleagues who have joined her as cofounders, Kevin Wilson and Zack Zapasnik, is the result of Loar’s project.
“Originally, when we started Whatever, our goal was just to get your plans out of the group chat and into the real world,” she told me. “It was really centered around helping you and your friends make IRL plans to build stronger relationships.”
Whatever is now taking a new approach to assisting people in making plans and getting outside by focusing on couples and date nights.
Earlier this year, the team raised a family and friends round, which included investments from Discord C-Suite executives such as CTO and cofounder Stanislav Vishnevskiy, ex-Discord CMO Eros Resmini, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, and a16z’s Anjney Midha.
An app to make your plans actually happen
Whatever was intended to be a cross between a group chat and a calendar invite.
In June, the team released an alpha version that allowed users to create calendar invites for outings, poll friends about where to go or what to do, and even use generative AI to prompt ideas for plans.
However, several months into Whatever’s alpha version, Loar and her cofounders noticed flaws in the product.
“What we ended up learning was that our product was too broad, we felt like our audience was also too broad,” he said. “We were really focused on targeting type A planners and getting them to bring their friends onto the platform.” But we discovered that event attendees or your friends don’t want to plan things; they simply want you to keep planning things.”
They did, however, discover that people were using the app to plan dates. Whatever’s team is now refocusing on couples and how to best use technology to help couples plan dates and spend quality time together.
“With this new focus, our goal is to take the work out of planning date night so you can focus on having fun with your partner,” he said.
The new version of the app will help couples plan dates by providing an in-app discovery feed with photo and video content curated from websites such as TikTok, Instagram, Yelp, and Eventbrite.
“Couples will be able to bookmark plans from the discovery feed and turn them directly into date plans,” he said.
Whatever’s tools will still be available for users to make plans with friends, but the startup will focus on “millennial couples” as it tests these new features.
Social tech in the aftermath of social-media disillusionment
Defining the Area Whatever is there is a challenge.
Calling It would be reductive to call it a dating app; lumping it in with productivity apps like Notion or Google Calendar would be too professional; and social media is only half accurate — it is social, but it isn’t a media platform.
“Whatever is not really about creating content like you would on social media,” Loar said in a statement. “To me, it’s really about creating moments with the people that you love the most.”
Loar refers to the space she’s creating as the “relationship economy.”
The days of “one-to-many” social-media interactions, according to Loar, are becoming “less prevalent, and people are really seeking real connection.” It’s why platforms like Discord have exploded in popularity, and why traditional one-to-many platforms like Facebook and Instagram are promoting features like groups, direct messages, and close friends.
Loar observed this trend on Discord. She claimed that the majority of servers were friend-to-friend or few-to-few groups of five to 15 people.
“I do think that the next wave will be few-to-few or one-to-one,” he said. “However, it is more important to support in-person connections.” And I want to construct for that wave.”