After Ramana, an IIT and Stanford graduate, became the father of twin daughters in his forties, he wanted to connect with other fathers like him for sharing his concerns about parenting at his age. Unfortunately, most of his friends had children who were much older.
Traditional social networking platforms didn’t help as they were too generic in their approach and did not provide advice specific to his needs. They were only useful for bonding with friends, sharing photos and following celebrities. That’s when he realised that there was no platform connecting people with common interests, be it parenting, sports, fitness, politics or technology. Also, like many others, he had restricted his presence on Facebook to keep track of his friends’ lives and greet them on their birthdays.
In 2014, Ramana, along with his close friends Amar J. Singh, a technology expert from Silicon Valley, and Parveen Mittal, an IIT and IIM graduate who was managing the Big Data team of Hewlett-Packard, founded Affimity—a social media platform that, unlike Facebook or Google+, connects you not with friends and acquaintances, but rather with those who share your interests and passions.
The three have been friends for many years. “I have known Ramana for the past 12 years,” says Mittal. “I joined his previous startup Stratify in 2004 as head of India operations. Stratify was eventually sold for a huge sum in 2007 but we stayed in touch.
Affimity was registered in the US but started its operations in Bengaluru in 2015; its app went live the same year.
“So suppose you are a foodie, you can share recipes, restaurant reviews and jokes about various cuisines on our platform,” says Mittal, who himself likes to indulge in carpentry when he is not teaching geometry to his young daughter. He is also an avid marathon runner and has participated in many half and full marathons. Mittal's wife Ruchika is an e-learning entrepreneur and he has two young daughters, Chavi and Gauri.
“A user can discuss his interests without revealing too many details about himself and thus guard his privacy. We aim to help people have meaningful conversations without worrying about what their friends or relatives may think,” he says.
Initially, to gain traction, the startup approached niche communities of food bloggers, upcoming writers and musicians, explaining its strategy and how they might benefit. It is currently targeting users in countries like the US, the UK, India, Korea and Brazil.
Affimity uses an open source software that allows for the creation of any number of channels on its platform. Currently, there are around 35. Users can subscribe to one or more channels and share their thoughts, ask questions, make friends, follow people or just browse. Mittal claims that Affimity is also a great boon for bloggers as they can get an instant user base.
“Every post can be seen by everyone,” he says. “The visibility of the posts will depend upon their quality and the writer’s credentials. Top users of each channel are featured in a fun way on the website so others can engage with them.”
Within six months of the launch of the app, it has had thousands of downloads. Most people use the app; the website brings only 10 per cent of the users. Almost half the users are from the US and India with the rest distributed all over the world. “The global footprint is not surprising as you don’t need to know someone in real life to befriend them on Affimity,” says Mittal. “We are witnessing a steep rise in user interaction with more posts, comments and friend requests.”
Affimity has 18 employees in india, five in the US and more than 40 freelance engineers and content creators all over the world. The company is planning to provide better content and community experience to increase its user base. It is also adding more channels and customising each channel to suit the requirements of a particular community. So far, it has received funding of approximately Rs 7.5 crore from Silicon Valley investors. Users don’t have to pay to access the platform and they may be redirected to the website of a different company based on their interests, in which case Affimity gets a commission from the company.
Throwing papers at my superior’s face and leaving my first job in a huff
On speed dial
My neighbourhood pizza guy
To be a soldier with a gun
A spare bedroom in my house in Bengaluru with a white board propped on a chair
on To-do list
Plan trips to Everest's base camp, Lake Manasarovar and Antarctica