Purpose and Belonging

Illustration from joinable.us website

Today is an exciting day—our team launched a product, along with a big vision, called Joinable. Before I share what Joinable is, I’d like to share a brief story about I we got here.

When I left my last company, I had a singular goal, which was to find a team aligned with my personal mission. That mission is to leverage design and innovation to amplify empathy (an evolving mission, but this has stuck for a few years). I was open to just about anything, so long as there was strong alignment with this mission.

After a wonderful discussion with my friend Andrew Hessel, I was excited about a future in synthetic biology—a budding industry that could soon displace tech as the new “cool kid.” Andrew described the current state of programming life as the Xerox Parc days of tool creation (resonated with me). I could see an exciting path as a design researcher, building the first layer of abstraction to unlock wide adoption. As I explored the space, I brought my singular focus—alignment with my mission—and struggled to find a connection. Andrew's new book is amazing BTW!

Around the same time, I was taking walks with friends, both new and old. One of these walks was with Teg Grenager, a past neighbor of mine and fellow dad in our daughter’s co-op preschool. We both volunteered at the school, and through the shared working sessions, got to know each other. We bonded over our mutual interest in tech, kids, and volunteering. Not long after we met, Teg sold his company and his home and moved away. A few years later, he moved back to the Bay Area, looking for new challenges.

Teg was working on a project with his wife Heather, and had just named it Joinable. He shared a Facebook post, which caught my attention. Teg wrote about the challenges they were having juggling three kids’ schools, local community, friends and activities. On our walk, we dove into the pain points, the challenges, the learnings, and the opportunities. After a few weeks of sharing ideas and aligning on a vision, we made it official, and started what became a 14 month journey building Joinable. We're now a team of 8, and what we've built has been a wonderful team effort.

What is Joinable? In a nutshell, it’s an application for small private groups, designed specifically for informal groups (e.g., neighbors, volunteer groups, parents), and with a bias towards facilitating connection and belonging. We clearly see the dichotomy of using technology to create community, so a significant part of the solution is to empower, train, and connect community organizers.

Nerd version: its Discord meets Nextdoor (plus a little Donut). Discord is a popular chat app, not unlike Slack, but designed for gamers to chat in real-time while playing video games. We like Discord because they’ve proven a viable business model for small private groups that’s both free (for most) and not ad supported (we think ads are bad). Nextdoor initially connected neighbors, but lost their way and became an ad-driven social network and market place for entire towns. For all that’s wrong with Nextdoor, they’ve clearly proved there’s a strong desire for neighborhood connections (1 in 3 households use Nextdoor). Donut is a plug-in for Slack that pairs up co-workers for 1 on 1 “coffee breaks”. Donut shows us some simple, yet powerful mechanics for creating meaningful connections with strangers.

Today we launched the public beta of Joinable—a product designed to connect neighbors/friends/groups, promote community building, and encourage resource sharing. It’s a messaging platform, not unlike Slack, Discord, Telegram, etc., but with one twist—you don’t need an app (although it’s better with the app), or even an account, to take part in the group. It’s also a powerful event platform, with minimal versions of tools like SignUpGenius (sign-up sheets) and Doodle (event polling). For neighborhoods, we’ve built a powerful neighbor directory, including a map-based directory, so people can really get to know each other.

Mobile and web app

There’s a lot more—and much yet to come. Our grand vision is to connect all these small, trusted groups together using what we call shared Circles—this becomes the connective tissue of all our local communities.

As a veteran product designer, I’m excited about the design problems for this product. I’m also keenly aware of many “rules” we’ve been breaking, such as KISS (keep it simple stupid) and release early and often (it's taken longer than expected to get to this launch).

If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

- Reid Hoffman

Many products have “won” on niche product verticals. We've learned from our research with community/group organizers these niche products often aggravate an already painful process. Community organizers are often juggling 10 or more products with no way to tie them together. Also, many of these niche products end up diving deep into advanced functionality and become overly complex. We're taking an 80/20 approach—80% of the value for 20% of the feature set. And don’t worry, there are plenty of things I’m embarrassed about still (does that mean we launched early enough? 😉).

Not everyone follows the same path, and some of my favorite products/product leaders are the rebels. Jason Fried is a huge inspiration, and his product, Basecamp, is one of our shining exemplars. I sometimes described what we’re doing as “Basecamp for neighborhoods,” but it’s less about the features and more about the product/company/funding philosophy.

We’re just getting started on this Joinable journey. I’d love for you to take a ride with us—front seat, back seat, on the hood… We’re looking for people who believe in our mission, whether just checking it out and sharing your feedback, starting a neighborhood or friend group, helping spread the word, introducing us to amazing group organizers, or possibly even joining our team. I’m interested in all possibilities!

For our launch, we’re trying something a little crazy (“do things that don’t scale,” right?) and we created a “welcome group” (https://jnbl.us/j/QaHbkXNr) where everyone on the team is hanging out and greeting folks who come through the door. Come by and say hi! Ask questions. Create a new group and invite a friend, or me ([email protected]). We’d love to hear what you think. It’s free and pretty easy, if I do say so.

If you’d like to learn more, please visit the website: https://joinable.us or our documentation and FAQs: https://docs.joinable.us.

Thanks for reading and hope you join me on Joinable!