You have to love the accelerated development cycle that spins so fast in the tech industry’s echo chamber. Just as most Americans are starting to get comfortable with this whole “social revolution,” the tech industry has already exhausted every inch of “Social” (and social networking) to the degree that most are now tired of hearing about social. Case-in-point: A startup launching today, called Uniiverse, begins its pitch with this simple message, “Uniiverse is not a social network.” I advised co-founders Craig Follett, Ben Raffi and Adam Meghji to put that bit in caplocks going forward.
That’s part of the reason Uniiverse is resistant to being lumped in with social networks, as the Canadian startup is building an online platform that focuses on bringing value to our offline lives. Uniiverse is brushing aside status updates and virtual friends, tagging itself as a “platform for collaborative living.” While that may sound equivocal, Uniiverse’s mission is to become a service that allows anyone to share any kind of real-life activity or service — for free. It’s a move aimed at the “sharing economy,” a better, utopian future where we share and share alike. (But not only the social media kind of sharing.)
Users can specify what they’re offering, the price they charge for that service (though of course it could be free), and when that event or service is taking place. Users can then instantly discover, book, and pay for the listing. Follett says that the platform’s mission is essentially to turn anyone into an entrepreneur, while at the same time, facilitating offline meetups, interactions, and hopefully encouraging people to live smarter, happier lives. Uniiverse wants to get people out of their eat/sleep/work grinds, out of their virtual worlds, virtual games, and out into that harsh, harsh sunlight.
Silicon Valley and the tech industry is all about big data, but Uniiverse co-CEO Ben Raffi rhetorically asks if that’s really making our lives more social? The more data online and mobile applications and services collect about our habits, interests, schedules, etc., the more personalized they become, making our lives easier, more serendipitous and so on. So the prevailing psychology goes.
Of course, the more data our apps and platforms accrue, the more they know about us, the more our interest, health, and social graphs follow us around online, the potential for our digital privacies to go out the window skyrockets.
Hence, Uniiverse wants to offer the requisite social layer on top of its platform, while remaining determined to look forward to the next step, as Follett says that the next decade will be all about the engagement layer, or that which facilitates an easy connection for people’s real-life interactions.
Of course, the biggest issue here, one encountered by craigslisters is trust between users. Somewhat ironically (in light of what I’ve just said), Uniiverse needs some of our data to build this trust. In other words, the platform shows social proximity (like mutual friends, previous interactions), ratings, reviews, and participation across a number of verticals. If someone is looking to rent your drill, for example, you’ll want to be able to get a sense of who they are by seeing what they’ve hosted on the Uniiverse platform — cooking classes with great reviews, or perhaps they go running with one of your close friends every week.
Uniiverse is also an online store front for collaboration for people looking to share their time, interests, belongings, space, and skills. As a marketplace, Follett says that the intention is to disrupt traditional classified sites like craigslist — in the sense that you probably aren’t likely to search for a babysitter on the site — and unify the fragmented sharing economy represented by services like Airbnb, Skillshare, Zimrides, and so on. “There’s currently no transport of trust across verticals and categories,” the CEO says, “and, as a result, the value of the sharing economy really isn’t fully tapped yet.”
Users are thus encouraged to rate and review each other’s shared experiences in order to add an extra layer of trustworthiness in an attempt to facilitate that offline engagement. As such, Uniiverse is tapping into the sharing economy, which values access and experiences over ownership, a movement that could have a positive effect on the environment, finance, and community.
As to the startup’s business model: While it’s free for anyone to post a listing (if a user decides to charge $20 per ticket, they will receive $20 from each person, for example), Uniiverse adds a variable transaction fee to the listing’s price, which is charged to the buyer. Part of this transaction fee goes towards covering credit card processing costs to make the platform possible, Follett says, and part helps support the viability of the company. That being said, the CEO said that they are strongly encouraging free listings on the site.
To further support its lofty goal and still-nascent revenue models, Uniiverse is also announcing today that it has raised $750K in seed funding for its online p2p marketplace for offline services and activities. The startup will use the capital to beef up product development, design, and to offset the marketing costs it will incur as it scales.
Also check out PalLocale, a startup with similar ambitions.
For more on Uniiverse, check out Uniiverse at home here, or watch the video below: