#58 friends > communities

the freedom, the flexibility, the likes give us status, but a lingering sadness lurks. 

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 58th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every few weeks(ish). 

Hello, friends.

In one of the most memorable pieces of writing I read last year, David Brooks writes: If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families.

What led to this departure from community? Essentially, agriculture and industry allowed people to make more individualistic choices about their lives, and those choices diminished group efforts towards a common good. 

We still depend on people. But technology makes these dependencies less tangible, as we rely on one-click, algorithmically managed gig contracts to get our food and groceries delivered, our images photoshopped, our databases deduplicated. The packages don’t deliver themselves, the meals don’t just arrive at our doors, and the work doesn’t do itself. But since we don’t meet the people on the other side, they are reduced to nameless servants.

An undercurrent of both the gig economy and the creator economy is that the individual lifestyle that it spawns ignores the science of human psychology. The creator economy is lonely. The freedom, the flexibility, the likes give us status, but a lingering sadness lurks. 

Neighbors used to help deliver babies, cook us food, watch our kids. Today, we check into the hospital, we can get any food we can imagine delivered to our home within thirty minutes, and we pay people to look after our kids. 

Tribalism gave us strong social bonds, at the expense of quality medical care, excruciating manual labor, and a very narrow definition of shared interests. Hyper-individualism made us richer and gave us more choice than 18th century kings had, but at the expense of strong social bonds and increased anxiety.

Where do we go from here? Do we go back to being poor with strong social bonds? Or do we create new mechanisms and social contexts for meaning, belonging, and connection? 

I think the next step is a subtler balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility. I don’t have a good name for it, so for argument’s sake, I’ve called it collectivism. 

If blindly adhering to your tribe’s goals or working bullshit jobs at a corporation is about somebody else’s goals (“other”), and the creator economy is about you (“me”), this collectivism I speak of is about a redefinition of “us”. 

This new thing acknowledges our primal drive for both autonomy and belonging. It is grounded in the well-being, both financial and emotional, of people, not a shallow culture that glorifies individualism while downplaying how the resulting self-reliance has deeply tarnished the human spirit.

It bears a resemblance to tribalism, with one big difference: this time, you choose your tribe.

For much of history, if you asked someone to define “community,” they’d give you an answer that involved a physical location — a school, synagogue, church. Today, the word community invokes something more intimate: identity. It’s not something we’re born into, but something we choose.

Software opens up a new design space for experiments in collectivism.

In a fantastic piece, Toby Shorin writes:

The group is the basic user class for the tools we need today as a society, yet few pieces of software allow the squad as a whole to produce cooperatively and generate wealth together.

In Issue #51, I addressed the trust shift away from institutions and towards individuals. The reasons for this are varied — but tools have a lot to do with it. We didn’t have easy to use tools to make an independent career possible before, we do now.

The devil is in the defaults - what we need next is tools that create new, digitally native formats for small groups of people to create wealth and form strong social bonds. 

This isn’t about the Slack, Discord, Geneva or Circle groups you’re part of that start with a small version of a thing, but where the intention is to scale to hundreds or thousands of people that convene in a single public forum to discuss the topic du jour and get them to pay for the thing. This is about building the picks and shovels for intimate, intentionally small groups of friends and Internet friends to build things together, live together, and create wealth together. Unlike the Discord communities you’re part of, the small groups I’m thinking of have to stay small to survive — they’re small by design. Can you really be yourself in group chats with 50+ people?

CoAbode is a platform where single mothers can find other single mothers interested in sharing a home. Together helps people in tech organize or join a community focused co-living experience. Pacaso is a platform that enables co-ownership. You don’t meet your co-owners, so the value proposition is entirely financial. What if you could do this with friends instead of anonymous co-owners? 

Substack, for example, is designed for individual writers. Every, a writer collective that is somewhere between writing for the New York Times and writing on Substack recently announced their move away from Substack as the toolset was not serving their needs. In a Founder’s Letter worth reading, Nathan Baschez and Dan Shipper write: When you write together, you don’t have to publish so often that you risk burning out. Instead, the group can share the load. 

The Every model is designed to give writers the autonomy and upside that they get from writing alone, and the support and security they get from working for a media company. 

It’s a matter of time before we see this dynamic applied to other areas. I don’t want to create a podcast on my own but it’d be fun to record a season with a few friends. I don’t want to deal with the tax mess, but it’d be fun to start an investment club with the Jacuzzi crew or collaborate on a merch line with fellow TypeHouse writers. A recurring theme in my mom friends group chat is childcare costs (or rather, how it’s often cheaper to stay home than pay for childcare) — what would a modern day Chama look like, where we pool money for childcare and take turns getting the payout? Collective helps you run your company of one on autopilot, what is the equivalent for helping you run a company of five? While none of the above things are impossible to do today, the options are surprisingly intense.

Braid lets you create flexible group accounts for shared spending. In an excellent piece, the founder wrote:

We live in the world of my money and your money. Our money isn’t quite here yet, except within the confines of romantic partnerships, families and businesses.

Stir is a platform that allows creators to launch joint ventures. From new merch lines to co-hosted podcasts, creators can track each project's performance in a communal space, which they describe as multiplayer mode for your business.

I haven’t demo’ed it and I don’t know how it works exactly. But I do know that as the boundaries of life and work become more porous and businesses transform into webs of interrelationships between people, we need software that takes new assumptions about group structures to heart. 

We may no longer be cooking food for our neighbor or watching their kids, but if a chat + memes + social investing club can create new contexts for people to care about each other and form strong social bonds, then we should embrace that. 

Lately, I’ve found myself consumed by the question of how we can scale intimacy in digital micro-communities. But what I’m coming around to is this — by thinking about community as a software product, we limit the possibility space and end up directing most of the effort towards a very specific view of where the impact will be. This also ignores the opportunity right in front of us: groups of <12 people are bubbles of peer-to-peer potential where we can be more fully ourselves.

Everywhere we go these days, there is talk about community - the developer SaaS tool, the soap brand, and virtually every product I interact with now prominently bears a Community link on their homepage. Personally, I don’t need more Slack groups or things to which I belong. What I want is deeper relationships with specific people where I can be more fully myself, and where our individuality provides the basis for the mutuality of the relationship.

🙏🏽

Sari

This, via Ted Hunt 👇🏽

A good thread on why jailed people should be allowed to have phones. 📱

I like this side project: Sponsor my Community. Community leaders are hungry for monetization, and communities remain one of the few exciting places to acquire customers cost effectively 💰

Haley Nahman on the difference between kindness and niceness is 🔥. Politically speaking, niceness is good, but kindness is urgent. Clapping for essential workers is nice, paying them a liveable wage is urgent. Using the right pronouns is nice; ensuring rights, safety, and protection for trans people is urgent. 💭

Fascinating deep-dive on the product and life philosophies of Allen Zhang, the founder of WeChat. “A good product requires a certain degree of ‘dictatorship’, otherwise it will embody all sorts of different, conflicting opinions and its personality will become fragmented.” (In stark contrast to the talk on decentralized governance these days) 🧠

Questions to ask before giving up

I decided Coney Island is my favorite Taylor Swift song ever 🎪

I found this essay by Jesse Walden to be the clearest examination of the potential of NFTs.

Day one fan. The feeling of being a Day One Fan is unmatched, but also under-productized. There will be a new, defining social status that comes to the surface when solutions arise that prove to a fan they were an early follower. 💰

Startups on my radar 🚀

  • Waitwhile helps businesses delight their guests by letting them join a line remotely and then wait from anywhere. No more pointless waiting!

  • Nearby is a local commerce play by the former CPO of Slack.

  • Olive consolidates your shopping purchases into a single weekly delivery in a reusable package

This newsletter is free but not cheap. I don’t expect you to pay me anything, but if you’re feeling extra thankful, my venmo is @sari-azout

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, early stage startup investor at Level Ventures, and founder of Startupy. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

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