Nate Tepper went to first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an international program aimed at helping people recover from alcoholism with a 12-step program, at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. He didn’t show his face or share his story, but says the presence of vulnerability had a huge impact.
Following the recommended frequency level for people participating in the program, Tepper attended 30 meetings in 30 days. Now, two years later, he starts a company to scale up his favorite parts of the program in hopes of reaching other people in need.
The result is Humans Anonymous, a social audio platform that connects people with similar identities, whether that be a teacher or a single parent, to create an anonymous space to freely share their experiences. Unlike other mental health-focused startups out there, it’s not trying to provide support through life coaches or trained professionals — it’s just trying to provide space. (AA, on the other hand, has a wealth of liturgy that provides a framework for its adherents to follow.)
After being publicly launched last month after more than a year in stealth, Humans Anonymous has now announced new funding in the form of a $1.7 million pre-seed round led by Glass Ventures and Backend Capital, with the participation of Ten VC and Authentic Ventures.
When entering a Humans Anonymous space, users are invited to share in three-minute segments, one person at a time. There’s no way for others to unmute, start a conversation, or even “take over,” Tepper said. While this can happen pretty quickly – let’s say one person gets an unfiltered chance to target someone who just said something – there is always a moderator in the channel who has the authority to block or ban people. In order to control the setup and flow of conversations, Humans Anonymous does not allow users to create their own room.
Humans Anonymous casts a different atmosphere than Clubhouse, one of the most well-known audio social platforms out there, which has a more Socratic or seminar-like feel and allows speakers to unmute or unmute at their leisure. Humans Anonymous is less about personal brand and more about anonymous conversations.
The startup monetizes through a subscription model, charging users $5 per month or $50 for an annual fee. Users who want to try the app can try it for an hour for free, or enter the general area, which Tepper says will always be free to keep programming accessible.
The app will be launched publicly with an explicit focus on founders. While brainstorming for the app, Tepper emailed the founders of Y Combinator and got positive feedback about a need for something like Humans Anonymous.
“I always thought that something like that is for everyone, right? Hence the name Humans Anonymous,” he said. “Founders happen to be in the first wave, and then our next communities are both nurses and teachers. And these are all groups that struggle in their day-to-day work, who don’t necessarily have to share their struggles. And I think it’s one of the classes, and you found this anonymous and we learned that people wanted to be part of a community that they might identify as nurses, teachers, so that’s why our way into the market is like starting with the professional communities, and ultimately we want to go beyond that .”
At its core, Humans Anonymous is a platform that aims to provide community service through a virtual medium. It’s a mission that can clash with his decision to raise venture capital, an asset class that requires exponential growth for an outlier, and the choice to build a for-profit organization. Tepper defended his choice, saying he has always believed that for-profit organizations have more impact than non-profits. “They allow you to focus on the mission, rather than raising money or collecting donations,” he said.
Since the startup is still in the early stages of construction, many questions remain to be answered. For example, anonymity is a big promise and one of the most difficult in the security world to actually deliver. What if you recognize someone’s voice on it? Are there any guardrails in place that prevent a user from capturing another user’s deepest stories?
The other challenge is on the legal front. While Humans Anonymous is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, AA may be concerned about how inspired its competing product is. Tepper says he does have a trademark for Humans Anonymous, stressing that he is simply inspired by AA’s framework. He still goes to a meeting almost every day, two years after his first.
“In terms of branding, there’s a potential that AA could reach us and possibly say something to us,” he said. “Ideally we can be on the same team.”