Montreal-based startup Bunch has launched it’s passion-based discussion platform today after securing $1 million in venture capital from Real Ventures, 500 Startups, BDC Venture Capital, Round 13 Capital, and several angel investors.
CEO Andrew Sider said that traditional online forums and discussion boards offer a fragmented and outdated user experience full of anonymous users. Bunch brings depth to social media by offering a platform where it’s easy for people to share and discuss a topic they care about with people who feel the same way.
“I don’t think this generation will use forums in 20 years,” said Sider. “We created Bunch to unlock the value of forums for the masses by building a product for the average Internet user,” said Sider.
The former founding team member at Bandpage, Sider has built his team up to seven people with offices in San Francisco and Bunch’s headquarters in Montreal. The company began closed beta testing in September 2012 and accumulated over 20,000 users.
The website and iOS app will launch featuring over 50 “bunches”, or passion-based communities. In each community Sider wants to re-create the civilized and meaningful discussion that two Hemingway-lovers would have at a book club. As expected, one bunch is books, while others include Startup Entrepreneurs, Mobile & Web Design, Craft Beer, Photography, Yoga, and more. Members can share a question, thought, or article to spark discussion with their communities along with a photo, video or link.
For Sider the financing is being used to build out the product. “It’s a lot of iteration, a lot of refinement and a lot of building out new technology and that’s really a team and time investment,” he said. The 29-year-old said he was able to work together with several investors who both believed in Bunch’s vision while being supportive of the team’s early stage commitment to product.
He feels that the “high-velocity” feeds of Facebook and Twitter are not designed to stimulate discussion with depth. While he has no intention of replacing those social networks, he thinks that neither of them has created a place where users can connect and communicate in a meaningful way around the topics they care about the most.
“We set out to build very high signal communities.” Sider told Techvibes. “Most products let you like or follow thousands of things, but we designed Bunch to emulate the offline realities where you have limited time and money, and you focus on the things that matter to you most.”
As such, the community has a few rules including a limit to joining three bunches and requiring users to use their true identity. In an online world where truth often comes at the expense of identity, does Sider feel this could be a hindrance to people’s true sentiments?
“Using one’s real identity helps create accountable and engaging discussion,” he said.
While Sider agreed that ultimately it might result in some people not participating, he emphasized that the truth around topics that matter should be presented by people’s real identity. “Our friend Snowden is a heroic example of that recently, and the credibility of making a statement because you put your real name to it.”
While new Bunch categories will be offered in the future, the first fifty that are offered today are focused topics that seek to stimulate engaging discussion about people’s hobbies, skill sets or aspirations. Sider said that at the moment the site will steer clear of topics that could encourage abuse. Sensitive subjects aren’t out of the picture in the future and neither are semi-anonymous commenters who have no other way to discuss sensitive topics. For now though the team looks like it will have its hands full with the level of engagement they’re expecting upon today’s launch.