This startup wants to increase anonymous support for mental health, starting with the founders, TechCrunch

Nate Tepper went first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an international program dedicated to helping people recover from alcoholism through a 12-step program in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. She didn’t show her face or share her story, but says being vulnerable was extremely powerful.

Following the recommended frequency level for people on the program, Tepper went to 30 meetings in 30 days. Now, two years later, he’s starting a company that scales 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 a teacher or a single parent, to create an anonymous space to freely share their experiences. Unlike other startups focused on mental health, it doesn’t try to provide support through life coaches or trained professionals, but simply provides a space. (AA, by contrast, has a rich liturgy that provides a basis for its followers to follow.)

After publicly launching last month, after more than a year of stealth, Humans Anonymous has now announced fresh funding in the form of a $1.7 million seed round led by Glass Ventures and Backend Capital, Ten VC and Authentic With the participation of Ventures.

After people enter the anonymous room, users are invited to share three-minute segments, one person at a time. There’s no way for others to join, call or even “take over” the conversation, Tepper said. While this can turn around pretty quickly, say one person gets an unfiltered opportunity to target someone who just spoke, 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 the chat, Humans Anonymous does not allow users to create their own room.

Humans Anonymous has a different vibe from Clubhouse, one of the most popular audio social platforms, which feels more Socratic or seminary and allows speakers to mute or unmute at their own leisure. Anonymous people are less about personal branding and more about anonymous conversations.

The startup makes money through a subscription model, charging users $5 a month or $50 for an annual fee. Users who want to try the app can have a free one-hour trial or enter a common room, which Tepper says will always be free to make programming available.

The app opens publicly with a clear focus on the founders. While brainstorming for the app, Tepper emailed the founders of Y Combinator and got positive feedback about the need for something like Humans Anonymous.

“I always thought this was for everyone, right? This is where the name of Anonymous people came from,” he said. “Founders happen in the first wave, and then our next communities are nurses and teachers. And these are all groups that struggle in their day-to-day work, not necessarily sharing their struggles. And I think one of the learnings along the way, and you found this anonymously, and we learned that people want to be part of a community that they probably identify as nurses, teachers. That’s why our path to market is similar to starting with profession-based communities. And then eventually we want to expand beyond that.”

Image credits: Anonymous people

At its core, Humans Anonymous is a platform that seeks to provide community service through a virtual environment. It’s a mission that may be faced with its decision to raise venture capital, an asset class that requires exponential growth for an exit, and the choice to build a for-profit entity. Tepper defended his choice, saying he has always believed that for-profit organizations are more influential than nonprofits. “They allow you to focus on the mission instead of fundraising or collecting donations,” he said.

As the startup is still in its earliest stages of construction, many questions remain to be answered. For example, anonymity is a big promise, but in the security world, it’s actually one of the most difficult. What if you recognize someone’s voice on it? Are there guardrails that prevent a user from recording another user’s deepest stories?

The other challenge is on the legal front. Although People Anonymous is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, AA may be concerned about how inspired the competitive product is. Tepper says he does have a brand for Anonymous and emphasized that he was simply inspired by the AA framework. He still goes to the meeting almost every day, two years after the first one.

“In terms of branding, there’s potential for AA to reach out to us and potentially tell us something,” he said. “Ideally, we can be on the same team.”

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