GirlCrew takes on loneliness among women

Cath Everett Profile picture for user catheverett January 2, 2018
Loneliness is a growing Western phenomenon, but one Dublin-based organisation, GirlCrew, is doing its bit to help with a platform to assist women of all ages in making new friends.

Loneliness is, unfortunately, a growing phenomenon in the Western World. Although the issue seems particularly acute among older people, it is certainly not limited to this demographic alone and, in some instances, may even, arguably, be amplified by the false intimacy and narcissism of social media.

But it was certainly from this impetus that GirlCrew, a platform set up for women of all ages to make new friends, was born. The idea came about when joint chief executive Elva Carri decided one Friday night in 2014 that she wanted to go out dancing in Dublin, but found that all of her friends were either too busy or too tired.

Convinced that she was not the only woman in this position, she put out a request on the Tinder dating website for platonic dancing buddies and quickly received more than 100 replies. Carri subsequently created a secret Facebook group, added everyone to it and the idea took off.

After she joined forces with Aine Mulloy, chief marketing officer, and Pamela Newenham, joint chief executive, the three began setting up and developing GirlCrew Facebook groups elsewhere, starting in other towns in Ireland and then moving to the UK, Australia and Canada. Within a year, they had 10,000 members, and the number has now jumped to more than 100,000 in 46 cities across the world. Newenham explains the rationale:

We took loneliness into account when we set up the platform. For example, there are women who have moved to a new city and so want to meet people - and also to find out where to go to get their hair and nails done and where the good restaurants are. There are also women who’ve lived somewhere all their lives but their friends are getting married and they don’t necessarily want to hang out with couples all the time. Or sometimes they’re the first to settle down and want some ‘mum friends’. And there are also older women whose kids have flown the nest and so have more time on their hands. Although there are other social networking sites around, the problem with a lot of them is that they’re not that social – they’re about me, me, me sitting on a beach and having an amazing time. But we wanted ours to be about the group.

As a result, members, the majority of whom are aged between 25 and 40, are not allowed to write on their own or other member’s pages, but can only post messages to the entire group in their city. Everyone in that group is also invited to attend each event that takes place, whether it consists of an ad hoc meet up for lunch or a more planned trip to the theatre. Newenham says:

The difference between us and sites like MeetUp is that their get-togethers are planned well in advance, while ours tend to be more last minute. So, for example, someone might win some tickets on the radio to a concert and be looking for someone to go with them. There’s also a lot of chat in our groups that come under headings like Trips & Travel, Careers and Dating & Relationship, where women can ask for advice and tips. For instance, one girl posted that she was eloping and asked for someone to be her witness, while another was looking for help to get out of a bad date.

Despite having attended Facebook’s twelfth birthday party in California in 2016 after appearing in Facebook Stories, GirlCrew is currently in the process of migrating its various city-based groups away from the social media platform and onto a new app that was launched this summer. The reason behind the move is that, because some groups have become very large, Facebook’s algorithm was preventing members from inviting too many people to an event, which meant that some were being accidentally excluded.

Lessons learned

Funding for the project, which took longer than expected, came from angel investors as well as Enterprise Ireland, a government agency that aims to create more jobs in the country. Newenham explains:

A big issue was that we don’t have a tech co-founder so we initially started to develop the app with no advisors who knew how to code or engineer, which was a mistake. We didn’t know what we wanted or what could be done in terms of coding so we were outsourcing it and saying ‘do this or that’ without realising it was a big job. In the end, we brought in tech advisors who helped us find and interview developers – that had been a big challenge for us as we didn’t know if they were codding us or not when we were asking them questions.

Another key lesson learned relates to the process of migrating users from Facebook to the new app. Newenham says:

We discovered we needed to build up a waiting list and launch everyone on the app at the same time. Initially, we’d told some people about the app, they downloaded it, saw nothing happening and so left. So we’d invite other people and the same thing would happen. And what we learned from that is you have to invite everyone at the same time to make it really buzzy.

As for revenue streams in order to make the business sustainable over the long-term, these come from a number of sources, the first of which involves providing third parties with targeted advertising opportunities towards women in the 25 to 40 age category. But Newenham points out:

We’re very fussy and will only allow ads such as discounts that benefit members. We’d never accept ones that make people feel bad like ‘how to lose belly fat’ or whatever. We want to promote and help and showcase women at their best and so we also have guidelines in the groups, which include no bashing of men. So it wouldn’t be acceptable to say ‘I went on a date with that person and they were awful’ because they could be someone’s brother or cousin or friend.

A second means of making money is to host careers events on behalf of tech companies such as Microsoft, Dell and EMC and to charge for entry. A third, which has just been rolled out in Dublin but will follow elsewhere, is to charge E10 (US$11.85) for a premium subscription. This provides members with access to four organised events per month that are posted four weeks in advance.

Other items on the agenda for 2018 include a major focus on launching the app in the US, with the cities of Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco and New York being top of the list.

Further down the line, however, the organisation, which currently consists of five people, plans to add a more marked business strand to the site. The aim is to not only promote the Careers and Entrepreneur groups more, but also to provide a button that enables visiting members to inform others that they are at a conference in say, Hong Kong, to make it easier to get together. As Newenham says:

Other members will be able to see that they’re there and say ‘hey, I’m here too’ without having to worry about who they might meet because there’s already the trust element there.

My take

Not only does GirlCrew appear to fit in with the ancient tradition that simple ideas are generally the best, it also seems to be fulfilling a genuine social need, which can only be a good thing.

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