Reimagining Social Networking: Abraham Shafi's Quest for Genuine Connection
As the world becomes increasingly connected through technology, it is easy to forget the importance of in-person interactions. The prolonged pandemic lockdowns of the past few years made the need for genuine human connections more apparent than ever before.
Abraham Shafi, a visionary entrepreneur, recognized this need and embarked on a mission to bridge the gap between digital and physical connections.
In 2019, Shafi launched IRL, a social networking app that - unlike typical platforms solely limited to likes, shares, and comments - allowed its users to organize and attend events and activities with others who share similar interests.
Today, with millions of active users - the majority of whom are in the Gen Z demographic - IRL, short for "In Real Life," is one of the fastest-growing social networks of its generation, according to Forbes.
The app has claimed the top 10 in social on the app store several times, disrupting the social networking landscape with its vision to foster real-time experiences for the users.
"We're the only 'social' app designed to help you get off your screen and go out to be sociable," Shafi, IRL's Ceo, has since said.
Thinking big and dreaming beyond the status quo were traits Shafi said he inherited from his father, who left Cairo for San Francisco in the 1980s in search of greener pastures.
"Dad sacrificed everything he had so we could have a better life," he said. "And fuelled by optimism and grit, he made that a reality."
With an upbringing marked by a strong entrepreneurial spirit - thanks largely to his father and brothers, who started successful companies in America - Shafi moved to pave an impact-driven path on his own.
"I grew up with the firm belief that anything is possible," Shafi told Business Insider. "I could do anything because my father definitely could. He inspired me."
Even while studying at UC Berkeley, Shafi pondered about creating deeper, more meaningful connections to bring people together.
IRL was the materialization of Shafi's vision for a better way to connect with others. Shafi and his team understood that only on a user-friendly platform could the seamless communication and, eventually, real-life experiences he had long envisioned be brought to life.
The IRL team was also mindful of the importance of real-life interactions in this increasingly digital age - where seemingly everything is a swipe away, and the sort of trust and sense of belonging that only physical engagement can achieve is fast becoming a thing of the past.
'People want to create meaningful connections in the real world, especially in their local communities,' said Shafi.
Facebook, now Meta, had a similar idea with its events page, but its struggle to retain its young users - who now consider the platform a "boomer social network" - hampered the potential of its event planning business model.
"For the generation that doesn't want to use Facebook - we're becoming that," Shafi told Insider.
IRL users can create and join personalized communities, message as many people as they want, and add preferred events - be it music, food, gaming, TV, or even podcast-related - to a single calendar, which can be synced to Google Calendar and shared on other social media platforms, such as Instagram.
In IRL, the guest lists for events are limited to friends, allowing users to spend quality time, online or offline, with the people they know personally while being able to chat freely with other like-minded individuals in whichever in-app community is a part of.
This unprecedented ease with which IRL facilitates communication and engagement has made it the go-to platform for people seeking to meet, connect, and grow with others with shared interests, even within their local communities.
Bailey Spinn, a fast-rising influencer, invited her 14 million TikTok followers to interact with her, personally and in real-time, on her group chat in IRL "because I'm basically going to be on it all the time."
Young people like Spinn are increasingly seeking more in-person social connections and are looking to share meaningful experiences together.
Softbank CEO Masayoshi, an immigrant like Shafi, was also an advocate of Shafi's vision. In June 2021, IRL saw out a Softbank-led Series C round with $170 million in investment and a 1.1 billion dollar valuation, earning itself the coveted "unicorn" status.
The billion-dollar unicorn recently penned a deal to partner with UFC, which saw IRL become an official channel through which the MMA company, and its stars, could interact with fans.
"Enhancing UFC fans' experience, and building communities, is only the start," Shafi said of the partnership.
He wasn't wrong. IRL moved to promote creative expression in its sprawling community with the recent launch of Memix, an intuitive new tool that allows users to create memes in seconds.
"What we're focused on with IRL and Memix is helping more people be together, become friends, or build a community around shared interest," Shafi stated.
So far, IRL users have planned over millions of hours of time together, establishing IRL as an inspiring entity, leading the way for the future of social networking.
Despite IRL's growth, Shafi and his team reckon they've only brushed the surface in their bid to afford people more opportunities to connect.
Their idea, Shafi says, is to "break down barriers and help people become friends. Once you find one thing that you like, or you share in common, you suddenly form a bond."