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IRL, a group messaging app that allows users to share their calendars and upcoming events, recently raised “$170 million in a funding round led by SoftBank Group Corp’s (9984.T) Vision Fund 2 that valued the company at $1.17 billion,” according to Reuters. The app, popular with teenagers, innovated throughout the pandemic despite the slowdown of in-person events, creating a more fully functional platform and adding new features. Currently, IRL says it has more than 12 million monthly active users.
What Is IRL?
IRL has dubbed itself “your event social network,” where people can “do more together.” Like Facebook groups, IRL unites people over shared events and groups. Users can choose groups to join or create groups around events or interests, kicking off chats and messages. IRL has “facilitated more than 1 billion messages in barely a year,” reports Alex Heath for The Verge.
“We’re building Facebook groups and events for the generation that doesn’t use Facebook,” said Abraham Shafi, IRL CEO and co-founder. “There just happens to be no other product really focused on this space for the next generation.”
The original concept of IRL was to create a shared calendar of events for like-minded people, who would actually get off their technology and meet in person. However, during COVID-19, IRL rebranded temporarily as “In Remote Life,” promoting virtual events. The pivot during the pandemic also included adding new features for online events and enhancing the website for a better user experience. IRL said a hybrid of live and virtual events will probably be the formula moving forward.
The multipurpose appeal of IRL is what investors are excited about. “The combination of messaging and events creates the conditions for a platform,” said venture capitalist Mike Maples, an IRL board member.
What’s Next For IRL?
Similar to other social media platforms, IRL launched a creator fund. In this iteration the fund “pays people to organize events in major cities... like an outdoor movie night or a block party” using the IRL app. Cities around the country that are chosen to be part of the program will receive grant money from IRL to support their events. In addition to promoting local events, IRL will be ramping up its partnership with TikTok to increase usership and get noticed.
Before users, and advertisers, jump onto another social media platform, most want to be reassured that abusive or discriminatory content isn’t being allowed. The recent cash infusion to IRL means that it will now be attracting a lot more eyeballs, requiring more oversight that protects users, and, should advertising be made available, reassurance that ads won’t show up alongside questionable content. The Verge article explains, IRL “plans to give group moderators adjustable tools for proactively weeding out bad messages through Hive, an automated content moderation platform that Reddit also uses. Group chats that aren’t invite-only will be reviewed by IRL staff before they are promoted on the [IRL] app’s explore page.”
What Benefits Does IRL Offer Advertisers?
At this point, advertising opportunities on IRL are limited. China’s massively adopted WeChat, used for everything from “[paying] bills to [hailing] taxis” according to Heath, is frequently referred to by IRL founders as an aspiration of the platform, which could mean that advertisers will eventually have opportunities across IRL for advertising, sponsorships, branding and direct sales — like they do in WeChat. For now, IRL says it has plans to let brands promote events on the main IRL discovery page, but it isn’t currently looking at ads as a “core revenue stream.”
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