Woohoo: Whawhee brings together those with similar passions in the real world
Whawhee has perhaps one of the more creatively named startups, evoking a bit of Web 2.0 cuteness and that ephemeral rush of new experiences and connections promised by the new service.
Founded and self-funded in 2011 by Thien Doan and Antoine Lierville, the idea behind Whawhee came out of the founders’ frustrations with finding scuba diving partners when traveling. By law, scuba divers are required to have a buddy for diving, but when in unfamiliar settings as a solo traveler, finding legitimate, trustworthy partners can be a challenge.
So Doan and Lierville decided to create a free, online platform that allows uses to easily locate diving buddies in specific locations worldwide.
After some brainstorming, concepting and initial feedback, the team realized that the ultra-specific scuba use case could be widened to include many other hobbies.
We realized that the scuba challenges we faced are common to many different hobbies – golfing in Honolulu, sightseeing in Rome, book clubs in Miami, poker games in Paris, Mandarin language learning in Seattle – the list is endless.
And so rather than launch a platform exclusive to our own interests, we decided to make an open community in which users could select any activity in any location.
The interests were widened, and the scope was more clear, especially in comparison to clear competitors like Meetup.com that focus on larger gatherings and meetings.
So they came up with Whawhee, “an amazing social networking platform that allows you to share your passions anywhere and everywhere you go.”
The team explains more about how their service works in a Q&A with Tnooz.
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
As we expanded our exhaustive search of potential social networking platforms, we realized that the vast majority of options out there are predicated on “friends of friends” or “interests.” While these 2 approaches definitely serve a purpose, they have significant limitations:
Limitations of Friends of Friends
The friends of friends model lacks depth. Your average Facebook user has several hundred (sometimes several thousand) “friends” in his or her network – relationships accumulated over years of use. But how many of those friends are people you know by name? And how many of them are just casual acquaintances that you added simply because, “Hey, why not?”
What ultimately ends up happening is that you develop a huge rolodex of meaningless names. You’re essentially a millionaire who uses Monopoly money to count your wealth.
Limitations of Interests
The interest model is substantially more relevant. You connect with people based on shared passions and hobbies. But without geo-targeting, you’re basically developing a global network of pen pals whom you’ll never actually meet in person. There’s nothing wrong with this approach if you simply want an online community of like-minded enthusiasts. But without location-specific data, these relationships forever remain virtual.
Whawhee addresses these limitations by helping users create relevant connections with “nearby” people who share the same hobbies and interests.
Nearby is obviously a dynamic term since users all over the world increasingly travel and relocate. If you’re heading to San Diego for a business conference and want to jump in on a poker game – if you want to start a Frisbee club shortly after moving to Hong Kong – if you want to find fellow movie buffs in your local neighborhood – Whawhee makes this possible.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Whawhee allows users to meet new people who share the same passion, in addition to discovering new interests and hobbies and browsing what is happening around them. Whawhee enables you to interact with nearby users who share your interests, and it’s 100% democratic, 100% open, and 100% user-generated.
Our hope is that Whawhee becomes the preferred destination for anyone who wants to develop his or her passions, hobbies, and interests – no matter where they are (or where they go).
For any given hobby or location, there is no moderator. No fees for creating a new group. No leader. No one to say you can or can’t join the discussion. This represents another major departure from platforms like MeetUp or Facebook that exercise top-down control.
Morever, users are never charged a fee for creating new groups (unlike MeetUp). In fact, we’ve abandoned the notion of “group” entirely. All interactions are based on location and hobby. Like-minded enthusiasts can share their own insights on exciting activities, great places (spots), special events, interesting tips, and even deals (thanks to our virtual marketplace).
But probably the biggest difference is Whawhee’s openness. With most social networking platforms out there, all content remains hidden from the public. So you end up having closed silos of really useful information – information you can only access after you join (assuming you’re request is even approved).
This approach might be suitable in some situations, but we advocate giving universal access to everyone. Although users can remain as anonymous as they choose, everything that goes into Whawhee is searchable by Google, Yahoo, and Bing. This makes Whawhee infinitely more useful and accessible than its closed, exclusive counterparts.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Contact influencers, and engage them by giving them value (ex. Salsa; contact Salsa club, salsa school, salsa dancers, salsa forum, websites, blog…. Have them creating content relative to their passions…)
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
Instead of being very broad, and addressing all activities and places, we could reduce the focus. Maybe for scuba divers only, then salsa dancers, chess players, golfers, etc.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Mistake: A good idea, a good concept is enough!! It is not right, hard work is needed, perseverance, flexibility to be able to change/adapt a product focus, listen to the customer needs and usage.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
There currently is not a global knowledge database from travellers segmented on origin-destination to exchange tips with a wiki approach, ie. continuous improvement, which enriches and edits content, or a feed approach of instant tips by destination via micro-content.
Our platform is not a replacement for traditional social media or the real world. Rather, it is a complementary tool that augments both. Chance encounters and cocktail parties still have a place. Facebook, Twitter, and Meetup will always be great resources. Whawhee merely creates a bridge between the virtual and the real so that users can derive maximum value from the connections they develop on a daily basis.
No matter where you are – no matter what you enjoy, Whawhee makes it easy to create relevant and lasting connections that truly matter.
It’s hard to see where Whawhee is going to fit in with the myriad social networking sites out there – social media network fatigue is a very real thing, with many people weary at the thought of creating yet another profile to manage. There’s also the other forms of meeting people as you travel that exist: CouchSurfing groups and meetups, PartyWithALocal, Localyte, TripBod, Planely, GlobeTrooper, or even old fashioned word-of-mouth.
Nonetheless, those with intense passions for specific hobbies likely do not want to waste time on a general social network trying to find people like them. A specific need like “a diving partner in the Phillipines in March” is hard to fulfill, especially amongst thousands of disparate interests. The ability to hyper-target a specific need is compelling, and the service will become a very useful tool if it can provide an instant connection that solves the need.
In addition, these targeted needs create segmented traffic that can be sold to advertisers looking to satisfy these demonstrated needs. For example, someone looking for a dive partner in the Philippines could very easily be looking for a dive boat, dive classes or dive gear – all valuable keywords for high-value items.
The business will only be as good as the dedicated community that Whawhee fosters, and therein lies the principal challenge: scale. Can they get enough passionate hobbyists posting regularly to make this a serious business that also achieves the goal of connecting people who share passions?
It’s a crowded and amorphous space, so our suggestion is to truly focus on the passion: stories of those who have connected, narratives showcasing the many passions on the site, and interesting content that fosters a sense of community around intense passion and hobbies.
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Nick Vivion was a senior reporter for Tnooz from August 2012 to July 2015.