Nate Tepper first went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an international program dedicated to helping people recover from alcoholism with a 12-step program, in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. He didn’t show his face or share his story, but says the presence of vulnerability was extremely impactful.
Following the recommended frequency level for people entering the program, Tepper went to 30 meetings in 30 days. Now, two years later, he’s started a company to expand his favorite parts of the program in hopes of reaching others in need.
The result is Humans Anonymous, a social audio platform that connects people with similar identities, whether it’s a teacher or a single parent, to create an anonymous space to freely share their experiences. Unlike other startups focused on mental health, it’s not trying to provide support through life coaches or trained professionals — it’s just trying to provide space. (AA, by contrast, has a rich liturgy that provides a framework for its followers to follow.)
After going public last month after more than a year in stealth, Humans Anonymous has now announced new funding in the form of a $1.7 million seed round led by Glass Ventures and Backend Capital, with participation from Ten VC and Authentic Ventures.
Upon entering the Humans Anonymous room, users are invited to share in three-minute chunks, one person at a time. There’s no way for others to mute, tune in or even “take over” a conversation, Tepper said. While this can escalate quite quickly – say one person gets an unfiltered opportunity to target someone who just talked – there’s always a channel moderator who has the power to block or ban people. In order to maintain control over the setup and flow of the conversation, Humans Anonymous does not allow users to create their own room.
Humans Anonymous presents a different vibe than Clubhouse, one of the most prominent social audio platforms, which looks more Socratic or workshop-like and allows speakers to mute or unmute at their leisure. Humans Anonymous is less about personal branding and more about anonymous conversations.
The startup makes money through a subscription model, charging users $5 per month or $50 for an annual fee. Users who want to try the app can have a free one-hour trial or log into the common room, which Tepper says will always be free to keep programming accessible.
The app launched publicly with an explicit focus on founders. When considering the app, Tepper emailed Y Combinator founders and received positive feedback about the need for something like Humans Anonymous.
“I always thought it was for everyone, right? Hence the name People Anonymous,” he said. “The founders happen to be in the first wave, and our next communities are both nurses and teachers. And these are all groups that struggle in their day-to-day work, as if they don’t necessarily share 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 like starting with professional communities. And ultimately, we want to expand beyond that.”
At its core, Humans Anonymous is a platform that seeks to provide services to the community through a virtual environment. It’s a mission that may collide with his decision to raise venture capital, an asset class that requires exponential growth for an extraordinary exit, and a choice to build a for-profit organization. Tepper defended his choice, saying he had always believed that for-profit organizations were more impactful than nonprofits. “They allow you to focus on the mission instead of fundraising or collecting donations,” he said.
Since the startup is still in the earliest stages of construction, many questions remain to be answered. For example, anonymity is a big promise, and in the security world one of the hardest to actually deliver. What if you recognize someone’s voice in it? Are there any safeguards that stop a user from recording another user’s deepest stories?
The other challenge is on the legal front. While People Anonymous is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, AA may be concerned about how inspired the competing product is. Tepper says he does have a trademark for Humans Anonymous and emphasizes that he was simply inspired by the AA framework. He still goes on a date almost every day, two years after the first one.
“In terms of branding, there is potential for AA to contact us and potentially tell us something,” he said. “Ideally we can be on the same team.”