Our Journey to Create a Product That Builds Better Friendships

Edited by Ericka Schubert and Jason Ganz

Mary Bleech headshot

Kaylee McHugh

April 30, 2021
ChattyKathi is an early stage startup focused on strengthening connection between small groups of friends and family. We send fun, engaging, and dynamic conversation starters to a group via SMS on a schedule that works for them — no app download required.

Setting up a new chat with ChattyKathi is incredibly simple. After answering a few questions about what you and your friends are interested in, Kathi will send your group fun, engaging, and dynamic conversation starters one to three times a week. All you need to do is text ChattyKathi back when your group is sent a conversation starter.
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Making ChattyKathi feel so accessible is deliberate. Our team noticed how tired we’ve become with social apps that repeatedly bug us to sign in and post new updates. Instead, we wanted to build a social connection tool that put people before the technology — not the other way around. Even more than that, we wanted to create a social platform that actually made us feel good about ourselves and our friendships. We knew what we wanted, but we had a lot of work to get there.

After months of research into the psychology behind building a good friendship, and picking the brain of friendship expert Dr. Marisa G Franco, we were finally able to build ChattyKathi. Because we’re so excited to be able to share our amazing new platform, we wanted to tell a little bit of our story, too.

The Research: Building Blocks of a Great Friendship
To build a product that would genuinely help people connect and grow in their friendships, we first needed to understand the evolution of friendships in everyday life. Our founders are all people that prioritize strong friendships and we wanted to get deeper insights into how we could strengthen and sustain them. For that we needed expert advice, and Dr. Franco provided the answer. As she guided us through the essential building blocks of creating a strong friendship, we walked away with a few huge takeaways:
1. Strong friendships need continuous, unplanned interactions and shared vulnerability. Without either element, a good friendship just isn’t possible. This is why it’s so easy to make friends as kids and so much harder as an adult.

2. Shared hobbies and interests are great ways to bring out both unplanned interactions and shared vulnerability. Going to a series of events together — like book clubs or running clubs — are a much more powerful way of accomplishing these ends than one-off events.

3. When you develop a group of friends, your relationship is much more likely to be maintained because multiple people are facilitating the continuous interaction necessary for a strong friendship.

4. “Repotting”, or showing friends different aspects of your life or sides of your personality, increase the closeness of your friendship.

With these elements in mind we began work on designing a product built to foster great relationships.
The Design: How to Make a Tech Product that Helps Deepen Friendships

Our #1 priority in designing ChattyKathi was ensuring that the product seamlessly integrated into people’s existing digital communication tools. Dr. Franco taught us that continuous unplanned interactions are key to building a strong friendship, but this would be impossible if ChattyKathi was too difficult for groups of friends to join. Finally it came to us — we could use SMS text messaging! 99% of people already have it on their phones, and everyone knows how to use it.

We also needed to find a way for vulnerability and repotting to drive the conversations ChattyKathi facilitates. We wanted interactions with ChattyKathi to feel like the interactions you might have at a friend’s house for dinner. Just like your friend knows the right questions to ask to make you laugh or share what’s on your mind, we wanted Kathi to make you feel that way, too. We ended up implementing a few key features to make this happen.
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- We wrote and commissioned over 800 conversation starters organized into content libraries that you can add into any of your chats. This allows you to choose the categories of questions Kathi asks your group. You can talk about the Kardashians with your college friends and connect over mystery novels with your book club.

- We created a custom algorithm that works behind the scenes to pick the right questions at the right time to ensure the spark of conversation never dies and that each chat is completely unique.

- We created a scheduler so you can pick which time of the day, and how many days a week, you want Kathi to facilitate conversation.

- We limit the number of people that can be in a chat (6 in our free tier and 10 in our premium tier). In the same way a dinner party is more intimate than a house party and a better way to deepen friendships, Kathi gives you this same experience in the digital world.
Next Steps: Towards Social Media Built for Friends

In our very first conversation with Dr. Franco, she said something that really stuck with us.“Friendship isn’t about showing one another that you’re cool or smart. The people that are best at building deep relationships are good at showing people that they matter.”

To build a better friendship with someone, simply show them that they’re important to you. Remember their birthday, or text them when you’re reminded of them. When they do something awesome, put aside your ego and celebrate them with words of affirmation.

But, the world we live in doesn’t ask us to think about friendship this way. Instead, it’s tried to convince us that friendship is about social media Likes, perfect pictures in faraway places, and proving how valuable we are. It wants us to be competitive, and therefore wants us to feel like we’re inadequate and undeserving of the types of friendship we all crave.

At ChattyKathi, we believe that everyone’s a great friend — we just live in a world that actively tries to convince us otherwise.

It’s time we reclaim our friendships and rebuild our happiness. As ChattyKathi grows, we promise to always keep Dr. Franco’s words in mind as we build a space that helps you feel good about yourself and feel valued in your relationships. We are so excited about the potential for ChattyKathi to help strengthen friendships for people all across the world.

If this vision sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, create your first chat today. Your friends are waiting.
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