Following its $16 million Series B last fall, event discovery network IRL is launching a new website that adds more social features around events, including profiles, chats and the ability to join group events, among other things. With the changes, users will also be able to receive personalized event recommendations, participate in group events, as well as talk about events with their friends, across both web and mobile. The combined efforts make IRL.com feel less like an online event search engine and more like a real social network.
The startup, which had previously focused on real-world events, could have easily imploded last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which effectively shut down the in-person events industry overnight. But it instead quickly pivoted its event discovery app to include virtual events. In April, IRL adapted to the government lockdowns and restrictions on in-person gatherings by indexing online events, like livestreamed concerts, esports events, Zoom parties and more.
The changes, in a way, made IRL more accessible because it became a tool that anyone could use — not only those with the time and money to travel and attend real-world events.
In fitting with those changes, the company also last year redesigned its mobile app to make it easier for users to find new events to attend remotely.
It organized events into categories like gaming, music, tv, wellness, sports, podcasts, lifestyle and more — including those sourced from partners like TikTok, Meetup, Twitch, Spotify, SoundCloud, HBO, Ticketmaster, Eventbrite and others. (We’re also seeing Apple TV+ shows on the site, but IRL can’t officially confirm if Apple is a partner. We’re told IRL does have permission to display these events, however.)
The new IRL website is meant to better mirror the recently redesigned mobile experience.
As users join IRL.com for the first time, they can pick event categories they’re interested in and find their friends who are already using the service.
The site directs users to create their own group events with friends through the new built-in chat feature, which had previously only been available on mobile.
“Because everybody’s at home, there’s a big demand for a web messenger,” notes IRL founder and CEO Abraham Shafi.
He explains that the startup’s focus around messaging as the basis for a group is what allows IRL to differentiate itself from other groups-focused products. Facebook Groups, for example, are built around the idea of discussion boards, he says. But IRL is instead building its social network around messaging.
“There’s no group chatting app that also allows you to add events,” Shafi says. “We’re seeing that become really valuable for any groups that have upcoming and scheduled activities. It could be a TV show that you really like. Or it could be your friends playing Among Us or playing video games. [On IRL], you can imagine, literally, any type of group — like a book club that meets weekly and has weekly events coming up,” he says.
In addition, students who sign up with an .edu email address can now find on-campus events and groups that are available only to those who attend the same school. These aren’t typically indexed publicly and won’t appear on the IRL homepage
The startup’s focus on group messaging has helped the app grow, despite the pandemic.
The company now reports over 10 million monthly active users, and its group messaging feature has been growing at around 30% month over month since August. Today, there are over 30 million chats sent on IRL per day, with over a billion chats that have been sent to date, Shafi says.
In time, IRL plans to expand the site to include more local events as well as deepen its relationship with partners.
For example, the IRL TikTok account has been the first to reach over a million followers. But currently, all the events TikTok posts to the site are hand-curated. IRL says it’s working on a deeper integration that will help pull in more TikTok content, including top trends.
The company also expects to attract more influencers with the website launch, like those who want to build a name for themselves as a “cool curator” of a specific type of event — such as the Sneakerheads account, for instance, which tracks sneaker drops.
As users participate on the website and app by following events, adding friends, and joining chats, IRL will be able to make better recommendations as to what sort of events they might like to try next.
And as the world recovers from COVID, allowing in-person events once again, the company believes usage will jump.
“When in-person returns — because that’s inevitable — we’ll be supporting that, for sure,” says Shafi, adding that he expects IRL to then “explode.”
“We’re not going to take virtual away. Virtual will always be there … quite honestly, it will probably always be a hybrid,” he says. “This pandemic has allowed us to focus on something that will actually help us grow once we can support both the real and the remote.”
“Me and the team are very grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to build something deeply meaningful in these times — even though at the outset, it would have seemed like we were screwed,” Shafi adds.
Initially, IRL tested the web app’s revamp only with its existing users. But the relaunch of the site now makes the changes accessible to all.