You can't doom-scroll on this app.
These days using social media can induce FOMO or anxiety for some users. You open the app and someone just got engaged, promoted on a new job, or is on their fifth luxury vacation this year. These ‘networking’ apps have morphed into highlight reels. The inception of many social networks began in the early 2000s where the goal was to be…. social. However, over the years, how users have consumed these apps along with the apps’ user interface has only accelerated anti-socialness.
Somewhere Good is a new black owned app that offers an alternative to how users engage with each other. The mission is to cultivate intentional connections via voice notes with other people of color. The app centers community building through shared interests and de-prioritizes individualism.
HOT 97 had the chance to chat Naj Austin who is the founder and CEO of Somewhere Good and Ethels Club. Ethels Club is Austin’s original social club/co-working space launched in 2019 which has since closed due to the pandemic. Somewhere Good was founded shortly after to encourage intentional conversations both in app and in-person.
You originally launched Ethel’s Club a few months before the pandemic. Can you talk about that shift from in-person to hybrid?
Austin: For me, the vision of what I’ve been building since 2019 has always been digital and physical. Back in 2019, I started with the physical aspect, but obviously COVID forced my hand to work in the digital aspect faster than I would have wanted to. When building that, it was always important to me that we have technology and infrastructure built by black people, not black people using products built by white people.
Is there a digital version of Ethel’s Club (EC)?
Austin: Unfortunately, Ethel’s Club is shut down. So when we shut EC down, we launched Somewhere Good. We raised $3.75M for Somewhere Good specifically to help build the technology and the physical space as well.
Is the app available to the public yet?
Austin: The app is currently in BETA mode which means it’s still password protected. It’s purposely small still. We are currently figuring out what’s working and not working before we launch publicly to the world.
Did your real estate background help you as an entrepreneur?
Austin: Yes, I was in real estate, specifically startups that were looking to make real estate accessible. It made me more experienced because I saw what it was like to build a small team around a big idea. Which is really hard. Why should someone quit their job at Google to come work for me? (laughs) I learned how to operate in this space.
How did Somewhere Good gain recognition from Venture Capital investors?
Austin: When I launched Ethel's Club, which was basically an IG page, I knew how to market it. I had no money. I had no space (laughs). We had a NY Times piece before anything. Morgan Jerkins, a New York Times journalist, reached out and said I want to write about this. Then Roxane Gay saw the piece and wanted to invest. We were able to get amazing investors in the VC landscape and celebrity wise.
As an entrepreneur, I’m sure you’re always thinking about ways to improve Somewhere Good or think what is the next level of the app?
Austin: We can always be doing a better job of connecting people. Like, we have this app which allows you to leave voice notes. How do you expand that experience? We now have this physical space that allows people to bring those conversations IRL (in real life). Now how do we expand this? I think its moreso about going deeper versus this way [horizontally]. I’m not interested in merch etc.
Do you have a mentor or business classes that you are taking to help you as a founder and CEO?
Austin: I have a very close Founder group. Also one of our investors has done a really good job at ensuring we attend workshops with different speakers (CMOs, VPs).
"How do we connect people outside of the white gaze and have that technology built by us from the ground up?"
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to be an entrepreneur?
Austin: It’s important that you feel like what you are building needs to exist in the world. Not can, but absolutely has to. If you are not 1000% in, don’t do it. You need to have a vision because raising money is basically impossible.
While the app is still in BETA mode, you can still download it and DM the organization for the access code.
For more information about Somewhere Good, click here.