Why We're Building Cocoon

November 25, 2019

Cocoon is a dedicated space for the most important group of people in your life. We started building Cocoon at the beginning of 2019 and have been quietly testing the app with a small number of early groups. Now, we're excited to share the product more broadly and explain why we're building it.

In the blink of an eye, smartphones and social software have transformed almost every aspect of our daily lives.

We can now seamlessly stay in contact with everyone we've ever met, or seek out new like-minded connections around any topic or interest. Social networks and online marketplaces have blurred together into incredible destinations for anything we could dream of, on demand. Raising money for a cause, hosting a stranger in our living room, finding a quick gig — these are all now frictionless acts of connection. To find a date (or even our soulmate!) we turn to an app.

But by assembling into these massive global networks, we've inadvertently flattened all of our connections into one single crowded layer — and it's become frustratingly difficult to sustain high quality, close relationships with the handful of people we care about most. Despite our new superpowers, we still resort to old school methods like texting and the occasional phone call when we can get the timing right.

It's a strange dilemma: the looser the social connection, the stronger our social technology.

This paradox is unfortunate — the strength of our closest relationships is possibly the leading predictor of happiness, with an unmatched impact on our overall wellbeing. Sadly, loneliness rates are climbing higher than ever. In Cigna's flagship 2018 study, 54% of people surveyed responded that they feel as if nobody really understands them, and 46% said they feel completely alone.

Maintaining tight-knit family bonds used to be a little more straightforward. Decades ago, people typically didn't stray too far from their hometown, with multiple generations living under one roof or at least in close proximity. The family home was a central gathering place, and family members were constant companions: socializing, working, and sharing meals together most of their days.

The role of the family unit within our broader social fabric has changed significantly. Now, by the time we reach our early twenties most of us are already at the tail end of the time we'll get to spend in person together with our parents and siblings. Every year, 27.8% of young adults (age 18-34) in the US will move to a new place, and the "nuclear family" household is steadily being replaced by people living alone, with a partner, or with transient roommates. We are increasingly social butterflies, floating between different circles as our interests, careers, and home-bases are in constant flux. Still, for many of us, the bond we share with the family we're born into is sacred and irreplaceable. For others, a small group of people that we meet along the way become our new chosen family.

In any case, no matter who you consider to be as close as family, maintaining a tight-knit bond within a hyper-connected world has become a weighty challenge. We think it requires specialized social technology, and that the tools of the past won't carry us into the future.

That's why we're building Cocoon.

We want to provide people with the foundation they need to actively bring their chosen family closer together.

This is more of a human problem than a technology problem, so that's where we started. What does it mean to feel close? What norms and behaviors do tight-knit groups have in common? How do their goals change when they don't live in close quarters? What are the active forces behind strong relationships?

A few patterns emerge from the established research in the social sciences. Closeness means being present together. Cultivating a strong group identity, and finding rituals and shared activities that provide a reason to gather. Celebrating each other's wins and sharing in their burdens. Exposure to the texture of each person's day-to-day life. Maintaining a shared awareness of everyone's emotions, activities, and situations — feeling like you truly understand each other. These practices are hard enough to keep up with when you see your family every day. As soon as you live apart, they become especially challenging.

An aspirational solution starts to take shape...

It should facilitate meaningful conversations, while also removing the psychological and physical barriers to sharing mundane moments so you can go beyond just the highlights. It should unlock unexpected mini-interactions, and deliver a true feeling of presence. No matter what, using it should feel fun and delightful instead of performative, stressful, or transactional. Ideally, you would seek it out intentionally instead of being randomly interrupted. And crucially:

It should be a private sanctuary to come home to — safely secluded from the hectic world outside.

These concepts are pretty intuitive. But examining how modern social apps are architected, through this lens, illuminates why they aren't working for family-like relationships.

Social networks are designed to move in one direction: attract more people and establish further layers of connectivity between them. Inevitably, the bigger they grow, the less hospitable they become for sharing personal moments with your intimate ties. What started as a pen eventually became a megaphone. This explains the recent migration towards group chats where you can better manage your audience.

Messaging apps have become the default choice for most small groups, thanks to their versatility. If you're co-ordinating a dinner party, communicating with colleagues, or chatting one-on-one with a friend, text threads will do the trick. For urgent messages that warrant an interruptive notification and a back-and-forth response, this works great. But is a one-dimensional thread the best we can do for the most important group in our life?

Cocoon is not a social network, nor a messaging app. Cocoon is a space.

Just like your home, the only people who can access your Cocoon are the people with a key. If you live apart, Cocoon will aspire to stand in as a virtual headquarters. Unlike a text thread, Cocoon feels alive, dynamic, and colorful. No two homes are alike, and no two Cocoons should be either.

Presence is a central pillar of any space. When you're in Cocoon at the same time as someone else, a new layer is unlocked — you can chitchat in realtime, hop on a spontaneous call, or simply wave to each other. And even when you're not online together, Cocoon will strive to create a feeling of ambient presence by working in the background to craft a picture of each person's day. Everything is designed to remove obstacles that get in the way of sharing and meaningful dialogue — from silent notifications to message clusters that let you easily keep up several mini conversations at once.

A word of caution: Cocoon is not for all of your close relationships. The vast majority of your groups are probably better off with the simplicity of a typical messaging or social app. But the primary group that you consider to be as close as family — especially if you live apart — deserves its own space to call home.

A few months ago I (Sachin) started a Cocoon with my parents in Toronto and siblings who are scattered coast to coast. It's been seventeen years since we all lived together. Before Cocoon, we'd string together 1:1 phone calls, and send a few messages or pictures when we had something important to share. Now, we feel like we're a part of each other's lives every single day. Cocoon has become our family's connective tissue and by far the most important app on my phone.

Families need a place to gather and be present together.

But the reality is that most of us will spend the majority of our lives living apart from the people we consider to be our chosen families, and in-person time is scarce. For better or worse, our primary interface to each other will be digital, instead of physical.

We're only at the very beginning of our journey to explore what this interface — a digital version of home — should be. Today's announcement is not a declaration that we've nailed it, and the current early version of Cocoon is very far off from what we know it can become. Building a worthy home base for your most cherished relationships is a tall order, and a mission that we're taking seriously.

On that note, we're fortunate to have raised a $3M seed round from an amazing set of investors and assembled a small team to march towards that vision. We're hiring in San Francisco — if this resonates, we'd love to hear from you. And if you'd like to create a Cocoon of your own, you can get started today.


Households and migration

Relationships, loneliness and wellbeing

Closeness and social bonds