Closeness Without Compromise

November 25, 2020

Next week, we're taking a major step towards building a long-term, privacy-centric, and trustworthy business that's worthy of your closest relationships. Starting on December 1, all new Cocoons will require one member to pay to sponsor the group after a thirty-day free trial.

We built Cocoon because it felt like there was a missing space on our phones.

We were seeking a private and cozy corner — away from all the chaos — where we could gather a specific, cherished group to share more of our lives with each other. That was it.

This space wouldn't help us meet new people, craft our public personas, or stay loosely in touch with everyone we ‘knew’. The goal was simply to help us feel closer to the few people we cared about deeply, the ones we wanted to prioritize above all others. Not such a crazy idea... so why didn't something like Cocoon already exist? The answer became clear after realizing how a perfect solution to this problem would truly need to work.

An ideal app would center around closed private groups. No public network or directory, suggested friends, contact syncing, or spam. Its virality would be limited by design. Since you would be connected to a select few people only, you could never find yourself absently scrolling through an infinite feed of content. Using the app wouldn’t drain your time, attention, or social energy. But growing an advertising business atop a network designed to limit the time spent within its walls is nonsensical, separate and apart from granting outsiders access to such an intimate space.

The only proven playbook in our industry is to quickly capture hundreds of millions of ‘free users’, then make money by targeting them ads based on the personal data collected. But that playbook is poisonous, for a space devoted to maximizing closeness above all else.

We hold no moral objection to advertising, but our closest relationships will remain left behind as long as it's the only viable business model.

Internet advertising in particular has allowed millions of small, specialized businesses to reach new audiences, and enabled so many useful products and services we rely on every day to be offered up for free to billions of people. But advertising's stranglehold on the industry has resulted in our most important relationships getting stuck inside of apps that were never built for closeness, warmth, intimacy, or privacy. They were designed to connect as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible, and maximize ad inventory.

Especially during a time like this, how tragic is that?

Consider all the little moments that go unshared, because they aren't polished enough to post publicly on social media. And all the days that pass without even the tiniest clue of what our loved ones are up to, because of how lifeless and utilitarian a messaging app built for your entire address book must end up. Until now, close-knit groups have had one ‘choice’ only: to trade privacy and attention in exchange for a (seemingly) free service that wasn't really even designed for your needs in the first place. It's time for a new option to exist.

Closeness without compromise.

Our closest few deserve much, much better. And we all deserve the choice to make a different bargain, rather than trading away our privacy for a generic, ‘free’, ad-supported tool. It should be possible to pay directly for technology that actually aims to maximize closeness, above all else. For a walled-off space that helps you share more of your life with the exact group(s) you care to gather... and nothing more. No ads, surely. But also no random friend requests, no SMS spam, no commercial content of any kind, no inboxes or algorithmic feeds that suck you in. Simply put, no compromises. Just closeness.

Cocoon was always meant to be a paid product.

It's the only way to align our incentives with the people we serve, without having to balance the needs of third-party businesses. Still, we launched the first version of the Cocoon on iOS last November as a fully free product. Our goal was not to maximize short term profit, but to set ourselves up to build the best possible long-term business, worthy of the long-lasting relationships we were aiming to support. So we decided to listen first, and learn. Who might pay for Cocoon, and why? How should paying for it work, exactly?

We quickly discovered that all sorts of groups found their way to Cocoon, beyond the traditional family units we originally considered. We’ve heard it described as a major upgrade to an important and ongoing group chat as well as a distinct means to reduce the time one spends on social media, with a more focused and intentional destination. Many have shared about an active search for an escape hatch from apps whose business models they felt wary of. The ability to pay directly for Cocoon has emerged as more of a feature than a tax. We’ve learned that creating a Cocoon has felt like putting a stake in the ground — a way to invest in your relationships. This was encouraging!

We also learned what was missing, like the ability to be in multiple Cocoons, more and unique ways to share with each other, group audio/video calls, and of course an Android app. We have plenty more to build, but we're proud of the progress we've made since our first launch a year ago, and the creative monetization model we’ve come up with.

Starting on December 1st, Cocoon will be powered by a unique sponsorship model where one member can pay for the entire group.

Our goal was to find the most user-friendly and aligned way to offer Cocoon. We’ve avoided a two-tiered system, with certain features hidden behind a paywall. And we’ve continued to ensure that the majority of people can use Cocoon for free, forever. The app itself will always be free to download, and all active Cocoons will have access to every feature. Creating a new Cocoon will kick off a 30-day trial period, and afterwards, one member of your group can "sponsor" the Cocoon on behalf of everyone to keep it going. You can be a member of as many Cocoons as you'd like, as long as they're all sponsored by someone.

An ongoing sponsorship model allows us to sustain and improve Cocoon over the long term, an important consideration given the nature of the relationships being fostered within the app. Still, paying for Cocoon should always be an active choice. Sponsorships won't auto-renew as subscriptions — but anyone in your Cocoon can purchase more time at any point. We imagine many Cocoons finding themselves with a rotating cast of sponsors, picking up the next tab when it's time.

Finally, pricing. We're offering a menu of options. You can purchase one month at a time for $5.99 (USD) per Cocoon, or save 44% by purchasing a year up-front for $39.99. Since these prices cover the cost for an entire group, that'll work out to just $1 or $2 per person per month, for most Cocoons. If you want to commit to investing in your Cocoon forever, you can purchase a lifetime sponsorship for $159.99 and unlock it for good (only available on Android at the moment). For more details, you can visit our Pricing page.

And, all existing Cocoons will be granted a lifetime sponsorship for free.

We are so grateful to everyone who discovered us early on. There is now a whole cohort of groups who have used the app every single day for a year. Their feedback has been so valuable, and their support has given us the confidence to take this next important step. To say thanks, every Cocoon created before December 1st, 2020 will be grandfathered in forever.

It has been a rollercoaster of a year, to say the least. And now, we're entering a strange holiday season where many of us won't have the opportunity to see our loved ones in person. Coming together in Cocoon is no alternative to sharing a physical space, but we hope it can provide groups who must rely on technology to do so as thoughtfully and naturally as possible.

Once the pandemic is finally behind us, one thing will be clear — we'll never take closeness for granted. Access to technology that's 100% focused on maximizing closeness needs to exist. But it simply can’t, until we break free from a one-size-fits-all business model that, by definition, must balance the needs of advertisers and compromise your privacy. Charging money for Cocoon won't be an easy path. We'll need to pioneer our own playbook. But we're happy to choose the right way forward over an easy one. We hope that you'll join us.