Dan Blackman’s father was a well-known man in the community of his small Pennsylvania town. He was a lawyer, ran a good business and everyone liked him and liked drinking with him. His dad died a few years ago from a combination of liver and lung cancer. His dad was what they call a functioning alcoholic.
“It wasn’t until I started talking to my family a bit more that I realized my dad never got the help he needed,” Blackman told me.
That started a chain of events that ultimately led to him to create Huddle, an online video platform where people could share their issues with one another.
Nearly 44 million American adults suffer from some form of mental problem but due to the stigma of seeking help, an estimated 60 percent won’t get the help they need. Huddle wants to provide a bridge for these people by making it easy to talk about your issues with others going through the same thing — almost like a digital Alcoholics Anonymous, but also for other topics like body image issues, depression and anxiety as well.
Several therapy apps and platforms like Huddle have popped up in the last few years as more of us have adopted smartphones and health practitioners started seeking new ways to make it easy for everyone seek help. Some of these platforms, like Talkspace, allows you to pay for digital therapy sessions. Crisis Text Hotline provides a way for teens to text with trained volunteers about their problems.
But not many of these mental health startups have gone the open video route — and for good reason. It takes a lot of trust to put your face up on the internet and openly talk to strangers about something hard — be it alcohol addiction, body image issues or something else.
That is likely a huge barrier Huddle will have to overcome when trying to onboard new users. But Blackman didn’t want his app to go the text-based clinical path.
“At least for me, I never got that same experience through [text apps] that I got in person,” he said.
Note, even though it’s video-based, you can pixelate your video to obscure who you are and create a pseudonym if you don’t want to be identified. However, there’s no voice augmentation so someone could still possibly decipher your voice.
Though many of the topics are of a sensitive nature, most people currently on the platform do not blur out their image — and that’s part of Huddle’s goal.
“In the beginning we were only seeing people coming in and just pixelating themselves…then all of a sudden, one person decided to become clear and started to tell their story and we started seeing the next posts more people doing that,” Blackman told TechCrunch. “That’s what we want to create. We want to create a place where it is a balance of people seeking and people giving.”
Huddle is meant as a safe space where anyone can post their inner thoughts and talk about what’s bothering them. It’s not meant as a professional treatment platform. But with zero professionals, or even volunteers with some training, people could easily give bad or even dangerous advice to someone in a fragile state. Of course, there’s also the inevitable cyber troll sure to pop up as the platform grows.
Blackman and his co-founder Tyler Faux say they have a zero tolerance policy for bullies.
“We know people aren’t always that great so we’re asking for people’s Facebook or phone number when they sign up,” Faux said, adding he and his co-founder actively moderate the community themselves.
The Facebook sign-up may concern some hoping to keep their identity a secret, which could be another barrier to on-boarding but it also serves to keep those on the platform honest, Faux says.
The two have some experience building other online communities — first as software developers at Tumblr and later at Swedish #startup TicTail.
The hope is Huddle, unlike other anonymous apps and online communities, will become a platform that allows people “to be as vulnerable as they want to,” says Faux. Only time will tell if others feel they can be on the app.
Huddle launches today on iOS, with plans for Android sometime later this year. It’s still a fairly small community for now but Blackman and Faux have taken in $1.2 million in seed to help it grow from Thrive Capital and their old boss and founder of Tumblr David Karp, as well as Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover (who’s started to get into investing, following an acquisition by AngelList late last year).