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This startup wants to scale anonymous mental health support — starting with founders — Technology Flow

Nate Tepper Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an international program dedicated to helping people recover from alcoholism, went first with a 12-step program in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. He didn’t show his face or share his story, but said being in the presence of vulnerability was deeply affecting.

Following the recommended frequency level for people entering the program, Tepper went to 30 meetings in 30 days. Now, two years later, he’s started a company to scale his favorite parts of the program in hopes of reaching other people in need.

The result is Humans Anonymous, a social audio platform that connects people with similar identities, be it a teacher or a single parent, to create an anonymous space to freely share their experiences. Unlike other mental health-focused startups out there, it’s not trying to provide support through life coaches or trained professionals — it’s just trying to provide space. (AA, by contrast, has a wealth of liturgy that provides a framework for its followers to follow.)

After going public last month after more than a year in stealth, Humans Anonymous has now announced fresh funding in the form of a $1.7 million pre-seed round led by Glass Ventures and Backend Capital in partnership with Ten VC and Authentic Ventures.

After entering the Humans Anonymous Room, users are invited to share, in three-minute segments, one person at a time. Others have no ability to unmute, chime in or “take over” a conversation, Tepper said. Although it can flow very quickly – let’s say a person gets an unfiltered opportunity to target someone who just spoke – the power to block or ban people is always the moderator on the channel. To maintain control over conversation setup and flow, Humans Anonymous does not allow users to create their own room.

Humans Anonymous offers a different vibe from Clubhouse, one of the most popular audio social platforms out there, which feels more Socratic or seminar-like and allows speakers to mute or unmute at their own leisure. Humans Anonymous is less about personal branding and more about anonymous conversations.

The startup makes money through a subscription model, charging users $5 a month or $50 for an annual fee. Tepper said users who want to try the app can have a free one-hour trial or enter the common room, where programming is always free to access.

The app is being launched publicly with a clear focus on entrepreneurs. While brainstorming for the app, Tepper emailed Y Combinator’s founders and received positive feedback about the need for something like Humans Anonymous.

“I’ve always had this idea that it’s for everybody, right? Hence the name Humans Anonymous,” he said. “The founders will be in the first wave, and then our next communities will be nurses and teachers alike. And these are all groups who struggle in their day jobs, who don’t need to share their struggles. And I think one of the things I’ve learned along the way, and you find it anonymous, and we’ve learned that people need to be part of a community that identifies as nurses, as teachers. That’s why our path to market starts with professional associations. And then ultimately, we want to expand beyond that.

App Store Screenshots Final Community

Image Credits: Humans are anonymous

At its core, Humans Anonymous is a platform that seeks to provide community service through a virtual medium. This goal contrasts with its decision to raise venture capital, a choice to build a company with exponential growth and profitability for an asset class outlier exit. Tepper defended his choice, saying he had always believed that for-profit organizations were more effective than nonprofits. “They allow you to focus on the mission instead of fundraising or collecting donations,” he said.

As the startup is still in the early stages of construction, many questions remain to be answered. For example, anonymity is a big promise and, in the security world, one of the hardest to actually fulfill. Whose voice do you recognize on it? Are there any safeguards to stop a user from recording another user’s deep stories?

The other challenge sits on the legal front. Although Humans Anonymous isn’t affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, AA can be bothered by how inspiring a competing product is. Tepper maintains that he owns the trademark for Humans Anonymous and that he was inspired by AA’s framework. He still goes to a meeting almost every day after his first two years.

“In terms of branding, AA has an opportunity to reach out to us and tell us something,” he said. “Ideally, we could be on the same team.”

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