Group chat apps are an increasingly popular — and increasingly crowded — space. But a new platform called Bunches aims to solve the biggest problems with group chat while creating new opportunities for full-time creators and hobbyists alike.
The Beginnings Of Bunches
On Halloween 2019, Bunches CEO Derek Brown quit his job to work full-time on an idea he'd been thinking about with his friends for years. Scary, right? But Bunches co-founder Tomer Ben-David joined Brown full-time not long after, and in November 2019, the pair started building the rest of the early team and framework for the app.
By the end of December 2019, they had decided to relocate from New York to Los Angeles, with a brief stop in San Francisco — and by March 2020, Bunches' four employees and Brown's wife and three kids were hunkered down in a Napa Valley AirBnb.
Life (in a pandemic) comes at you fast.
"The day the NBA was cancelled, we made the decision to evacuate SF," Brown tells RootNote. "The writing was on the wall to me that cities were not going to be a great place to be. Quite the story in retrospect — my kids living with four random people for six months. We were essentially homeless, but all things considered, we didn't have a lot to complain about."
By the end of their stay in the AirBnb, the team decided to build Bunches remotely. Brown moved his family to Nashville, with the rest of the team spread out between LA, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Missouri.
Bunches officially launched for iOS in the app store at the end of 2020, and as of now has nearly 1,000 users and about 50 public curated Bunches. Topics range from food to stocks to future tech to armchair philosophy to rare dance records.
What Is The Bunches App?
The premise of Bunches is strikingly simple. At the heart of the platform are aptly titled "Bunches": curated, topic-based group chats with discoverability and monetization functions. Each "Bunch" is its own group chat with its own topic and you can join them as you please. You can access the app via iOS or your web browser.
Unlike Reddit, chats are meant to be quick and accessible. Unlike Discord, bunches are meant to be discoverable and easy to join. Compared to most other group chat options, Bunches aims to curate the creation of new topics so that the publicly available Bunches feel relevant, safe, and not bloated.
And unlike every other chat app, Bunches wants to let creators monetize their Bunch if they so choose.
"Out of all the chat apps, none of them allow users to monetize," Brown says. "But they’re really easy to use. Everyone knows how to message. Anybody can use them. So they’re easy to use, they’re easy to sustain, but they’re difficult to monetize, and they’re difficult to discover."
And that's where Bunches comes in.
How Do Creators Make Money On The Bunches App?
Bare in mind, the Bunches app is brand new. But the problem Bunches wants to solve for creators has existed as long as the Internet.
“When we started thinking about the idea for Bunches, we asked, 'What does it look like for people to own their audience?'" Brown says. "To have sovereignty over their monetization? To have a portable audience, where if you wanted to move from YouTube to ____, you could do that? If you wanted to consolidate members, you could do that. What does it look like to combine your biggest fans into a community? Really it's not an audience, but a community.”
Brown and company decided the early solution is to make Bunches incredibly easy to use and let Bunch creators put a price on joining, charging whatever they want from within the app (if they choose). A few of the current Bunches with paywalls range from $2 to $100 a month.
Right now, because it's so early, Bunches isn't taking any of that money. Brown says the plan is for the app to eventually take around 10% off the top. The platform also plans for its own version of "currency" (similar to how Twitch has Bits) that users can use to give and receive rewards etc.
Brown says the team is also focused on making Bunch-specific feeds, so that if a Bunch creator has their content channels linked up, pieces of content from their other online platforms (like a YouTube video, a song on SoundCloud, a podcast etc.) appear within the Bunch and serve as natural conversation starters.
In other words, Bunches wants to make it easier to make your biggest fans see your content without it getting lost in algorithms or junk folders.
Meet In The Middle
The important thing to remember as a creator is that Bunches is serving a horizontal market for people with all kinds of interests. It's not necessarily all about full-time content creators adding another platform to their plate. The most successful Bunches may come from hobbyists who love a topic, but maybe not enough to try to build a full-blown online presence around it.
"We're lowering the barrier to entry and making it easier for people to talk about their passions," Brown says. And from a content creator perspective, it's nice to think of Bunches as an app that focuses on the niche opportunity, not as something you have to go all-in on in order to make it valuable.
"When I think about our primary user base, I think about people in Gatlinburg, TN; in Ames, Iowa; in Slidell, Louisiana; in suburban LA," Brown says. "If you’re able to allow these people to create economic opportunities for themselves on the order of $200, $500, $1,000 a month? That’s game-changing for somebody in Indiana. Is it game-changing for somebody living in Brooklyn? No. It’s nice income, but it doesn’t fundamentally change somebody’s life. But if you’re able to equip somebody in Provo, Utah, or suburban Kansas City doing something they love? That’s game-changing."
Keeping It Curated
One of the primary differences between Bunches and most other communication-based apps is you can't just start a bunch. Right now, you have to submit the idea to the Bunches team.
"One of the most important things to us is building a really high signal platform," Brown says. "We don’t want it to be spammy. We don’t want it to be adult-only content. We’re not looking to build OnlyFans or Parler."
That philosophy comes from how much social media has spun off into a free-for-all.
"We believe the social media world could use a little bit more curation," Brown says. "We do want to open up the 'start a Bunch' process, but we want to do so methodically and measurably, so we can control the signal and build in moderation, safety, and security tools, so creators can then manage their signals."
What does that mean in practice? It means you have to submit to create a Bunch and you should do so with quality in mind. But your Bunch doesn't have to be public, either. For instance, Brown noted there are some private Bunches around mental health, where the members may not want their chats open and discoverable via the Discover tab. In that instance, a private Bunch acts more like a completely gated community.
How Should Content Creators Think About Bunches?
So if you're a manager, or an artist, or a YouTuber, should you create a Bunch around your content or around something you're just interested in?
"I think it depends on your goals," Brown says. "If you're wanting to consolidate and monetize an existing audience, you would use your own brand as that Bunch. If you're wanting to build a brand, then maybe you should start more broad in order to pique the interest of people who may come across your Bunch more organically."
There's an opportunity to establish yourself as a thought leader in a way that could ultimately also bring awareness around your content. "One of our early takeaways is that Discover works," Brown says. Meaning people who are just browsing the Bunches app can easily find you and your Bunch via the Discover tab and based on their interests.
So there's the possibility that you could build more fans and followers via a Bunch tangentially related to your brand.
But sometimes it's best to stay laser focused on your brand. There are plenty of musicians who go viral on social media for something other than their music, and while it may lead to a small boost in interest around their music, it's nothing compared to going viral because of your music.
In other words, it's just way too early to tell what the best focus for your own Bunch might be — but don't be afraid to try something. Ultimately, the best online communities stem from the passion for the subject at hand, and early use cases suggest Bunches will not be an exception to that rule.