Would you pay $25 per month to belong to a social network for "sex positive" Burning Man types, with extensive privacy controls and real-world events planning? Former enterprise collaboration software marketing exec Sam Lawrence has co-founded a new company that launches tonight and has raised $1 million in funding in the belief that enough people are looking for exactly that.
Blackbox Republic argues that the transaction-focused dating site market is unfulfilling for millions of people around the world.
He and co-founder April Donato just completed a 50 city tour around the US and have stories to tell about waitresses at roadside cafes crying out that a site like Blackbox is just what they've been looking for. If you're familiar, and comfortable with, the phrase "sex positive" then Blackbox might be the site for you, too. I have very mixed feelings about the service, but it sure is interesting.
Lawrence and Donato define the phrase "sex positive" as meaning "open enough about sexuality that it's not an issue." (How neutral became positive, I don't know, people like this have a way of creeping up on you I guess.) They point to queer and bisexual pop-culture icons and big public festivals like Burning Man and Berlin's giant Love Parade as examples of this paradigm spreading around the world. They also point to Wikipedia's definition of the phrase. Blackbox believes it can create a safe, respectful and fulfilling social network for people who are into that kind of thing.
If this sounds like over-privileged, care-free, irresponsible promiscuity to you - then you're probably not in the target market. (I'm not.) Many people will likely appreciate some of the site's features, like the fact that new users are unable to view profiles of anyone but other new users until they are "vouched for" by an established user.
Lawrence and Donato have a messianic vision to disrupt the online dating industry and bring community to a large and unserved group of people. A portion of each month's membership fee will be donated to a charity of each user's choice, creating another layer of connection between groups of people on the site.
Make no mistake, though, this is a business. Lawrence's last job was as Chief Marketing Officer at Jive Software, a high-powered collaboration software suite used by a number of the biggest companies in the US. He's very good at attracting attention through intelligent engagement in online social media. The hot-button issues of love, sex and dating may be a big challenge to communicate about effectively, though. Blackbox's vague inclusion in its plans of "virtual gifts" provided by product vendors may also be hard to balance with its adamantly expressed intention to prioritize authenticity.
If sexuality "isn't an issue" for you, but remains enough of an issue to interest you in sites like this, Blackbox Republic opens to the public tonight. It's an interesting new approach to online social networking and could very well offer the kind of community that a growing number of people are looking for.