CitySocialising: Sanchita Saha
How CitySocialising has struck a chord with urbanites
Company details: Company: CitySocialising Founded: 2007 Web: www.citysocialising.com
Millions of ambitious young people flock to London each year from all over the world. If they’re lucky, their social circles are already in place. For many though, the process of making a new friendship group from scratch isn’t an easy one. Sanchita Saha watched friends arriving in London in their mid-20s face exactly this situation. At the time, around seven years ago, even online dating hadn’t quite lost the stigma that sites like Match.com and Mysinglefriend helped remove. Her idea then to build a website that helps people – sociable, confident people – make friends was born at exactly the right time, just before Facebook made online a natural domain in which young people maintained relationships.
Saha got her first start-up experience at the BBC, as part of the team that took Radio 1’s sister station, 1Xtra, from idea to launch. It was after that, in 2005, she decided to see whether her idea had wings. A year of research followed, funded mainly by an R&D grant from the Prince’s Trust, and a trial site – basically a content site with a message board and a basic subscription model – was soon generating a couple of thousand pounds a month. From there, an injection of £10,000 from a friend meant the launch proper could take place in 2007. A more sophisticated site and model saw revenue begin to double month on month, and within six months it had launched in another six cities.
Today, CitySocialising has over 100,000 members in cities all over the UK. Its online/offline model lets people to create and join communities online – based on hobbies and interests and location, and then organise and attend events. In 2009, it gained £260,000 from the London Business Angels Network, a seven-month process Saha describes as a “steep learning curve”. Since then she has been able to hire ten staff and has now just completed a second fundraising round, securing £1m from PROfounders Capital, the investment fund in which Brent Hoberman and Michael Birch are heavily involved. “I’d weighed up the pros and cons of working with a venture capital investment group and felt I wanted the expertise and contacts a VC could offer. I met several big VC firms, and PROfounders stood out from day one, really because of Michael Birch, who’s a master of viral, and Brent Hoberman.”
With the funding under its belt, CitySocialising can focus on consolidation and expansion. It has active communities, in which there’s an engaged user base, in around 30 cities. “In the other places, the question is how can you encourage users to get value out of the site without us actually being there,” says Saha. Elsewhere though, community managers, who work on a freelance basis for CitySocialising, are organising events and keeping active communities up and running. Members, who pay either £12.99 or £18.99 a month, depending on the tier of membership, can also organise their own events.
Franchising might seem like an obvious route for the model to take, and something Saha is considering implementing when the business eventually goes abroad. For now though, she’s set on making CitySocialising a name people know; the first advertising successfully took place in January on the tube, but brand awareness will mainly be generated virally. Saha’s aiming towards a “viral coefficiency of one”, where each new member in turn brings another one. “We’re nowhere near that yet,” she says, “so we’ve got to look carefully at the whole business. But we’ve got a good user base to build on and now Michael Birch’s expertise too.”
Still, although the last 12 months have been more focused on funding than expansion, organic growth has been strong, at 120% year on year, and memberships rates have just seen a record January. Turnover is at just under a million, a figure set to increase this year, and much more when, inevitably, the model expands abroad. Saha has ambitions for CitySocialising to be “a global community”, and to be seen as a pioneer of the online/offline model.
The business has got to the position it’s in today with not much money, hardly any staff, virtually no marketing and with a determined, but first-time entrepreneur at the helm. With cash and more expertise, it seems safe to say that soon, new arrivals in cities across the globe will find it a bit easier to make friends.