“The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water and food ” - Dean Ornish
A Brief History Of Membership
One of our greatest needs as humans is to belong. It can be argued that this is coded into our DNA as a survival instinct. In order to increase our chances of
sticking around on this earth, we must get along with others in order to gain access to food, shelter and safety. As societies have evolved and our access to survival basics has become significantly simpler for us than our hunting/gathering ancestors, we’ve seen our instinct to belong manifest itself socially. For proof, look no further than the laundry list of clubs, societies, teams and organizations that have been the gathering places of our masses since we settled down from our hunting/gathering days. The list is vast and covers just about every interest and sector of society: Rotary Clubs, book groups, bible study, intramural sports, neighborhood associations, Chambers of Commerce.
Part of what makes us uniquely human is the fulfillment we feel from connecting with like-minded people over common interests. For centuries, we’ve been compelled to convene with those like us and we get instinctual satisfaction from the interaction. In fact, there are a myriad of studies showing that “social health” is crucial to one's overall physical health, increasing life expectancy, reducing inflammation, and decreasing the risk of memory loss, among other benefits.
History is ripe with examples of humans convening in the name of connection and social health
Community gatherings were once the stuff of the purely analog world. In order to feel connected to others, people would need to see each other in the flesh, shake hands, hug, look at each other in the eyes, break bread, and converse. In today’s world, however, the internet has turned the world into a global community. Social networks, chats, online forums, and more have created a digital home for like-minded people to gather and exchange ideas. On the surface, that's a great thing. You’re always only a few clicks away from finding people with similar interests from all around the world. One would think easier access to online communities, would only amplify and accelerate the positive health benefits associated with “social health”, but startling and repeated data shows the opposite effect with the rise of social media correlating with a rise in depression and loneliness.
Anyone who has navigated the treacherous waters of the comments sections on Facebook, Youtube or Reddit can begin to understand why. These “communities” originally built with the altruistic purpose of connecting people are now driven by ad revenue and are beholden to create profits for shareholders. The key to increasing revenue is to keep people on the sites longer so they can see more ads. In order to do that, the most polarizing and outrageous comments are given the dominant visibility so people will be more likely to continue reading, comment back, and stick around longer. Rather than bringing people closer together, these digital communities have the unintended consequence of algorithmically pitting people against each other so that people slow down and notice. This digital rubbernecking is a primary driver of ad revenue and the creator of a truly vicious cycle that has made people in these “communities” unwittingly and perhaps ironically, less happy and less connected.
The internet and social networks have made it easier than ever to connect, but they have actually driven us farther apart
Even if you’re able to steer away from the negative sinkhole of comments and use online forums, sites, and apps to connect with like-minded people, there will still likely be longing for something more. We are all wired for interconnectedness, so the online chats and back and forth messaging is really just the precursor to the main event... the in-person meeting. No matter the subjects or circumstances, there is rarely a time when people actively chatting online or with video chat don’t look forward to eventually sitting next to the other person in a bar, restaurant, coffee shop, or other common meeting places to feel they have consummated the relationship. Substituting a digital “date” with a close connection is akin to cooking the most incredible meal you’ve ever made and sending them a picture of it hoping they would enjoy it as much as you did. Digital connections have their limits.
As economists and sociologists look at where people are spending their money these days, we’ve seen evidence of pushback that suggests a natural trend towards the old school pre-internet way of connecting. In our recent history, a great deal of value used to be placed on ownership of “things” and material possessions but numerous recent studies suggest that millennials and younger generations prefer to spend their money on experiences. There are many contributing factors to this trend, but one is certainly the simple desire for a genuine reconnection with humanity. Gaining back the mental health that the digital world has stolen requires experiencing the new, having great conversations, and connecting with community and cultures. I venture to guess that the boom of the “experience economy” is a cry for help from a generation unwittingly robbed of this genuine connection by the online world. We crave what we don’t have.
The Rise of the Subscription Economy
Because millennials don’t place as much value on material goods, they similarly don’t want to purchase things that tether them. Rather than owning a huge collection of DVD’s, for example, they’d rather pay a monthly subscription to Netflix for easy access to the movies and shows without taking up the physical space. The rise of this "subscription economy" has been seen across industries with a 403% increase in subscription services in just the last 8 years. Additionally, these subscription services generally have a more pure community component than the “free” services like Facebook. Since ad revenues aren’t the primary success metric in subscription services, but rather the satisfaction of its subscribers, naughty algorithms don’t interrupt the natural connections of the members.
As we look at these trends, we see a glaring hole in the market that can scratch the itch of all generations who seek real community, who value experiences, and who prefer freedom to ownership. The world of dining and entertainment, rooted in the analog, has lagged far behind software companies when it comes to subscriptions with few notable exceptions. Sure, you can throw a stone and hit a restaurant with a loyalty program where you collect punches on a card or accrue points towards a free latte after buying 25 cups of coffee. But absent is the place where membership means a mutually beneficial relationship between the business, who benefits from loyal dedicated members, who believe in their products and services, and members, who have no problem exchanging their modest monthly fee for a welcoming community of like-minded people. It doesn’t have to be this way and the future of the “Experience Membership” is upon us.
The Experience Membership
Imagine a membership that isn’t just connecting you to your television, free two-day shipping on purchases, or even 200 different machines designed to tone
and shape your body? Imagine a membership that has nothing to do with goods or services and isn’t tied to the internet or put in place to offer a more convenient way to spend money on everyday purchases? Imagine a membership that is purely focused on bringing human beings together with other human beings to connect, play, laugh, and enjoy experiences together in an environment designed to let people unplug from the digital world that is subtly removing our autonomy and melting our brains. Think about what you pay now a month to stare at your TV, between the cable bill, multiple streaming services, internet, and the physical TV. How much is it costing you annually to stream “Tiger King” and other similarly captivating documentaries? Then contrast this to your mental health and well being and how great you feel when you go out with friends and family to “unplug”. Which subscription really makes you feel better? Think about the best memories you’ve made in life and the places these were done in. Scroll through your phone pictures and look at all the moments you took the time to capture and post on your social media and reflect on why these were important enough to you to add to your memory bank. I am willing to bet that the pictures you hold onto and cherish the most are with you and other people before, during, or after some epic memory-making adventure.
Imagine a membership where the main technology is invested into facilitating an analog experience. Where you are encouraged to put your phone away and experience activities together with your group and go through the uncomfortable, yet satisfying digital detox that brings you back to an almost human-like state by the end. A membership which is purely designed to engage human beings with inanimate objects where the goal is usually as simple, yet oddly satisfying to put the ball in a hole and get a high five from a friend.
Some of the best connections are built on fun-spirited competition
If it sounds silly to pay for a recurring membership that gives its members access to dozens of experiential games, fun promotions, and ways to meet other human beings in a cool environment, make sure you don’t mention this goofy idea to the over 45 million adults who pay around $25 a month to walk in place and push plates of iron around a room.
To be part of a community and have a sense of belonging is not just a clever statement on a sign, it’s literally coded in our DNA and is among the most powerful feelings we have as a human species right behind “self-preservation”. The digital world is maxed out and is no longer novelty. The experience-based membership where people invest in human connections is where that balance begins and why we are seeing a huge spike in meditation apps and other digital detoxifying options slowly increase in popularity.
Amazon's mission statement is to “serve consumers through online and physical stores and focus on selection, price, and convenience.” Netflix “quest” is "We promise our customers stellar service, our suppliers a valuable partner, our investors the prospects of sustained profitable growth, and our employees the allure of huge impact." What if there was a membership, where the purpose is to “build and enrich relationships through genuine connections” and the Mission is to “Value Time, Create Moments that Earn Memories, Encourage Evolving Exploration and to Share in Prosperity with the team and community” that helps the membership thrive? If only there was a place whose mission was focused on developing a program centered on these goals and designed to encourage connections.
If you can picture a membership that lets you binge on fun activities and gives you the ability to match and connect with other people who enjoy similar activities, would you see value in this? What if the membership gave you the ability to jump the line and have all access to dozens of fun memory-making moments designed to make you feel more like a human being again? Could such a membership possibly exist that lets you burn calories and make memories at the same time? Would anyone think to design a membership that takes all the things that you like about going out to your favorite entertainment destination and make it easier to and more exclusive for those who see value in investing in a program designed to make memories? Would you invest in a membership that for less than a cost to stream the latest episode of Cobra Kai (it was good), you could connect with people in real life and have engaging entertainment options to keep you occupied?
What are you doing with all that time that Amazon has saved you from not having to go to the store with their “2-hour shipping”? As these “convenience” memberships and the digital world keeps you from having to sit in traffic by simply “zooming” a meeting, is it crazy to reinvest that time in a membership “probiotic” that detoxifies the bad and helps stimulate the good balance your mind and spirit need?
We think it’s very important and we are on a journey to prove the concept and its benefits by launching an Experience Membership that promises to become the leader in making people feel more like humans and less like robots. We think we are on to something big…
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