How I Built a Social Platform for My Mom and Fabulous Older Women Like Her
Revel helps midlife women find connection in a way that's far more meaningful than sharing memes on Facebook
On Day One of my new job as the first female investor ever hired at August Capital, a Silicon Valley venture firm, I showed up for work in a conservative blue blazer and button-down shirt.
Joan, the 50-ish executive assistant who sat just outside my office, pulled me aside and offered 29-year-old me some helpful sartorial advice: “Tomorrow, I think you can leave the blazer at home.” I haven’t worn that jacket since.
Joan, who became my good friend, was one of a number of middle-aged assistants who had worked at August for decades. All of them were expert, highly capable, and reminded me of my mother.
Before I was born, my mother Mary Ann had been a paralegal who, like Joan and her counterparts at August Capital, absolutely loved her job. When Mom decided to leave the law firm to raise me, her parting letter of recommendation — now displayed in a frame on my desk — called her “the finest paralegal this firm has ever seen.” Later, because the work hours were more compatible with single motherhood, Mom became an elementary school teacher in Virginia and worked for 27 years until her retirement in 2016. In her late 60s, 3,000 miles away from her in California, I worried about her well-being.
My friend Joan, meanwhile, was unceremoniously fired — apparently, I later learned, because some of the partners thought her unable to master newer office technologies. I doubted whether her superiors had provided her the opportunity to improve her skills.
What happens to women like Joan, like my mother, and other older women who, whether through retirement — or ageism — find themselves abruptly cut off from the colleagues and friends they’d worked with for decades? As a venture investor in Silicon Valley, I couldn’t understand why no one was using technology to build a social community targeted at their demographic: 50 million women who represent $15 trillion in spending power!
That’s when the idea for my own start-up was born. In the summer of 2019, Alexa Wahr, my former business school classmate, and I launched Revel, a social platform where women can connect with other women in midlife at interesting events, form genuine friendships, and inspire each other.
Alexa was also motivated by her own mother, a highly successful physician in the Midwest. Both of our mothers were having trouble cultivating the kinds of female friendships and networks they craved. We knew that with technology we could create something so that women like them — and perhaps our future selves — could be healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.
In order to get funding for our company, we applied to Y Combinator, the well-known Silicon Valley start-up accelerator that has helped launch — among other companies — Airbnb, DoorDash, Dropbox, Stripe, and Reddit. In the application interview, we were asked: “How will your customers know how to pay for things online?” Seriously? That question epitomized, and also clarified, for us the reason why there was little energy directed toward the market of women 50+.
The first Revel event took place in July 2019 in a backyard garden of a member’s home in Oakland. One week later, a member in Palo Alto organized a hike in Edgewood Park. Two members from San Francisco carpooled to the hike and they arrived at the hike fast friends — the first of many friendships that would come to exist because Revel exists.
In the early days, each time a new member signed up, we drove to her local coffee shop to treat her to a welcome coffee. We covered the entire Bay Area, from Alameda to San Rafael to Mountain View, and it sometimes felt that we spent more of our days on the road than in the office. But those coffee chats were invaluable. Though we were building Revel to be of service to our members, Alexa and I were the ones receiving the education. We woke up to the realities of womanhood.
At first, Revel was meant to foster in-person female friendships in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Seven months later in early spring of 2020, however, COVID forced us to become fully virtual. And who knew that pandemic would turn out to be a silver lining? Since March of 2020, Revel has welcomed members from across the country, and, indeed, the globe. So far, our Revel memberships have grown to more than 3,000 women. What we’re seeing in our Revel community is that women 50+ are active and want to live vibrantly, explore, travel, learn, and meet other like-minded women. And, women 50+ have disposable income to spend on themselves and the people and issues they care about.
At our recent New Year’s Soiree in January, we heard members say:
- “Revel is the lifeblood of community during the pandemic.”
- “I’ve made more friends through Revel than I’ve ever met in my own neighborhood.”
- “In the face of the pandemic, being involved with Revel has been life-changing. It’s actually been very healing during Covid.”
- “What makes Revel unique is a sense of women empowering women. Revel gives power back to 50+ women.”
- “I’m a social butterfly and this is helping me find outlets for that. Life is richer with Revel, every week there are so many activities.”
- “Event hosts have given their time, effort, love and spark to putting on events and have provided real community in the face of the pandemic.”
The Revel community hosted 150 gatherings in the month of December alone — everything from “Quarantini” happy hours to a Revel art gallery opening night to a weekly conversation group on purpose and age.
Today, my mother is both a happy Revel member and our copy editor. I get frantic text messages from her if we ever post an event with a misspelled title, a misplaced line break, or — God forbid — the word “stitches” misspelled as ”sitches.” Mom has always wanted to travel to Italy, and our family had dreamed of spending Christmas 2020 in Rome. The pandemic had other plans, but through Revel, Mom’s dream will come close to fulfillment: a member based in Florence, Italy, plans to take us all on a virtual tour of the city’s fabulous art and architecture.
I haven’t seen Joan in person since before the pandemic, but I’ve seen her virtually through Revel, and I’m always excited to see her name appear on the RSVP list for an upcoming event.
My hope for Revel is two-fold. First, I hope that someday soon my Mom, Joan, and other friends they make through Revel can organize a group adventure to Italy, in person. Imagine being able to arrive in a city and know that there are friends there who can welcome you with open arms, and give you a tour as a local would! That would be a true global community of women supporting women.
But most importantly, I hope that by the time I’m old enough to be a member of the Revel community myself, we’ve shattered outdated notions of what it means to be a woman in midlife, and created an entirely new image of how vibrant, powerful, dynamic, youthful, and wise women remain well into our fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and beyond.
Lisa Marrone is the co-founder of Revel.
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