Pandemic isolation, emotionally manipulative social media algorithms and the ever-increasing fear of being asked “So, how are you really?” have all conspired to birth a term that would have your econ professor chuckling: the friendship recession. In short, it’s harder than ever for people to make friends.
A San Francisco startup called Groundfloor hopes to end our collective social slump with a $200-a-month service. The selling points to membership include bottomless espresso and—hopefully—a bestie who speaks your love language, be they an orange wine enthusiast who’s just renounced tech or a fellow Kathryn Hahn superfan with a heart of gold like the queen of wry comedy herself.
The 10-month-old startup is doing so well it now boasts 452 members. An East Bay location that will open in April already has 200 people on its waitlist. There are already plans to expand the bestie incubators to Marin and LA.
“People are really lonely and isolated, and that seems to only be getting worse,” Groundfloor co-founder Jamie Snedden told The Standard. “We’re saying to them, ‘Pay us $200 a month, and we will help you build friendships and meaningful relationships.’”
Tucked next to the minimalist clothing shrine Everlane on Valencia Street, Groundfloor’s lounge resembles something in between a WeWork and the socialite-only bar in HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot. Moss carpet wall art behind reception gives way to a huddle of mid-century modern chairs in the dining space.
On Thursday, some two dozen members were lounging in the open-floor space in the glow of West Elm Sphere and Stem table lamps. The fridge was stocked with coconut water and green tea, and people were taking work calls left and right.
By day, Groundfloor looks much like a popping hotel lobby or a barista-less coffee shop. After work hours and on weekends, though, Groundfloor hosts regular events like Sofar Sounds concerts, mixers, tennis socials, yoga classes and local hikes.
While startup culture is known for bizspeak and jargon, Groundfloor still refers to friends as friends. Current member and YouTube project manager Alan Si was a little skeptical when he first heard about it—helpfully enough, through a friend.
“San Francisco can be really socially transient,” he said, “But I’ve met really cool people, and the people who join Groundfloor are more intentional about wanting to make friends.”
Intentionality is what sets Groundfloor apart from other communal spaces like WeWork, according to Snedden.
“We're really screening for this desire to build friendship and community,” he said. “And if someone says they’re going to struggle to pay $200 a month, we offer scholarships.”
The application for this paying, members-only friend group asks prospective friends what they want to get out of their experience, and it also asks about their ethnicity. Snedden says he’s conscious of the racial and gender makeup of the space, and doesn’t want tech workers to dominate. Consequently, the San Francisco location is 37% people of color, 65% female and 45% tech workers.
“We believe we’re the most representative community in the city,” Snedden said.
While 35% of Groundfloor’s members have been living in the Bay for less than a year—and Snedden himself has lived here for less than two years—Groundfloor is even drawing people who were born and raised in Northern California. Alyssa Riccio, a 38-year-old spiritual coach who was accepted at the startup’s upcoming Oakland location, is one.
“I haven’t really made friends,” said Riccio, who moved back to the Bay during the pandemic.
Riccio was a member of a coworking space called Galvanize when she lived in Denver, but she said it was too tech-focused. As for the price, Riccio said it’s no problem.
“I think you would easily spend that much getting coffee and a pastry while working at a cafe every day,” she explained. “I think it’s really worth it because they’re really looking for people that aren’t just looking for a workspace.”
While coworking spaces like WeWork eventually devolved into allegations of culty-ness, Riccio thinks Groundfloor is the real deal when it comes to making meaningful community.
“I'm highly sensitive to cult mentality,” she said. “They didn't ask questions that gave me the impression they’re looking for ‘elite’ people, but we’ll see when I get there.”
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