Blackbox Republic, Led by Ex-Jive Exec, Gets Seed Funding for Sex-Positive Social Network

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the sex-positive community from coast to coast. Besides Portland and Seattle, they’ve already hit places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Austin, and Miami.

Here are the site’s four key differentiators, as I understand them. First of all, membership will cost $25 a month. That buys customers a safe place to share their personal life. What’s more, membership is based on reputation—having other community members vouch for you (and keeping some people out). Second, gifting transactions are built into the site, and Blackbox is forming partnerships with vendors so you can send someone a gift (through the vendor) without knowing that person’s address, say. Third, there will be a mobile application to help members find each other when they’re out and about. And fourth, there will be an application to help people plan events (like having “Evite built-in in a non-crappy way,” Lawrence says).

The key question, of course, is how many people will be willing to pay. But it’s an intriguing business model for a social network (subscriptions and transactions, no ads), one that has been at least partially proven by paid sites like eHarmony, Match.com, and various media properties. And so far, Donato says, “Not one person has pushed back on the $25 fee.” So the community seems quite willing to pay for some privacy and exclusivity.

If they are successful, Blackbox could go after other niche communities as well. “You could take the exact same model and apply it to sports,” Lawrence says, as an example. “All these [social networking] tools are there, but people are afraid to take their foot off the base and make it for a specific community.” As it stands, the closest competitors to Blackbox are probably sites like Ning, which lets people create their own niche social networks, and various exclusive social sites for wealthy people.

Blackbox Republic currently has about 15 employees, including part-timers. Lawrence says the plan is to start beta trials of the site in August, open it up in September, and make a big push in October. As for company headquarters, he says they are building a home that is a mix of community center and office, with plenty of art and performances planned (think warehouse, not cubicles). “We thought heavily about where to build it. Portland, that’s where the community is. People are very open to each other’s lifestyles,” Lawrence says. “Portland’s a perfect place for it.”

Looking more broadly at opportunities in software and Internet, Lawrence concludes, “I really think social niche-working is the next big thing. Pick a community—as long as people are finding value in it, they will pay for it.”

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