Building meaningful communities with Panion, by Mélanie Aronson

Mélanie Aronson is founder and CEO of Panion, a platform which allows workplaces, institutions, and communities to create their own virtual spaces to connect with one another, and form positive, supportive and meaningful communities across the world.

1) Hi Mélanie, would you tell us a few words about you, your career path and skills?

I am the founder and CEO of Panion, a community management platform and app for meeting like-minded people through common interests. I have a bachelors in anthropology from Columbia University, and a masters in documentary filmmaking from the School of Visuals Arts in NYC. I am also a Fulbright recipient. I worked in sales for Apple for almost 3 years and for more than 10 years as a freelance filmmaker, photographer and designer. I have lived a bit all over, residing in NYC, Barcelona, Florence, Malmö and now in Lisbon. 

2) When was Panion created, and what problem were you trying to solve?

When I moved from New York City to Malmö, Sweden 6 years ago, I realized that making friends in this new part of the globe would be extremely difficult. As an immigrant in the country that continuously ranked number 1 as the hardest place to make new friends, I struggled, and as a researcher at Lund University, focused on integration, I realized I wasn’t alone. So I started to build a prototype for a tool I felt would help immigrants feel more connected in Sweden; fast forward quite a few years and the world has changed. Our product is now helping to alleviate the pain of loneliness, especially during the pandemic, and helping community leaders build meaningful virtual community experiences. 

3) What was the major assumption you had to validate with the market? Was the market validation immediate, or did you have to adapt / pivot your initial thought?

The major assumption was that people would use an app to make friends in the same way they’d use an app to date. We definitely had to adapt, and pivot to find the right combination of features that aligned with how people naturally make friends which is very different to dating. We also pivoted during Covid to focus more of our energy on community building and helping people feel a greater sense of belonging.

4) What key features, for example related to the specific community experiences on Panion, differentiate your service from competition? Do you have communities in mind that beautifully resonate with Panion’s purpose?

There are currently no comparable solutions on the market building exactly what Panion is building – a combination of keyword-searchable profiles and a filterable community-building online space where people can gather for interest and experience-based activities in a specific location (or virtually). Panion tackles the social consequences of loneliness and isolation, fostering solidarity, connection and support through virtual community building with a unique focus on purpose and experience-driven communities. The keywords in our app evolve based on user requests and current topics, so we can accommodate emerging trends and allow our members to shape how our app can be used. 

The majority of friendship apps have stemmed from a dating counterpart and thus focus primarily on physical compatibility. Panion uses machine learning and categorical matching to make it easy and efficient to find the exact types of people or platonic relationships you are looking for. And as we grow, our algorithm becomes more intelligent and our data becomes more valuable. It’s taken years to perfect the nuances of our product and our brand, and the execution cannot be easily replicated.

While most community engagement solutions focus primarily on knowledge exchange, Panion integrates communication tools, shared dialogue, event management, matchmaking and powerful analytics into one platform. We make it so you don’t need a Slack group + an eventbrite + a mailchimp account to manage your community and give you a unified space where you can draw insights about all your efforts in one dashboard of analytics.

5) Who is the team behind Panion? How did you build it?

Mélanie Aronson is the founder and CEO of Panion, and is currently based in Lisbon. She has worked as a designer, filmmaker and in sales for Apple. She brings her expertise in visual storytelling, project management and communication to her role at Panion.

Ali Farooq is Panion’s CTO. He has previous experience running his own start-up having built Pakistan’s first digital insurance platform. He oversees Abdul Qadir Hamza, Usama Shaukut, Syed Salman Haider Kazmi and Zain Ul Abdin, our software development team, all of whom have extensive experience building mobile apps.

Kareena Coelho is Panion’s Product Manager.  She did her doctoral research on internet usability, has studied data analysis, and helps ensure that our product development process is data-driven.

Daniel Yavari is Panion’s Product Designer. He has over five years of UX/UI design experience and 7 years of experience within graphic design. He has been teaching UI design at a number of startup accelerator programs in Iran.

Gabriel Häggebrink is Panion’s graphic and web designer. Gabriel got his bachelor’s degree in graphic design in 2018 and has since worked with clients such as various municipalities in Sweden and music festivals, doing brand development, multi-channel media campaigns, magazine design and animation.

We are a fully remote team with diverse backgrounds who are spread across the globe. We believe the diversity in our experiences and perspectives are what make our company and product outstanding.

6) What are the achievements you are the most proud of? Are the number of communities, growth of communities,… key success indicators for you?

EU Startups named us 1 of 10 Swedish startups to look out for in 2019. We were nominated for a Norrsken Impact Award. Also this: https://sifted.eu/articles/european-tech-pioneers/ : I was 1 of 10 winners of the tech pioneers in the new world.

Here are some numbers on our traction. We are raising a seed round so very early in the game:

  • Panion has had over 130,000 sign ups worldwide;
  • Panion users have engaged in over 22,640 conversations;
  • Panion users have created over 4,570 total Gatherings (spontaneous get-togethers) since launching the feature in August 2019;
  • During the early months of Covid-19 (March and April 2020), Panion saw drastic increases in conversations on the app in our three biggest markets: the percentage growth of conversations on Panion between January 2020 and March 2020 was:
    1. 300% in Sweden;
    2. over 1000% in the United States;
    3. over 300% in Nigeria.
  • Panion has had over 20 community managers sign up their community on Panion since our launch in June 2020;
  • Between July and September 2020, Panion has seen a 115% increase in the number of posts opened inside community feeds.

7) What are your next steps on your way to scale?

We want to take the growth of our company to the next level, and that requires expanding both our product and marketing teams. We just opened our seed round to raise 1 m€ to scale our team and marketing efforts.

We have received a number of requests for a white label version of our product as well as to build a web app. We are also building the customer-facing analytics dashboard and plan to incorporate video conferencing to accommodate social distancing.

Additionally we plan to expand our sales and customer success team, to support our growing client base. We are also in the process of localizing the app into additional languages in our key markets to be more accessible to non-English speakers. 

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