Jamil Karriem tells us in 13 questions why he wants to eliminate loneliness and create fulfillment for a vulnerable population.
1. What drove you to create this app?
Most people think obesity, or cancer, is the leading cause of death in the world. But the reality is its loneliness. Humans who don’t have strong relationships and a community are ten times more likely to die earlier than those who do. Seventy-nine percent of the autistic population reports feeling lonely or socially isolated, and the neurology of autism has absolutely nothing to do with the phenomenon. This issue is a reflection of a profound lack of resources and infrastructure, which means that it is solvable. We created Hiki to solve loneliness, build community, and enable people to lead fulfilling lives.
2. What has been the response from the community you are trying to serve?
Grateful and skeptical! Most people are happy that this finally exists, they’ve been waiting a long time for it. And once folks get on the app, they love the interface and have a blast meeting new friends. With that said, underserved communities of all shapes and sizes have a long history of being taken advantage of, so we have to continue to build trust through our actions.
3. How do you measure the success of your site? Is it qualitative, quantitative, or both?
It is a bit of both. We measure user growth and engagement through a variety of quantitative metrics. But there is a lot you don’t see in daily active user numbers and impressions. Ultimately, success means we’ve created a platform that enables a community to be who they already are. It means we’ve built a safe space that strips away any fear of disenfranchisement and empowers people to live free and be happy.
4. What is the biggest fear regarding friendship/dating for individuals on the spectrum?
Safety and security have been our No. 1 concern since day one. But we don’t view this as unique to Hiki since we are serving adults on the spectrum. In other words, safety should be Tinder and Bumble and Uber’s No. 1 priority as well. We spent a lot of time developing a variety of security features to protect our users from online predators proactively.
5.Any success stories?
A ton! We have hundreds of e-mails from users who are excited to share their love stories. Building a company is hard. Like, really hard. And on the days when I’m feeling beat up, I stop everything and read a few of the stories. Here is a good one from this morning, “Today was the first time I had a conversation with someone my age who understood what it is like to live with autism. I can’t thank you enough for creating this app.”
6. Any concern about those who are autistic but don’t want to date someone who is not?
It was essential to start with a space that was devoted to serving the autistic community first. Research suggests that atypicals communicate best with one another (and the same for neurotypicals).
7. How can you avoid autistic individuals from being emotionally damaged by participating in chats?
The app allows any user, at any point, to unmatch, block, or mute a chat/user. Users are always in complete control over how much they are comfortable with engaging with the app.
8. I see you sponsor moderated forums, any topics that seem to have more relevance?
All the discussion topics are user-initiated. Last week a user posted, “What age were you diagnosed?” It was remarkable to see the diversity in age and the percentage of users diagnosed in their adult years (oldest so far is 63). The world has made significant progress in developing resources for young autistic children. But there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding that autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. Boom, Hiki!
9. In what ways are people with autism more able to express themselves in writing than orally?
A common characteristic of autism is an auditory processing delay. So the beauty of writing is the release of pressure to respond immediately. Writing enables users to express themselves more comprehensively without the verbal burden.
10. Are visitors to the site more interested in conversation, friendship, or finding relationships?
Right now, 100 percent of our users are interested in friendship, and 63 percent are interested in both friendships and romantic relationships.
11. Besides the fact that your site is for a specific audience, or at least geared toward a particular audience, how is your site different than other dating forums/sites?
Our app was designed by and for the autistic community. That means everything from the colors, to the button sizes, to the notifications, to the onboarding flow to the user experience was developed not to trigger any sensory processing disorders.
12. As you look back on your efforts, what do you see as the biggest obstacle going forward?
Before building Hiki, we reached out to a multitude of autistic adults to get a deeper understanding of exactly what product they wanted. And since we launched, we have religiously gathered feedback directly from users to continuously improve the product. Now we are approaching 4k users and have ambitious growth goals over the next 12 months. User-driven feedback is apart of our DNA. The product has to be a direct reflection of what the community wants. The biggest obstacle will be finding creative ways to gather this feedback from our users quickly, and the larger we get, the more challenging that becomes.
13. On the flip side, what is the most significant opportunity?
Changing the world 🙂