Social Nicheworking is the next big thing.

What’s a social nichework? It’s (a) choosing a target market and (b) building social software that’s tailored for them. “Social networking” is a technology meant for everyone. Social nicheworking software, isn’t. And there’s a pretty big chance that the first niche we’re building for, isn’t for you.

Blackbox Republic: Where do we (some of us) put our personal life?

Here comes the part where I lose some of you. Maybe even most of you.

Why? Because I’m going to say the word, “sex.” Worse, I’m going to keep talking about it. The #2 question: What’s Blackbox Republic? Easy. It’s a membership-based online/offline community for sex positive people to share their personal lives.

The #1 question is: What’s sex positive? No matter what I say at this point, a lot of you will hear “internet sex site.” Or porn. Or a hookup site. And I’m cool with that. Rock on with your giggly, bad self. You don’t need to get it.

For the rest of you open to the idea, “sex positive” means sexuality isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a big issue. By that I mean, you live your life being completely open about who you are. Even at the most intimate levels. And you like to connect with other people like that, too. If you’re sex positive, you’re a right-brained, creative person who doesn’t live life by someone else’s checklist. I think April’s post and video does a good job outlining the addressable market. The only thing I’d add to her post is that you can be happily married or 75yrs old or straight, bi, gay, poly, chocolate or mango and still be sex positive. Simply, sex positive is love positive.

So, why did I pick it? Simple answer: I believe in the sex positive community. I’m a part of it.

This is a picture taken the moment the company started.

This is the Temple at Burning Man. It’s an amazing structure covered in hand-written prayers. As April and I sat there, we watched people and talked about the event. We spent most of our time talking about relationships, and how different they were at the event compared to the daily world.

GenesisWe realized that two big things were happening:

1. People made meaningful connections.

When people spend $200-$300 on a ticket, $2,000 on an RV, tons of money on food, clothes, and spend a ton of time getting there, they’re buying a journey. They are there for the experience. They know many things will happen. But they want to be around people like them, around the freedom of expression, and around the connected whole. You can’t tell who’s a CEO or Janitor, there is no materialism, or agendas. Besides Second Life (which was also inspired by Burning Man), we couldn’t think of another place online that was focused on having a journey vs focusing on the end-results.

2. The “Margarita Moment”

The other thing that was inspiring was just how much the giving mentality at Burning Man connected everyone. One day, April and I were on an art car in the middle of the hot, open desert and a man on a bicycle rode up  and asked us if we’d like a frozen margarita. He poured us one and then drove off. It was the perfect gift at the perfect time and we didn’t ask or have to do anything for it to happen. We call it the “Margarita Moment.” We actually even took a picture of it.


The drive home was 17 hours. We talked about online relationships the whole time.

The big questions we asked was why couldn’t something like Burning Man be available for everyone all the time ? When we finally got back we looked at where meaningful relationships and gifting currently occurred. And we looked for a place that united the sex positive community.

1. The perpetual, public Facebook reunion


Facebook | Sam Lawrence

When I got back from the event, my friends began tagging pictures of me wearing a tutu and goofing off at Burning Man and I found them a while later all over my Facebook profile mixed in with my work pictures. I don’t know about you, but I barely know all my “friends” on Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and true story, this week, my electrician friended me on Facebook.

2. Dating sites: People as produce


Who would know how to develop online relationships better than the dating industry? That’s the next thing we looked at. Unfortunately, we found a market that was 15 years old and suffering from massive idea bankruptcy. The notion of whipping out your credit card to pay for a chemistry test, love, a date, sex is totally broken. Most of these sites (which I’ll show you soon), treat people like produce. You’re meat. And people are shopping you. The whole thing is a carry over from newspaper personals and needs to die.

3. Gifting at ‘ye old online vendors

onlinestoresWhat does eCommerce have to do with this, you ask? Well, it was the only thing to look at for online gifting. And in doing so, it struck us that it, too, is remnants of a 15 year old post online-gold rush era. To gift someone, you have to leave the online social situation, drive your computer over to an online store, get a username, password, verify email, find crap, add it to your cart, call your friend up, get their address (as if you’re not sending them something), etc etc. It’s very unlike the Margarita Moment. There’s nothing social or gift-like about it.

The Perfect storm

This “add to cart,” transactional online reality dominates the web and is need of a makeover. The fact that (1) there weren’t any Social Nicheworking software companies (2) there wasn’t a trusted place for sex-positive people to share their personal life and (3) the online relationship market was a mess made this the perfect storm for Blackbox Republic to be formed. We raised $1M from angels in the sex-positive community with very little effort.


So, now it’s time to go big in a completely different way.

Change your feed readers, this blog is no long about Enterprise 2.0. It’s now about creating a new category: Social Nicheworking. You can bet I’ll be talking about what we’re building solve all of this. I look forward to taking some of you on that journey and to opening up conversations with a completely new set of people as well.

  • Julio Fernandez

    Sam, and the journey is global and has no age limits… my 68 yrs old uncle has been on Facebook for a month, you should see the messages and photos he is sending to all of the family members he is finding all over the world thanks to Facebook. In fact, he is calling things BF and AF (before Facebook & after Facebook)

  • http://Website Dave

    Surely Ning is into social nicheworking? Not with the same gifting angle, but nonetheless they’re focused around letting specialist communities form and build relationships…

  • Steve Golab

    Sam, congratulations on finally coming out with the big surpirse. I am really glad Austin was a place on the map. Hope this city remains on your radar. We love you here.

  • http://Website USofPrudishness

    When you say ‘sex-positive community’ you mean most all of Europe, right?

  • juliejulie


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  • Cumulusguy

    Ning would seem a lowest-common-denominator social nicheworker. Ning is doing alright, it seems, but as a true platform for social nicheworking, the problem with ning is (1) that is assumes general social networking tools are sufficient for a specialty affinity group; and (2) it doesn’t cater to existing niche media companies who are inevitably going to wake up to the fact their being intermediated (cable nets, magazines, etc) and will no longer have a business if they do not “own the engine of engagement” with the social media crowd. There’s a BIIIIIIG gap between Facebook (Walmart) and Ning (strip malls) to be filled.

  • Lawrence Liu

    Well, finally, you’re coming out of the closet – er, I mean Stealth Mode. :-) Congrats! And thanks for honoring me on the AdultFriendFinder credit card – seriously.

    You might be onto something *big* here, Sam, especially given how Ning pushed away all those “sex-positive” sites earlier this year. Now that we’re no longer direct competitors, feel free to ping me if you want to chat about esoteric things like engagement analytics, social network analysis, and reputation engine that can help making your community more connected and vibrant.

  • Andrew Thomas

    Really interesting take and I totally agree with your view on online dating especially. When we designed we wanted to bring back some fun, some excitement, some deeper level of interaction – we wanted the perfect ice breaker. We wanted to cater for those that want to meet online but also those that may meet in a bar and then want to continue flirting the next day. Surely a key to developing relatiosnhips are the connections we develop based on personality and chemistry. Anyway, good luck with your venture. If you ever fancy adding the smeetme experience to your site then let me know as we can white label it.

  • http://Website NamePim

    Sounds very interesting. I’ll keep following this even if it isn’t about e2.0 :)

  • Jim Storer

    Congrats Sam! It’s good to hear your voice again and I look forward to watching you soar. Good luck!

    Jim | @jimstorer

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  • Sonny Gill

    Congrats, Sam! I’m sure we’ll happy to see you alive and kicking again. Best of luck in this new venture. And damn, your blog is sexy (er)!

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  • Greg Biggers

    Yeah, this is bigger and differenter than what I was guessing you were doing!

    LOVE the credit card images.

    ping me if you want to hang next time you are in silicon valley / SF area.

    gb / @bigs

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  • John Smart

    I’m very excited for you. BlackBox Republic isn’t for me, but I’m excited for what it’s impact could be for social networking. I’ve been thinking about this post for over a week now, especially in light of something I think Stowe Boyd wrote, which was something like: “Every tag is a community”

    What I see you doing is saying “maybe, but tag-specific communities are vertical and the interesting frontier is horizontal”*

    Good luck Sam!

    *(no puns intended 😉 )