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Virtual solution developed to enable real life friendships 

31 October 2022

The Covid-19 pandemic created unprecedented mass social deprivation that we are only now beginning to understand the consequences of. Worldwide, a generation of young people have had living in an online world normalised. They are used to screens being their window to the world, experiencing life through social media, online games, and remote learning and are out of practice with in person communication. A University of Auckland student venture is now addressing this generation’s pain point of struggling to make meaningful friendships. 

In early 2021 a group of students noticed the magnitude of complaints around the social situation amongst their university peers and instigated friend making app Fistbump. Currently leading the team are Engineering students Micheal Shaimerden, CEO, and Shannon Blackhall, CTO. Shaimerden says, “We are losing social confidence as a society because we are no longer going out and challenging ourselves. There are plenty of opportunities to make friends, but people often lack the confidence to take them.” 

Lack of friendships have very real mental and physical consequences. A recent article in Nature about social isolation and the brain in the pandemic era noted that “in humans, the single best predictor of physical health and well-being, as well as future longevity, is the number and quality of close friendships, with the more conventional suspects (such as diet, obesity, alcohol consumption and air quality) ranking a distant second”. 

In developing their solution, the Firstbump team thought students needed something that was safe, convenient and fun to use. This is where their idea for a platonic friend-making app emerged. The Fistbump app is currently in its Beta version and only available to university students in New Zealand. It is different to other match-making apps because users are matched by an algorithm, based on personality and common interests, rather than users choosing friends based on physical appearance. Avatars are used rather than photos for this reason.  

Shaimerden says, “Our passion for technologies like machine learning enable us to combine it with existing behavioral research about friendships to predict whether two individuals might become friends”. 

Fistbump users can request matches based on their friendship needs. This may be for a friend that fits a criterion based on variables like age, interests, or study background, or they can request a friend for something specific like a new exercise buddy, or a classmate. 

“Makers of other apps haven’t realised that matching individuals based on common goals is a far more effective strategy,” says Shaimerden. 

Once students are matched they can chat anonymously to decide if they would like to build a friendship, then they can chat publicly. As users interact with their matches, the algorithm learns to curate better future matches for its users. 

In 2021 the Fistbump team participated in Velocity, the University of Auckland’s entrepreneurship development programme, administered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). They won the social category, winning $5,000 seed capital and a place in CIE’s VentureLab incubator programme where new ventures are supported for six months with mentors, work space, milestone payments, workshops and more so they have the best chance of success. Shaimerden also recently had the opportunity to go on an all expenses paid study trip to Silicon Valley through CIE’s Vanguard programme. 

Shaimerden says, “Velocity and VentureLab have given me so much, it’s hard to articulate. I think of CIE as my second home. I’ve met the most inspiring people who motivate me to keep going and who I know I can go to for good advice. The lessons they’ve helped teach me have set me on a different trajectory in life. I will forever be grateful for CIE’s initiatives”. 

This isn’t to say it’s all smooth sailing. Michael can list a number of bumps there have been along the way. “Fistbump was my way into the start-up world, which means it had to tank a lot of mistakes we made as new founders. We should’ve started with a much smaller niche and a more specific offering. Our current list of features is enough to have 3 separate businesses altogether (matching and chatting, events, and hangouts), and as a result we didn’t really get any of them right. Currently we are focusing on reframing the app and the offering, focusing on a smaller group of people, and narrowing the scope”.  

The Fistbump team currently have two side products in the works. Upto, which allows friends to see who is on campus, and project:confidence which aims to help children develop confidence.  

Shaimerden says “The process of creating Fistbump to facilitate friendships has revealed an even bigger problem – the scale of social anxiety that young New Zealanders are experiencing. A lot of people say that young people should just get out there and talk to each other in person, but people genuinely don’t know how to do that. There’s an opportunity here to take online tools that have become a problem and utilise them to create solutions to help people’s mental wellbeing.” 

University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education

Fistbump co-founder Micheal Shaimerden presenting at CIE’s VentureLab incubator showcase

University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education

Fistbump co-founder Micheal Shaimerden presenting at CIE’s VentureLab incubator showcase

31 October 2022

The Covid-19 pandemic created unprecedented mass social deprivation that we are only now beginning to understand the consequences of. Worldwide, a generation of young people have had living in an online world normalised. They are used to screens being their window to the world, experiencing life through social media, online games, and remote learning and are out of practice with in person communication. A University of Auckland student venture is now addressing this generation’s pain point of struggling to make meaningful friendships. 

In early 2021 a group of students noticed the magnitude of complaints around the social situation amongst their university peers and instigated friend making app Fistbump. Currently leading the team are Engineering students Micheal Shaimerden, CEO, and Shannon Blackhall, CTO. Shaimerden says, “We are losing social confidence as a society because we are no longer going out and challenging ourselves. There are plenty of opportunities to make friends, but people often lack the confidence to take them.” 

Lack of friendships have very real mental and physical consequences. A recent article in Nature about social isolation and the brain in the pandemic era noted that “in humans, the single best predictor of physical health and well-being, as well as future longevity, is the number and quality of close friendships, with the more conventional suspects (such as diet, obesity, alcohol consumption and air quality) ranking a distant second”. 

In developing their solution, the Firstbump team thought students needed something that was safe, convenient and fun to use. This is where their idea for a platonic friend-making app emerged. The Fistbump app is currently in its Beta version and only available to university students in New Zealand. It is different to other match-making apps because users are matched by an algorithm, based on personality and common interests, rather than users choosing friends based on physical appearance. Avatars are used rather than photos for this reason.  

Shaimerden says, “Our passion for technologies like machine learning enable us to combine it with existing behavioral research about friendships to predict whether two individuals might become friends”. 

Fistbump users can request matches based on their friendship needs. This may be for a friend that fits a criterion based on variables like age, interests, or study background, or they can request a friend for something specific like a new exercise buddy, or a classmate. 

“Makers of other apps haven’t realised that matching individuals based on common goals is a far more effective strategy,” says Shaimerden. 

Once students are matched they can chat anonymously to decide if they would like to build a friendship, then they can chat publicly. As users interact with their matches, the algorithm learns to curate better future matches for its users. 

In 2021 the Fistbump team participated in Velocity, the University of Auckland’s entrepreneurship development programme, administered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). They won the social category, winning $5,000 seed capital and a place in CIE’s VentureLab incubator programme where new ventures are supported for six months with mentors, work space, milestone payments, workshops and more so they have the best chance of success. Shaimerden also recently had the opportunity to go on an all expenses paid study trip to Silicon Valley through CIE’s Vanguard programme. 

Shaimerden says, “Velocity and VentureLab have given me so much, it’s hard to articulate. I think of CIE as my second home. I’ve met the most inspiring people who motivate me to keep going and who I know I can go to for good advice. The lessons they’ve helped teach me have set me on a different trajectory in life. I will forever be grateful for CIE’s initiatives”. 

This isn’t to say it’s all smooth sailing. Michael can list a number of bumps there have been along the way. “Fistbump was my way into the start-up world, which means it had to tank a lot of mistakes we made as new founders. We should’ve started with a much smaller niche and a more specific offering. Our current list of features is enough to have 3 separate businesses altogether (matching and chatting, events, and hangouts), and as a result we didn’t really get any of them right. Currently we are focusing on reframing the app and the offering, focusing on a smaller group of people, and narrowing the scope”.  

The Fistbump team currently have two side products in the works. Upto, which allows friends to see who is on campus, and project:confidence which aims to help children develop confidence.  

Shaimerden says “The process of creating Fistbump to facilitate friendships has revealed an even bigger problem – the scale of social anxiety that young New Zealanders are experiencing. A lot of people say that young people should just get out there and talk to each other in person, but people genuinely don’t know how to do that. There’s an opportunity here to take online tools that have become a problem and utilise them to create solutions to help people’s mental wellbeing.” 


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