MP recently sat down with Greg Nimer, the Founder and CEO of Sparkze, an upcoming free relationship-making app and game-changing experience where people meet virtually get to know each other without the pressure of meeting in real life. Nimer has over 20+ years of leadership in consumer products, eCommerce, business development, design, and distribution. He wants to guide people in showing their true selves through icebreakers and video features to build genuine connections. With this immersive new experience, people can play games and talk to new people in your area who are all searching for something new.
What is your connection to loneliness?
Like most people, there have certainly been times in my life when I felt lonely—as a child, moving to a new area, breaking up with someone, moving to a different state. These are or were typical experiences for most younger people. But it's different now. Loneliness has always existed at some level and across all age groups. But it used to be more of an issue for the elderly when they lost a partner or friends due to age. Today, however, we are seeing a very alarming trend. Youth are experiencing loneliness at a rate never experienced before, with studies suggesting it affects over 70% of younger generations. And I don't see loneliness as 'the' problem, but rather the result of the problem.
The real culprit here is a combination of factors. It wasn't long ago that kids were all but thrown out of the house by their parents and told to go play and don't come back until the sun goes down. Today, social experiences for youth are much more limited and often 'supervised' to mitigate the risks of harm befalling them. Another critical factor is the internet and our reliance on smartphones. Our youth has come to expect to conduct their lives online. They grow up with these devices, and rather than 'having' to go out and create their lives, they can spend hours every day, lost in a curated world of games and social media, all the while keeping them from being out in the world and learning the art of social connection. And given the world we live in, that in itself is not necessarily bad, except so many of the games are focused on violence, and the existing social sites are not social.
These platforms create that all too familiar 'curated' world of social media, void of any real connection. Instead of connecting and getting to know each other, they've become Channels to create fictional lives. These profiles suggest a very different reality and leave others with a sense that their lives are insignificant. That makes a world of 'less than or feelings of not good enough, which leads to a need to isolate.
What is Sparkze, and why is it unique?
Sparkze is a platform that allows users to come together and participate in live stream game shows with others who live around them. Participation will enable you to get to know others without the pressure of meeting IRL (like dating sites suggest).
4-6 people will join a game like Truth or Dare and experience 20 minutes of fun, laughter, and a chance to get to know others. In this way, it’s the opposite of the existing social platforms focused on ME, and instead, it’s about the US. We're partnering with Influencers who will host the games to inspire users, bringing their followers.
In doing that, we bridge the gap between the fictional lives shown on existing social platforms and who they are, giving their followers a chance to interact and get to know them. The app features a video feed where users can set preferences to location, gender and interest and follow others who live nearby.
Videos don't lie, they'll show you more about a person than 100 curated and altered images ever could. And if two people do want to go deeper and make a connection, Sparkze has a unique message system with Ice Breaker card games designed to alleviate that 'what do I say' awkwardness that many people feel when reaching out for the first time.
The idea was to create a traditional Organic experience. You see someone and smile (our feed), you see them in-game and get to comment and laugh and get to watch and see how they react and what they say (our Games). If you like what you see and they like you, the message center opens, and the two of you can chat. But, we know the first conversation can be bumpy, so we added an ice breaker game to get the conversation going (message center).
Why did you start Sparkze?
The inspiration came to me during the Covid lockdowns of 2020. That was a hard time for many people, and having way too much time on my hands, I began reading about loneliness and how it became an epidemic among Gen Z and Millennials. My heart sank when I read that 1 out of 5 Gen Z is without a single friend. It didn’t make sense, and then I began reading articles about how social media became a concern among mental health professionals. As I dove into the existing apps, I realized the unreality of the world that is being shared, and a light went off.
I've always been interested in developing ways for people to create emotional connections.
Before the internet, I made a greeting card line for the Gay and Lesbian community to inspire self-love and acceptance.
This was back in 1993, long before the "it will get better" movement. Over the next decade, we sold millions of cards in retail stores worldwide and received thousands of touching letters from our customers, telling us how they discovered the cards, what it meant to them, and how they changed their lives. Sparkze is for all, but its mission is similar. We help people discover that they are okay, just as they are and that there is a world waiting for them to join.
In creating Sparkze, we’ve taken the position that since we can’t take the phone away, why don’t we take the party to the phone. Who doesn’t enjoy a good game with friends, old or new?
I can't wait to start hearing stories of how our users find and connect and make friendships that I hope will last a lifetime.
Where did the name Sparkze come from, and why was it chosen?
We wanted a name that spoke to the mission, a fun, engaging name, and suggested it was a place where the magic happens. I also believe in doing everything I can to hedge my bet. Many follow astrology and numerology, and while I'm not devout, I accept that it may make some slight difference, or at least, I thought it made sense not to discount it. I researched and found a company specializing in creating names with substantial positive aspects. We threw them names, ideas, and thoughts, and they came up with the name. At that point, we focused on creating a logo inspired by the many flags popular today that identify minority groups. We wanted our logo to be happy and suggest that Sparkze is open to everyone. It’s about acceptance and inclusion. That said, Sparkze does not accept anyone who harasses or in any way disparages another person.
How did you build a thriving user base around the idea of loneliness?
The beauty of Sparkze is that it has a built-in marketing system that works expands the concept of social networking. We're partnering with existing Influencers who already have substantial followings on other platforms, and as our game show hosts, they are promoting their games on those channels. Their followers, who in many cases are fans, will come to watch and perhaps even play in the games. They'll get a chance to meet and interact with their favorite influencers, and from there, we have our users.
How do you see Sparkze fitting into people's lives over the next decade?
Today, millions of people spend hours fixated on social media platforms, browsing, and having largely one-way experiences. Sparkze is designed to create a two-way conversation, and we hope that users will fall in love with the idea of meeting and getting to know people who live around them and connecting with their favorite influencers.
Beyond the pandemic and apparent reason, why do you think people are lonely?
People today don't have a reason to meet and interact with others between gaming and social media platforms. So many of them have unfortunately adapted to an online experience of non-existence. It isn't different from any addiction, where a user uses the addiction to avoid the issue only to compound the problem. The dive into technology has resulted in social awkwardness stemming from not marking real-life connections.
But you can't just take the phone away, so we decided to bring the party to the phone and get small groups together, giving them a subject (game questions) to break the ice. What's been exciting for us is that as we've tested the games, we see that friendships develop after just playing two games with someone.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage them?
Now things are getting real, but I might as well spill the beans….
1. We’ll Run Out of Money Before We Get Funded
Companies like this take large amounts of capital. Unless your name is a staple in the tech industry, with successful exits, the firms that support these ventures tend to be innovative and do the 'wait and see' since most new experiences never get off the ground. Like all these answers, managing 'fear' is about getting clear of who you are and what you offer. I believe so ultimately in what we've built that I've primarily self-funded the company to this point. I know the value of Sparkze, and I know people will fall in love with the app and how it finally gives them a space to meet others. Bottom line: believe in yourself and your dream.
2. I’m Not Good Enough
I'd love to sit here and pretend I have 100% confidence in my ability 100% of the time, but that's not being real. I do have moments of doubt. I remind myself that I have successfully run several companies to counter this. While they're in a different industry, my experience has shown me that I make the right decisions, most of the time, or at least enough of the time that, in the end, we succeed. When things get tough, I will sit and list my past accomplishments until I can feel my confidence come back.
3. I’m Too Old
From the beginning, there has been this question about why a person my age is jumping into any business, let alone one in an industry I'm not familiar with and designed for a much younger generation. But the good news is that I have decades of experience and maybe a tiny bit of wisdom that comes with age, and hopefully, that will keep me from making many of the mistakes younger founders make.
What three obstacles have you faced while growing Sparkze, and how have you overcome them?
Keep moving forward, and know you can do this.
1. Finding a Great Developer
Most of these companies begin with people who know to program. I have no tech background, so I needed to find someone to build the app. That was not easy. Programming is a hot industry, and good people were unwilling to take a chance without serious capital. I looked at consulting firms that do dev and quickly realized that the cost of an app this sophisticated was not cheap. I learned that building an app is like building a new home; the budget is never met. This challenge took a firm conviction in my making and a willingness to keep going. I have a fantastic mentor who encouraged me and began helping me reach out to people who then referred others until I met Ben Garney. Ben had all the skills I needed, and we started talking. Like me, he became convinced that what I wanted was more than just another app; Sparkze can make a real difference. Eventually, he and his amazing wife Katie agreed that this was worth doing, and Ben joined the company as my co-founder and built the app for us.
2. Market Saturation
There are over 3,000 dating sites in the US alone, and while Sparkze is not just dating, it is about meeting people. When I start talking about Sparkze, people will often suggest that there are already enough of them. Our obstacle is getting them to look at Sparkze and how allowing users to meet virtually in small groups is an entirely new and unique concept. The good news is as soon as we get someone to look at Sparkze and see even 1 minute of a game, it's instant…" this will work." Our target market gets it instantly, and they're excited about the fun, the safety, and how they can get to know someone first.
The great news about the low unemployment rate and the high demand for top talent has created an environment where it's difficult for a startup to find and recruit top talent. The key to this has been to trust, keep moving forward, and talk about it. As soon as people look at what we've built, they can see what it offers and why our target market will want to be on Sparkze. I had difficulty finding a good UI designer, but I walked to the elevator in my new loft building one day and started chatting with a guy while waiting. It turned out he did UI. I now have a great UI designer. That's so often how it works; if you're willing to keep going, the pieces you need will fall in place.
What questions should would-be entrepreneurs ask themselves before starting a new venture, and why?
1. Do they have the backbone to stick it out no matter what?
Starting and building a business is not easy, and most people fail. They'll often start with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but they buckle as soon as the obstacles appear. Fear is either your greatest enemy or best asset. It’s up to you to decide which.
2. Do they have the necessary experience to run a company?
Do I have experience in the industry I am starting? If the answer is yes, you may already have the right tools. Many people think they are golden if they understand the job itself. What they forget is that you must have business knowledge. If you don't, take a class or get a job in a position that will give you the experience. Everyone wants to be the boss, but it's not as easy as simply starting a business and being the boss that makes success.
3. Are they willing and able to pivot?
Because not everything always goes to plan, right? No matter how solid your plan is and how great you are at business, you should always be able to pivot or shift. Plan B is necessary, and you must budget for it. You cannot succeed without a strategy that can change a specific process to achieve the same desired results. Life is full of change; the road gets bumpy. If it doesn't, every business that has opened would be successful. It sounds great, but it's not logical in a world that relies on specific economic growth.
What three things do you think most entrepreneurs miss, and why?
1. The Value of Diversity and Inclusion
Many entrepreneurs do not consider the background of their workforce when starting. Having a diverse staff is one of the most important things to consider when considering the multitude of your customer needs. A company with diversity and inclusion in the workplace boosts productivity by 35%. When new business owners begin hiring, they usually only think of getting the correct number of people trained and working before considering the type of people they hire, which can be a costly mistake.
2. It's okay not to have the answer
Many new business owners may over-stress themselves, thinking they must know the answer to every question that every employee and customer will have. That is impossible. Everyone is learning all the time (I know I do). Have you ever said aloud at work, "I learn something new every day"? This idea gives the boss a chance to better themselves, especially if they are willing to allow the employees to help, creating a solid connection between employees and employer by working together to develop solutions. As a thriving entrepreneur and an expert in my field, there will be questions that surface that will completely throw me off my game, and that is okay.
3. You don't have to do everything yourself
One of the hardest things an entrepreneur must learn to do is, let go. You want to do everything yourself because it is your business, that is how you want it done, and you are afraid of someone else messing it up. You have to let go. That is why there are training processes in place. Besides, if you are always doing everything yourself, your employees may think you don't trust them. Letting go also applies to the startup and planning processes. It would help if you always researched the what-ifs. If you are avid about Googling (I do all the time) and you read about what it was like for successful businesspeople when they first began, they always seem to have some inspiration behind the project and someone who guided them along the way.
How do you deal with doubt?
I try to look at doubt as a positive experience. It's like a check and balance system. When I experience doubt (which I do), I stop and remind myself of my history, what I've overcome, and past success. I then look not at the 'fear' but the reality of the situation. They say that fear is in the past, and as I dive into that fear, I can always find a link to something back there. From that vantage point, I'm able to look at what I did then, what I could have done differently, and then it's a matter of setting aside the fear and focusing on the issue at hand until I find the path forward.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Years ago, when I first entered the business world, I noticed that I could spend days focused on a problematic issue, never coming up with an answer. And then, something would distract me sufficiently that it was off my mind, and all of a sudden, the answer would appear. I grew up skiing, and so the distraction was often the sloops. So, I came up with a saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough go skiing." It's my reminder to step away and smell the roses, take time away from the issue at hand, and know that the answer is there; you have to let go, long enough for you to remember it.