‘Life Beyond Likes’: Isa Watson On Her Audio Social Platform Squad

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

‘Life Beyond Likes’: Isa Watson On Her Audio Social Platform Squad
Isa Watson

On this episode of Office Hours, Founder and CEO Isa Watson shares the tragic, but inspirational story that led to the creation of her audio social platform, Squad, and the challenges she faces as a Black woman in tech.

“My journey to entrepreneurship was one that was very personal to me,” Watson said.

In 2013, Watson tragically lost her father in a bus accident while he and Watson’s mother were leading an annual trip for upcoming college students. She said it was the loneliest she’s ever felt in her life, but caused a powerful revelation.

“A realization that I had really over invested in my personal branding and my positioning to the world, and under invested in the relationships and friendships that brought me joy,” she said.

She created Squad, an audio communication platform, to ease her own feelings of loneliness and help others connect and build communities offline.

Squad has three core features: asynchronous messaging—back and forth, freestyle—a prompted question where your response is then sent to the rest of your squad, and squad line, which is a twist on traditional phone calls. Squads are limited to a maximum of 12 people to encourage the selectiveness Watson believes is so important to sustained friendships.

“It also just really forces the thought of, ‘Who do I want to talk to every day? Who is bringing me that joy?’” she said.

Watson said what sets Squad apart from other platforms is that each user’s ‘Squad’ is built around them specifically.

“And when you think about some of the things that people want—from a human perspective—when you're looking at a huge scale platform, like a Snapchat or a WhatsApp, you're trying to find your own place inside of it,” she explained. “As opposed to actually organically creating your own world. And from a world building perspective, everything in Squad is customized to you in a way that doesn't exist on these existing platforms.”

Squad’s evolution as an audio platform was one of trial, error and lots of research. Watson and her team originally experimented with text but found that deeper connections were difficult. They also experimented with video, but found it was too easy for users to disengage. Audio became the “happy medium.”

“The other thing was to give the intimacy of the conversation,” she said of her decision.

As opposed to other social communication apps, Squad users can only interact with content from people within their own Squad. And because the idea is to mimic real-life connections, all communication deletes within 24 hours.

“It's double opt-in around you,” she said. “The whole notion is how do we make these networks participatory."

Squad operates on three revenue models: 1) freemium, 2) in-app purchases (which she compares to Roblox) and 3) ad model. As the platform has grown, Watson and her team have expanded their market strategies to include in-app driven growth and outside of the app driven growth.

“So on the outside of the app, we partnered with companies that gave away free food if you had a Squad line call, or things like that,” she explained. “On the flip side, we have a very big high school demographic. We've actually created a high school ambassador program within New York City.”

But as a young woman, and a young Black woman especially, Watson said raising funds was challenging at first.

“[Investors] couldn’t see me being shoulder to shoulder with a 'Jack' or an 'Evan,' and I just thought that was very interesting and very telling,” she said. “I absorbed that energy and it manifested as an insecurity. I felt insecure because I felt like I was perceived as a much riskier founder because I was Black.”

Through Squad’s prime target demographic—late teens—she’s learned to turn those insecurities into strengths.

“The reality is that when I talk to the users and I'm with these high school kids in Brooklyn who are white, Asian, Black, Indian…they actually love and appreciate the fact that I'm a Black woman,” she said.

Hearing the feedback from the younger generation of users helps Watson feel validated in the importance of her work. She believes Squad is positioned to be more than just an alternative social platform, as more and more people crave authenticity.

“People are yearning for that authentic experience,” Watson said, “The data shows, and I don’t have to opine on it, that social media has been very detrimental to our young girls and to people in general, and created this echo chamber of perfectionism.”

dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato contributed to this post.

Want to hear more episodes? Subscribe to Office Hours on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.


Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

“Millions of Dollars Completely Wasted”: Without Neuromarketing, Tech Firms’ Ads Get Lost in the Noise

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

“Millions of Dollars Completely Wasted”: Without Neuromarketing, Tech Firms’ Ads Get Lost in the Noise

At Super Bowl LVII, advertisers paid at least $7 million for 30–second ad spots, and even more if they didn’t have a favorable relationship with Fox. But the pricey commercials didn’t persuade everyone.

A recent report from advertising agency Kern and neuroscience marketing research outfit SalesBrain is attempting to answer that question using facial recognition and eye-tracking software.

Read moreShow less

ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Why Tax Knowledge Is Her ‘Superpower’

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Why Tax Knowledge Is Her ‘Superpower’

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, ComplYant founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson discusses her journey to building a multimillion dollar business and making knowledge of taxes more accessible.

Read moreShow less

‘Expand Past the Stage’: How These LA-based Ticketing Platforms are Using The Metaverse to Take On Ticketmaster

Andria Moore

Andria is the Social and Engagement Editor for dot.LA. She previously covered internet trends and pop culture for BuzzFeed, and has written for Insider, The Washington Post and the Motion Picture Association. She obtained her bachelor's in journalism from Auburn University and an M.S. in digital audience strategy from Arizona State University. In her free time, Andria can be found roaming LA's incredible food scene or lounging at the beach.

‘Expand Past the Stage’: How These LA-based Ticketing Platforms are Using The Metaverse to Take On Ticketmaster
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. With Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”