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Former Tinder CEO Renate Nyborg's startup Meeno, which aims to fight loneliness through an AI-powered chatbot, announced that it has raised a $3.9 million seed round led by Sequoia. Meeno aims to release its app on the App Store in December in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Apart from Sequoia, Andrew Ng’s AI Fund and NEA participated in the seed round. The company, formerly known as Amorai, has now raised a total of $5 million with a pre-seed round raised earlier in April. Meeno listed several angel investors at that time, including Megan Jones Bell (clinical director of Mental Health, Google), Jim Lanzone (the CEO of Yahoo, TechCrunch's parent company), Eileen Burbidge (Passion Capital), André Heinz, Peter Rojas, Balance Pilot Capital (Charles Campbell Roberts) and Joe Zadeh (former Airbnb VP Product).
Meeno avoids comparison with AI chatbot companion startups such as Replika and Blush by categorizing its solution as a "personal mentor." The startup explicitly says that Meeno won't be a virtual "girlfriend, boyfriend, clinical therapist, or coach."
In a blog post, the company said that Meeno will learn more from your usage of the app and give you better relationship advice. The idea that "it gets better as you use it more" is common with other chatbot apps. However, the startup says it asks for things like age, ethnicity and sexual orientation during setup so that the chatbot can avoid biased conversations.
The former CEO of Tinder mentioned in her post that she became aware of the loneliness of young users during her time at Tinder — especially for Gen Z users (18- to 25-year-olds). Nyborg noted that after she left Tinder in August 2022, Andrew Ng pointed her toward large language models (LLMs) being a potential tech-based solution to loneliness.
Meeno is currently focused on launching on iOS first because of the iPhone's popularity amongst teens and Apple's privacy tools. The startup is offering 12 months of Meeno premium to users who sign up before January 31, 2024.
AI chatbots are pretty hot and some household names in tech, such as Snap, have introduced them to young users. However, Snap's faced criticism for the inappropriate behaviors of My AI chatbot in some instances. The social network had to roll out tools to safeguard users' experience. As Meeno is targeting Gen Z, the company will face similar challenges and could have to put guardrails around its AI chatbot so it doesn't go awry.
Meeno said that it has a "complex proprietary conversation system" trained with multiple models to provide contextual responses. The company told TechCrunch over email that it has additional guardrails around self-harm and suicide. However, it didn't provide details on the AI's handling of other topics such as hate speech.
The story is updated with Meeno's response on guardrails around its AI system.