Olivia Deramus didn’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur.
She grew up in Washington, D.C., obtained a degree in international relations and went the nonprofit route, helming campaigns around anti-violence work. Somewhere along the line, she pondered about the lack of digital safe spaces for women. Tolls, harassment and abuse run rampant on the internet, alongside body, beauty and just generalized shame against women.
Deramus had firsthand experience with the perils of social media and the frustrations many women have regarding the lack of digital community they seek. Her answer to it all was Communia, an online social network for those who identify as women. Deramus told TechCrunch that people no longer wish to waste time on “bloated, troll-filled platforms that are more about posturing than connecting.”
“I built Communia around a few key questions,” she said. “What does real connection mean to real people, and how do you architect that connection in an app and in a new way?”
Communia beta launched in 2020 and has never taken outside funding. Right now, Deramus says Communia has more than 100,000 downloads and is ready to scale even more. “With that, VC funding is the logical choice for us,” she said about the next steps.
After attending a TechCrunch happy hour in Los Angeles this year, she decided to apply to our Startup Battlefield Competition, where around 200 companies pitch for a chance to win a grand prize. Her first time at Disrupt was in 2022 and she said the environment really inspired her. “I’ve always admired TechCrunch,” she said. “I know what we’re doing is going to make waves and I think TechCrunch is the place to send that message.”
Communia is a hybrid of everyone’s favorite social media companies — allowing users to craft private blog-styled journal entries like Tumblr or write public impulsive posts like X. The app also has a self-service wellness side to it, offering mood tracking, self-development tools and community groups to help people connect and have organized, nuanced conversations, she said.
“These two sides really create this cohesive social wellness product,” Deramus added. “It serves to create a beneficial cycle of social connection that you can’t find on any other social media platform.”
Technically, cisgender-identifying men are allowed on the platform, though frankly, she said, they aren’t encouraged. “Every other social media platform is built for them,” she continued. “It’s valid to have a space specifically for conversations that a lot of the times cis men make difficult. They are the majority perpetrators of harassment and abuse that many women, non-binary people, and trans people come to our platform to avoid.”
Naturally, Deramus takes content moderation very seriously. “I think that’s what other platforms are missing out on,” she said. “This emphasis on human moderation.” Communia, therefore, has what it calls “community care officers”—humans who moderate the app alongside an AI verification system. Users undergo an identity check implemented by a human before they can even communicate with others on the platform. It also helps Communia understand who is on the platform to “appropriately handle things like the non-binary experience, trans experience and being an inclusive space, while being specifically for marginalized genders as well.”
Deramus’ road to the Battlefield hasn’t been without hiccups. About two years into her company, she received a cease and desist from what she called a much bigger, more prosperous and more powerful company. “That was a difficult time,” she recalled. When Communia first launched, it was known as the Restless Network, a trademark Deramus had for two years. When a larger company claimed the name, she said she couldn’t afford to fight them and decided to rebrand the company into what it is today.
“I’m really happy with our new name,” she said, calling the experience a learning lesson. “Communia is more indicative of what we’re doing — we’re a community support app and that reflects that.”
Next, Deramus is looking to connect with investors and scale the company. Communia comes at perhaps an interesting time in the social network space. Some say that Facebook is dying, Instagram is scattered, X — formerly known as Twitter — is crumbling, and TikTok is all the kids have. Innovators and general spectators have pondered what will arise to replace the once-golden crowns of social media, and there hasn’t been any clear successor. This means the space is ripe for upheaval and growth — this time, for the better, Deramus hopes.
“I hope to bring real connection, specifically honest and encouraging connection, back to social media users, but especially to women, 55% of whom say they can’t be their authentic selves online,” Deramus said. “Communia is ultimately looking to redefine what it means to be a social network at all.”