The two women behind a San Francisco-based tech startup, recently named one of Fast Company’s “Top 10 Most Innovative Social Media Companies,” may only be in their early 30s, but their vision, quite literally, spans well beyond their years. CEO Lisa Marrone and COO Alexa Wahr are the forward-thinking co-founders of Revel, a social platform created exclusively for women over the age of 50.
The entrepreneurs met at Harvard Business School, where their connection strengthened during the intense two-year MBA program and endured through their post-grad, interstate careers in venture capital and healthcare operations, respectively. The long-distance friendship—often refreshed during joint vacations—reaffirmed their belief that women of any age have a visceral need for connection. This fundamental belief would become the nexus of their brainchild, Revel.
The Revel online platform typically offers social connections through member-hosted outings like hikes, wine tastings, and neighborly coffee klatches, as well as through Revel-sponsored events like Q&As with inspiring thought leaders. The event mix is meant to reflect the diverse interests of its members—who may be single or partnered, working or retired, mothers or not, newcomers to their areas or long-time residents. While these differences create a unique and vibrant community, Revel members are united in the belief that each one is worthy of having a voice, of being seen, and of feeling as though they matter.
“We’re building Revel as a safe community,” explains Marrone, “purposely keeping our gatherings small so women can feel comfortable opening up, being vulnerable, and making true connections with one another.”
Raised by a single mother and public-school teacher, Marrone was a naturally gifted student, who willingly embraced education as her priority. She studied Biology and Economics at Yale before earning both an MBA and JD at Harvard. Her academic superpower landed her a prized position as an early-stage technology investor at August Capital here in Silicon Valley.
Wahr’s story is slightly more traditional. Born and raised in the Midwest, Wahr is the third daughter of two physicians-turned-entrepreneurs, who encouraged their daughters to find their individual passions. A self-proclaimed numbers nerd, Wahr studied Accounting and Finance at Emory University. After getting her Harvard MBA, she returned to Minneapolis as a senior director of operations with Bright Health. As the healthcare start-up quickly expanded to 400 employees in just three years, Wahr found herself missing the unbridled spirit of a start-up.
That might be why Wahr’s ears perked up when her friend first hinted at an idea brewing in her mind during a Tahoe ski trip in January 2019. As a VC, Marrone had heard pitches from a plethora of consumer companies designed by 20- to 30-year-olds for 20- to 30-year-olds. “Why was Silicon Valley only serving Millennials?” she wondered. “How can tech help older audiences?”
Recognizing a huge opportunity within an often-overlooked market segment, Marrone and Wahr brainstormed ways technology could be used to better serve women over 50, a demographic comprising 20% of the U.S. population. “Women get more invisible each year that we age while men experience the reverse,” Marrone points out. “Men with gray hair are seen as dignified and wise. It’s not the same for women. We want to make sure women are fully seen, embraced and valued by society as we age.”
“Unlike Meetup, we don’t want Revel to be geographically bound. If a member is traveling and wants to get together with other Revelers, we hope they’ll find events in any destination.”
Marrone and Wahr weren’t alone in recognizing Revel’s market potential. The co-founders earned a coveted spot with Y Combinator, a start-up incubator program that has helped launch more than 2,000 companies, including tech brands like Dropbox, Airbnb, DoorDash, and Instacart. With a commitment from Y Combinator, Revel officially launched in June 2019 and quickly caught the attention of other big-name investors, like Forerunner. Renowned in the Valley for its uncanny ability to spy Unicorns at the intersection of cultural shifts and commerce, Forerunner was the early-stage investor behind Serena & Lily, Birchbox, Warby Parker, and Bonobos.
Building the company infrastructure was refreshingly easy, notes Wahr. “We’ve created an amazing intergenerational workforce, which truly enhances the dynamics of our company,” she says proudly. From back-office software engineers designing user-friendly interfaces to front-office community leads engaging members, the co-founders are enjoying the breadth of life experience represented on their team. “We just might be the most intergenerational company in the tech industry today!”
A year in, Revel appears to be finding its stride—even during a year plagued by COVID-19 concerns. Initially, Revel offered in-person events but, like many businesses during the pandemic, Revel now hosts the majority of its events virtually with surprisingly little effect. “Our members are really looking to connect with other women in their communities, especially during such a socially isolating time,” says Marrone. “Now that so many of our events are virtual, we can welcome new Revelers to join us from across the U.S. or anywhere in the world for that matter.”
About 80% of its 1,500 members reside in the Bay Area, with the remaining 20% scattered throughout the U.S. and internationally. “We now have a pocket of Canadian members, plus one in Australia and one in South Africa,” says Wahr. “Unlike Meetup, we don’t want Revel to be geographically bound. If a member is traveling and wants to get together with other Revelers, we hope they’ll find events in any destination.”
For Marrone and Wahr, Revel has truly proven that age is just a number. “At 32 now, 50 doesn’t feel so very far away—especially given the transitional experiences accelerating my own life,” says Marrone, who recently gave birth to a son with her husband of three years.
As Marrone and Wahr shepherd Revel’s transition from an incubator hopeful to a thriving social platform, how will they define their success? Marrone chuckles a bit before answering in a voice full of certainty, “If I can join Revel in 18 years as a card-carrying member then I know we’ve succeeded.”