Ollie hopes co-living can bust out of the brick-and-mortar model with a $250-a-year social club.
The startup, which works with landlords to create what it calls co-living buildings with smaller personal residences, hotel-style services and social offerings, had been giving residents a complimentary membership to Magnises — a black card offering millennials access to exclusive concerts, gallery shows, happy hours and networking opportunities.
Magnises’ performance began to suffer in early May, after its founder made headlines for facing fraud allegations in the wake of the Fyre Festival, according to Ollie. So Ollie hired some of Magnises’ staff to help continue throwing events for its residents and last month opted to extend its social network — dubbed Ollie Social — to the public.
Christopher Bledsoe, co-founder of Ollie, said he wanted to scale up the network’s membership so it could offer better events while meeting a surge in demand for the community vibe at the center of co-living concept.
“Where we had leased out all of the beds and our buildings were full, we still had prospective members reaching out that wanted to be part of the community,” Bledsoe said, noting that surveys have also shown how much residents appreciate the social programming. “The ski trips, the brunches, the happy hours — they loved the activities that we were organizing, and wanted more of it.”
Ollie Social comes on the heels of other clubs that have in recent years typically used a screening process to make a business out of connecting those eager to meet others and attend trendy events.
Club operators and marketing consultants say there is room for growth in this area, given that millennials have been flocking to the city, where they tend to have relatively open schedules and discretionary budgets because they are not marrying, taking out mortgages, having children or getting involved with more traditional community groups like religious organizations and Kiwanis-style civic clubs.
However, expansion may be hampered by the younger generation’s penchant for unique experiences, which can leave some companies scrambling, they say.
“There’s this almost decadelong gap now that’s opened up post-college, where people are kind of thirsty for community and institutions,” Bledsoe said. “Universities or religious institutions maybe, in the past, had stepped in to fill that void and create a sense of belonging.”
Club operators say there is room for many more peers because each venture is distinct and appeals to a different consumer.
Bledsoe said Ollie Social distinguishes itself by grounding its activities in philanthropy. Its six monthly events range from touring a soil-less, hydroponic farm to attending a yoga session and wine tasting. The gatherings always benefit a charity or people in need.
“They [other clubs] tend to position their social networks around exclusivity, so it’s kind of the black-card model and being able to provide access behind a velvet rope,” Bledsoe said, noting anyone can join Ollie Social. “That’s not at all the positioning we’re taking.”
Select has attracted 5,000 members since launching in 2014 by offering deals at hospitality and entertainment venues and invites to social happenings for $350 a year, according to founder and CEO Carlo Cisco. Members must apply.
Ivy seeks to re-create the sense of community and intellectual stimulus present on college campuses with keynote talks, salon discussions, film screenings and getaways, while also giving back to those in need, according to co-founder Beri Meric. Launched more than four years ago, Ivy has 5,000 members in the city, who were selected from an application process. To join, members must pay a one-time fee of $1,000 if they are under 35 — $2,000 if not — and pay a $500 annual membership rate. Meric described the lower initiation fee as a scholarship for younger people, who tend to earn less money.
A Small World did not respond to questions about the club, but its website notes that the travel-focused network launched in 2004 and has a $110 annual membership fee.
Besides Magnises, which did not respond to a request for comment, New York City has seen at least one other social club come and go. The International Organization of Timeless Affinities, which sought to pair young professionals with peers in different industries, has since shut down. Its management declined to discuss the club.
Catering to younger consumers’ appetite for new, unique experiences can prove difficult for some firms, according to Jeff Fromm, a partner at the ad agency Barkley.
“Whatever was unique last year, may not be unique a year from now,” Fromm said. “So you’re going to have to continue to hack it and reinvent.”