If a year of pandemic living has taught us anything, it is how much we crave social interaction. Whether we connect through calls and texts, social posts or driveway waves, notes slipped under doorways or cheers bellowed from rooftops, we have reached out to each other in innovative ways this year, simply to connect.
Now, from one of the earliest employees at Snapchat, comes a social wellness app designed not only to bring us together, but to help share our stories in a fresh and empathetic way. Yoni Circle, which closed its pre-seed round of funding in January 2020, arrived in the nick of Covid-time and women across the globe are grateful.
How does it work?
Self-described as “an experience that mixes nostalgic slumber party with a mindfulness class,” Yoni Circle has an interactive component (their Storytelling Circles) and a listen-only feature (Yoni Radio). Circles invite members to join 60-minute live-virtual video chats, moderated by a trained salonniere who guides the discussion along a predetermined prompt: think Stories on Gratitude or Stories on Growth. Participants dive in joyfully, sharing personal stories and absorbing those told by others. Yoni devotees report feeling energized and inspired, and – importantly – deeply connected to this new community.
“Since joining Yoni Circle, I’ve discovered that storytelling is an art form necessary for my mental health as well as in growing and healing,” notes Arin from Alabama, and Lindsey in the United Kingdom adds that “Yoni Circle has been an incredible way to bring women together from all over the globe! The ability to heal through story has been such a highlight for me.” Similar comments pour in from Canada, Italy and South Africa, where Naomi states frankly: “Yoni Circle was a life raft; it connected me to myself and incredibly inspiring womxn at a time when I needed it the most.”
Healing. Restorative. Reassuring. And for those not ready to share their stories aloud, Yoni Radio offers the chance to listen to recorded stories from earlier sessions, selecting those themes that most appeal in the moment.
With storytelling comes the opportunity for mentorship, and the girls’ mentorship group Être wanted to learn more about Yoni. We reached out to Yoni Circle founder and CEO Chloë Drimal, who started at Snapchat in 2013 as the fourteenth employee and created not only the Our Story Product but helped launch the internal women’s group for Snapchat, to ask a few questions. Below is an edited version of that interview.
Ê: We love that Yoni Circle goes deeper than other social media apps in storytelling – what prompted you to focus on that aspect?
CD: I created Yoni Circle because I needed it. In my early 20s after a series of events, I was left feeling alone. Vulnerable stories from strangers healed me— they made me realize I was not alone in my narrative and empowered me to unapologetically write my next chapter.
I began to understand that stories, community, and vulnerability (while in a safe space) allow us to heal ourselves and those around us. I built Yoni Circle with this in mind: a social app, community, and really a movement that heals and connects us through storytelling.
Through this exchange of stories and shared experiences, life feels more manageable and conquerable. It allows us to be our true selves and grow and support others’ growth without fear of competition. The more we grow together, the better the world will be.
Ê: We’ve heard the app described as “freeing,” “magical,” and “a breath of fresh air.” Were these the same words you heard used when describing the original live Yoni events? If yes, what is it about the app that is keeping the live & virtual experiences consistent?
CD: Participating in Storytelling Circles is freeing and magical and the same words were used to describe our in-person experience (which I miss deeply). While concepting, architecting, and designing the app, it was deeply important that I translated the magic from in-person into our new digital home and it will continue to be important to deepen this magic as we scale.
I more or less fell into creating the in-person experience. I knew I wanted to create an app that healed and connected women through storytelling, but I had no clue what it looked like, only what it felt like. So I decided I would host salons out of my apartment in Venice, California to figure it out. The first “Yoni Circle Salon” I hosted was in January 2018. The core of the experience was a storytelling circle (just like the app) and with each salon I hosted, I iterated on the script and flow of the circle experience, until I really understood what worked, what didn’t, and why.
When we all told true stories with a beginning, a middle, and end, people walked out my door almost in this whimsical fairy-like fashion – they had a smile on their face, were calmer, exchanged their number with strangers, and usually came back to their next salon much quicker.
While Circles will continue to evolve alongside the app experience, everything we build focuses on our mission of healing and connecting through storytelling and allowing our community to grow together
Ê: It seems like you’ve made a huge effort to keep the community safe and kind – do you think that is another differentiator for this app?
CD: We’ve been very diligent about growing our community the right way and focusing the experience on healing and connecting through storytelling. We value each person’s uniqueness and perspective, and as such we, do not stand for any hate, discrimination, or biases within our community. Since Yoni Circle is about creating space for women to explore themselves in a real and raw way without judgment, the safety and privacy of everyone who joins Yoni Circle is our highest priority.
To prioritize member safety and comfort, there is a quick application process for interested members. Yoni Circle also has detailed community guidelines and in-app safety features to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all current and future members. When members do not follow our community guidelines, they are suspended.
With so much hate, discrimination, misinformation and performative content on social media today, I believe many people, especially women, desire a social platform that provides an intimate space for them to be vulnerable.
Ê: Finally, why do you think we need storytelling as a means of self-care right now, and why hasn’t something like this existed before?
CD: Stories lend a helping hand without telling us what to do or how to think. Our mission to connect, heal and empower women worldwide through storytelling has proven to be essential in improving our members’ lives. Of members surveyed, 65% felt lighter and calmer after a storytelling Circle, while 70% felt more connected to themselves. Another 84% say that “they can’t wait to come back” after using the app.
And though something exactly like this hasn’t existed before, storytelling has been key to human evolution since the beginning of time, and versions of storytelling circles or other forms of healing circles are prevalent throughout many different culture’s histories. Humans are made up of stories, and listening to each other and learning from each other is how we will inevitably evolve.
The more we begin to share stories with each other at a global level without judgment, the more we will understand that we are not alone. This will ultimately allow us to heal, find our voice and tap into our power. I hope Yoni Circle can support this vision of a world, and I hope you will come try us out and tell stories with our community soon!
We can’t wait.
Because as we glimpse a return to in-person connection, slowly and safely, one thing remains certain: sharing our stories matters.
It reminds us we are never alone.