Forsyth County friends Vishwa Mudigonda and Viraj Patel met at a party at the University of Georgia while they were both still in school. They started talking, laughing and having a good time when they looked around and noticed something was off — everyone else at the party was glued to their phones.
“We were like, ‘Wow, what’s the point of going to a party if everyone is on their phones?’” Mudigonda said. “So then it hit us. Why don’t we build a platform for people who actually want to go out and have fun in groups?”
Mudigonda and Patel spent their last few months in school coming up with the concept for a new app that could connect groups of people with similar interests. They started storyboarding, worked on a name for the app, spent hours researching the effect of mental health and technology.
Months of work eventually led to the creation of their app and startup company, KemNu, which aims to help younger generations and specifically college students get away from the mental stresses caused by technology and social media and make genuine connections with others in their area who have similar interests.
Mudigonda, who earned his bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems from Georgia State University last year, said the original concept for the app was for users to be able to log on and find hangouts in their area to meet up with groups of three or more people to go out to have dinner, see a movie, play a game of basketball or whatever their interests may be.
The two started to develop the app at the start of the year and then finally released it to the app store back in March. Just shortly after, the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., and Mudigonda and Patel found themselves scrambling to find an alternative to their app — strictly meant to encourage in-person activities.
They understood immediately that they would have to find a way to allow users to host and join in on virtual hangouts of their own, but they were not sure how to do it. They ended up reaching out to mentors from local universities.
Not only did they reach out for advice on how to turn the app activities virtual, they also put in more research and spoke with psychologists and other mental health professionals about how their app could potentially help younger generations, especially as many more are turning to social media interaction during the pandemic.
“After doing that, we were able to design a really nice concept on tackling mental health and helping students overcome anxiety, loneliness, depression,” Mudigonda said.
Both in their early 20s, Mudigonda and Patel focused mainly on researching Generation Z, those born roughly between 1997 and 2012, as they feel specifically Gen Zers and Millennials spend so much time on their phones and on social media that they end up missing out on worthwhile and deep relationships with others.
“If I just look at my own screen time, it’s eight or nine hours,” Mudigonda said. “I don’t think it’s a problem, right? But then I go look at my mom’s or my dad’s and it’s like an hour per day. And I think about it — my parents are so social. They have a lot of friends and they hang out with someone every single day and maintain relationships. And then I look at myself and ask, ‘Do I have friends like that? Can I talk to someone about my life daily?’ And the answer is always no, I don’t. And then you sit down and think — why?”
Mudigonda said that Gen Zers are so addicted to social media that their virtual lives end up taking over their reality and their real-life relationships. Because of this, he said that many turn to social media when they need support — from a breakup, school stress, issues at home or whatever it may be — instead of to a friend in person.
Many experts have referred to Gen Z as both the most connected and the loneliest generation, growing up with social media and technology ingrained into their lives.
A 2018 report from the American Psychological Association stated that more than half of Gen Zers surveyed said that social media provides a feeling of support, but at the same time, nearly half also said that social media makes them feel judged and nearly 40% said social media use made them feel bad about themselves.
A 2019 national survey conducted by Cigna also found that more than half of Gen Zers admitted that they feel like people around them are not really with them, they feel shy and they feel like no one really knows them well.
After conducting their research and speaking with psychologists, Mudigonda and Patel believe that the greatest way for younger generations to improve that feeling of loneliness and improve their mental health is simply to meet and talk to new people.
That is why the two are offering a way for people to do that through KemNu.
“It’s a social platform that helps people improve their mental health by making new friends and building meaningful relationships with people over interactive group hangouts,” Mudigonda said.
Anyone can download the app on their phone, sign up and then start joining in on hangout sessions or hosting their own sessions. As soon as the user opens the app, hangout sessions that are already being hosted in the area will immediately pop up, divided into virtual and in-person categories, and the user can join in group chats within the click of a button.
“If I like basketball, I can go to KemNu and I can post a basketball hangout,” Mudigonda said. “Just say, ‘Hey, in this area in Suwanee and I’m hosting a basketball session. It’s open for all.’ And then people in the area can see that and they can request to join, they’ll accept it and then can decide in the group chat, ‘OK, we’re going to meet here.’”
Activities on KemNu include virtual cooking classes, online gaming sessions, in-person dinners and any activity that a user decides to host.
KemNu also includes important safety features, including a verification system where the app verifies a person’s age and photo. They are also currently working on adding an SOS feature that will let users press a button that will send their information to local law enforcement.
Moving forward, Mudigonda and Patel hope that KemNu can create spaces where everyone feels comfortable and connected, not through their screens, but through in-person interaction, building genuine relationships that last.