The first of its kind, Shanghai-founded app Qmmunity is a platform for people from the community to connect with queer businessowners and individuals for professional and networking purposes. In late 2017, Gabby Gabriel started putting the wheels for her new app into motion, thinking of a sustainable way to pivot and grow Les Queers (LQ), the labour-of-love community organisation for lesbian and queer-identified women which she founded in May of 2014. Now, she’s re-launching LQ with the name Qmmunity, where online and offline events and support will go hand-in-hand.
Image: courtesy Horns Creative
With the world embracing tech more than ever, an app seemed like a no-brainer. ‘The queer community deserves an online space,’ says Gabriel. ‘There are physical centres all around the world but isn’t it crazy there isn’t an online one?’ With the Qmmunity app (which launched in June 2018), the focus isn’t on dating but instead is, ‘a centralised place where people can get information and find out what’s going on.’ At present, the main function of the platform is housing the profiles of queer-friendly businesses and queer events in Shanghai in one place. And in a city like this one, Gabriel says the approach seems to be working. ‘A lot of people who download the app [have just] moved to China and don’t know [anyone yet].’
With about 4,000 users primarily based in Shanghai, Qmmunity has gotten some traction, but admittedly not enough for Gabriel. Learning the ins and outs of building a tech start-up from scratch has been no easy feat, especially for someone without a previous background in tech. Reflecting on her missteps she explains, ‘Some of the mistakes I made were choosing people who were passionate about the community but didn’t necessarily have the experience or knowledge to do the job.’ These days, Gabriel seems wiser as she prepares for the second iteration of the app as well as a pivot to users in the United States (the app’s currently available in Mandarin, English and Spanish).
Photograph: LiXin Studio, M50
Originally envisioned as more of a grassroots effort, Gabriel has begun to uncover more professional resources to take things to the next level. ‘I thought, because I was making something for the community, a lot of people would naturally want to help. But that’s actually not true.’ Currently, she is involved in two accelerators in the US and is also working closely with StartOut, a non-profit organisation that provides resources and mentorship for queer entrepreneurs.
Qmmunity is also working to build its brand presence offline: weekly events are a mainstay as well as collaborations with local businesses and organisations like Z&B Fitness and Girl Gone International. Another venture from Gabriel is the Q Key Initiative, a cooperation with PFLAG Shanghai, which helps the queer community and their allies to quickly find safe spaces around the city. So far, over 200 businesses have signed up, marking their front doors with rainbow Qmmunity stickers, registering on the app and committing to being an queer-friendly space.
For now, Gabriel is focused on taking her time on the next iteration of the app; an American-facing version is set to launch next summer with a new-and-improved Chinese version soon to follow. With a sleeker, more inclusive name, and not to mention more knowledge, the future is looking bright for Qmmunity.