Olivia June is the CEO and Co-founder of VINA. I recently sat down with her to explore her interests in social psychology, the reasons she started an app for female friendships, and how her experiences making and maintaining friendships have evolved over the years. During our chat, Olivia introduced me to ‘parasocial’ relationships, and let me know how much she’s just like all of you.
So, let’s get to know our beloved VINAZINE founder and fearless leader, Olivia June…
First, can you talk a bit about how you came up with the idea for VINA?
OJ: Funnily enough, I actually thought of the idea while online dating. When I first moved to SF in 2009, I didn’t know anyone, so I joined OKCupid and started going on dates to get out of the house. I discovered that the internet was really good at connecting me to like-minded people, yet I found I was making more friends than love connections. So, I started checking out the profiles of the other women “similar to me” on the site, and thought they were brilliant and hilarious and that they’d totally be my friends, so I started messaging them to meet up for happy hour! It was awkward AF though because it was a dating site! So, ultimately I abandoned this strategy.
I joined the board of a non-profit, Spark SF, a philanthropic organization dedicated to millennials investing into grassroots women’s empowerment organizations. While I’ve always thought of myself as an empowered woman and, of course, a feminist, my eyes started to open to the scale of gender issues around the world. I also learned that when you invest into women, all of humanity and civilization becomes better.
As, I continued to work to solve my own problem in growing a network in a new city, I started co-organizing monthly wine events for women to meet. They’ve been running for 6 years! Every month more than 100 women would meet up in wine bar in SF to network like friends. When people who attended the gatherings started moving — to London, LA, NYC — they wanted me to start hosting events in their new cities. This wasn’t scalable for me because I worked full time, but I loved the idea of helping them find new connections and build new friendships as they navigated new places.
I really appreciate how technology allows a small group of people to impact the lives of millions. And with that in mind, I brought all my life experiences together and the concept for VINA was born!
What do you want all the women on Hey! VINA to know about you?
Olivia June: It’s important to me that all Hey! VINA women know I’ve been through so many similar life changes to them. I transferred colleges a few times and had to rebuild my social circle over and over again. I moved to a new city after college where I didn’t know a single other person. I’ve found myself in a relationship and realized I had no friends outside of it. And then, of course, when we broke up, I realized I had no friends….period. I’ve had friends move on to start their families while I was focused on my career. And I saw my social life shift when I got married and all my friends were single, and similarly when I got divorced. I’ve experienced losing friends to relationships and work responsibilities, and I’ve seen new friendships blossom through those same experiences.
These are all really hard things that most all of us women go through. There’s been one reinforcing learning though, a strong network of girl friends helps us navigate though and conquer these challenges. I now have amazing friends who support me, have my back, have inspiring life goals, and share similar visions of the futures… but I’m always looking for more, too! You never know what a new friend will bring into your life.
Anyway, it’s been through these close and supportive friendships that I’ve actually been able to become my whole, authentic self. Because of their friendship and support, I’ve actually felt the confidence to develop really great romantic relationships, discover my professional strengths, have the courage to quit my job and start VINA, and make this company thrive! I didn’t always have friends who really saw me. And now that I do, I really understand how transformative deep female friendships can be.
Lastly, what’s something you’re fascinated by in the world?
Well, social psychology is my academic expertise, it’s what I studied in college, and in large part, I’m still working in the field today. I’ve been super fascinated by how we connect as humans to one another and how our social well-being is pivotal to our physical and emotional well-being. I’ve also always been deeply intrigued by gender psychology, and understanding the differences between male and female traits and how they apply to the world both in life and in business. My sex is female and I gender identify as a woman, but I don’t identify with every single behavior pattern that is associated with women. I think it’s really interesting to see how gender is evolving today as societally we become more open and understanding of everyone’s unique makeup!
Want more of Olivia June? We thought so!
To give you a chance to get all of your burning questions answered, we’ve decided to start a weekly advice column with Olivia that we’re calling Hey! Olivia June.
We’re going to pull back the curtain and let you tap deeper into her expertise in friendships, social psychology, careers, gender issues, as well as tech, startups and entrepreneurship… or literally anything you need some advice on from a girl friend.
Whatever you’re curious about or experiencing, know that you’re totally not the only one! To hear more from Olivia June, simply submit your question here.