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Kndrd Spirits: 2016 Grad Working on Social App 

Isabella Epstein ’16 was working as an investment banking analyst in 2021 in New York City, with its millions of people and a million things to do. Isabella was a little lost, having a tough time finding her place in the social scene. Social-networking platforms or apps weren’t working for her. She said she spent too many nights home alone. 

She was determined to change that, which led to building a social startup, Kndrd, an app now in its testing stage with a release scheduled this spring. Kndrd says it allows like-minded people to share experiences around New York City: “... In a world where virtual interactions have become the norm, Kndrd is here to put the social back in social network by helping you find (or post) spontaneous hangouts whenever you want and wherever you want. No swiping, just doing.” 

Much of Isabella's thinking about the app’s purpose leads back to Loomis Chaffee. 

“Loomis taught me the value of community, and I think what I had at Loomis was what I craved in the ‘real world’ that I didn’t have,” Isabella said. “I knew what it was like to have a community, and it was the first time I didn’t have one.” 

Isabella said she feels there is not as much companionship or serendipitous socializing as there used to be in the world, and once again the conversation comes back to Loomis.  

“At Loomis Chaffee you go to the dorm and walk into the common room,” Isabella said. “Not all those people are your best friends, but it is a community. Or you go to the dining hall, and you can sit at any table and have a conversation. [Out in the world] we don't have that. So, what happens ... and what happened to me is I spent most of my time home alone doing nothing but wanting to be doing something with someone. It was not always a specific person, but more that I just wanted to engage socially.”  

“What we’re building is a product where people can find things to do and people to do them with anytime, anywhere,” she continued. “And for a lack of a better term, an engineered social fabric ... similar location, ages, interests, mutual connections, other underlying factors that encourage positive interaction.” 

Isabella, 25, is building Kndrd with Tina Mai, who began her freshman year at Stanford University in the fall but recently put her education on hold to move to New York City and work with Isabella. Isabella, a 2020 graduate of Middlebury College, is the chief executive officer, and Tina is the chief operating officer. 

Isabella Epstein, left, and Tina Mai.

Isabella Epstein, left, and Tina Mai. Isabella says one thing they have in common “is that there is nothing we won’t do to accomplish what we need to ... and there are not too many people like that.” 

Tina spent her freshman year (2019–20) at Loomis Chaffee, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she returned to her home state of California to finish high school there. Isabella and Tina never crossed paths at Loomis, but “Loomis Chaffee is our invisible friend,” said Isabella. “That is how we got connected.” 

When Isabella started to work on Kndrd, she reached out to as many people as she could for advice. She noticed the Loomis connection with Tina and contacted her. 

“I told her I’m a Loomis alum working on a startup,” Isabella said. “I figure this girl is brilliant, and at the very least she might share some feedback and insights into what I am trying to do. And best-case scenario, it could be more than that. We got on a call for 30 minutes, and three hours later we were still on the call.” 

Isabella visited Tina in California at the end of 2022 to talk more about the startup. Mauro Serrano ’13 hosted her for the week. “I posted on Instagram asking if anyone I knew was in California, and another Loomis alum responded and connected me to Mauro.” Off she went.  

“It was a huge Loomis Chaffee reunion of three people who had never met,” Isabella said with a laugh. 

Soon after, Tina came to New York for a visit and eventually decided to partner with Isabella in the company, moving to New York in January. They share an apartment. Isabella said they think alike, “kindred spirits, for lack of a better term, and she probably is the smartest person I’ve ever met.” 

Tina, barely out of high school, has a resume that reads like a lifetime of accomplishments. At 16, she was the winner of the 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 49th District for building an A.I. accessibility app to help visually impaired youth. In 2021 she was also Orange County’s first youth poet laureate. At 17 she spoke at South by Southwest about building a nuclear fusion reactor in a garage. 

“What we also have in common,” Isabella said, “is that there is nothing we won’t do to accomplish what we need to ... and there are not too many people like that.” 

And there are probably not too many people like Isabella. In the summer of 2022 while working on Wall Street she spent her free time stopping strangers on the street — by her count 1,000 in all. She struck up conversations about the social scene and found out she wasn’t the only one dissatisfied.  

“Once I started to realize how positive the interactions were, I kept going, and eventually reached 1,000-plus people,” Isabella said. 

She asked for contact info, kept a spreadsheet, and told people she would be in touch with social engagement opportunities. This was before she had any thought of building Kndrd. She emailed and text-blasted groups of strangers with opportunities: pickleball, happy hours, gallery openings, and yoga, for instance. She remembers the first event, yoga at Elizabeth Street Garden on a beautiful day. Two women showed up.  

“They came for two reasons,” Isabella said. “First, because they wanted to meet new people, and second, they wanted to share an experience in which there was a common interest.” 

The yoga class was at 10 a.m. After the class one of the women said, “Let’s get coffee.” The three of them ended up walking around the city, running into a street fair, getting lunch together, walking more, stopping at a few shops and galleries, and suddenly it was 5 p.m. 

“I had just spent seven hours with two people I had never met but felt like I had known for a lifetime,” Isabella recalled. 

Excited, she called her mom. 

“Frankly,” Isabella said, “that was one of the most profoundly impactful experiences of my life.” She realized that she wasn’t the only one who craved human connection, and she wanted to replicate it. She hosted hangouts around the city for a couple of months and then began to consider automating the process.  

She worked at her finance job during the day, and after getting home, she worked on the Kndrd concept. She said she knew that wasn’t sustainable. She left her full-time job in the middle of 2023 to devote all her energy to her startup. 

“I knew if it was to work — and it is working and will work — it would require every single cell in my body and every ounce of hard work and determination I have. Yes, it was terrifying, but what it came down to ultimately was that I was more terrified not to try. I did not want to look back one day wishing I had tried,” Isabella said. 

Of course, some people thought she was crazy. 

“Yes, but I thank them ... there is a joke in the entrepreneurial community. I guess it’s less a joke and more a reality, but a lot of entrepreneurs say, ‘If I had known how hard this was going to be, I wouldn't have done it,’” Isabella said.  

“I’m grateful because people tried to tell me how hard it was going to be,” she said. “But I wasn’t interested in listening. And the people who were trying to protect me couldn’t understand because they had not experienced what I had with this community of people. So that is where my conviction came from.” 

She said the experience of building something from the ground up is akin to “basically jumping off a bridge, and you're assembling your parachute on the way down.” 

To keep that parachute aloft, Isabella sunk all her savings into starting her passion project. Finding funding is an essential next step, one she calls “daunting but exciting.”  

In February Isabella and Tina competed in Stanford University’s BASES (Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students) Startup Challenge, which yearly attracts 250 companies. Kndrd won a first-place prize of $10,000 in the consumer group. Isabella said the company also received its first “angel” investment, which is private equity investment in startups that are in their early stages. An article on starting Kndrd has appeared in Business Insider, the New York-based financial and business news website.  

Kndrd underwent beta testing with a small group of users and will have a larger test this spring. The business plan calls for Kndrd to potentially make money a number of ways: premium subscription and in-app purchases, hyperlocal advertising, and sponsored events for which Kndrd takes a commission. 

Isabella said winning the Stanford BASES Startup Challenge “reminded us that we are on to something, and people can see it.” 

Reaching this point in her entrepreneurial endeavor took being unafraid of risk and willing to work hard, qualities she gained at Loomis. 

“To have that instilled in me at such a young age was invaluable,” Isabella said. “The other thing, and Tina and I joke about this all the time, the Loomis motto is ‘best self, common good,’ and in a nutshell that is what we are doing here. We are bringing our best self to the table every day to create something for the common good.” 


Kndrd screen grab




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