Interview With Akul Bali and Josh Gottesman

Describe your product or service:

“Privee is an ad-free, privacy-preserving social media platform where you can win money through themed community contests.”

Describe your company values and mission:

“Our mission is to build a social media platform made for members, not advertisers.”

How are you funded? I.e. venture capital, angel investors, etc.

“Angel investors.”

How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)

“Just the two co-founders full time currently.”

Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?

“Yes, we've always wanted to start our own businesses and felt like we were just waiting for the right idea, timing, and opportunity.”

How did you come up with your startup idea? How did you decide to actually act on the idea? What gave you confidence that you were on the right track?

“During the summer of 2020, as COVID raged across the world and the US election cycle was at its peak, misinformation about both spread like wildfire across social media, and this got us thinking: why does misinformation spread so rapidly? Why is this allowed to happen? Working in tech, we knew technology and resources weren’t the issue. Diving deeper into the underlying issues, we realized the advertising-based business model is the primary problem. 

We decided to act on the idea after doing countless user interviews to understand their pain points. We got confidence from a handful of factors: (1) The Social Dilemma came out on Netflix shortly after we started diving into the concept, (2) Neeva, a private ad-free, subscription-based search engine started to get traction, (3) Users were very interested in our product vision, and (4) Angel investors were interested in funding us to build out our vision.”

How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?

“We came up with the name Privee through trial and error as we brainstormed a variety of names with privacy connotations. We landed on Privee as it's spelt very similarly to "Privée'' which means private in French and is pronounced as "Privy" which in English means "sharing in the knowledge of something secret or private." We also got feedback from [prospective] users and they liked the name and felt it very clearly conveys privacy.”

What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?

“So far, the biggest challenge we faced was convincing ourselves to take the leap and leave our jobs at Google. Once we realized the potential opportunity and validated the concept, it became an easier decision to make. We expect many more challenges ahead.”

Who is your product or service made for? Who is your target market?

“Our product is made for anyone seeking a fun, privacy-preserving alternative to today's social media platforms. Our target market is 16- to 30-year-olds as they are more aware of the data privacy concerns posed by social media today and highly interested in being able to monetize their content through contests.”

What's your marketing strategy?

“To start, we are targeting close-knit, real-world networks, such as university students, tech employees, and keeping the platform invite-only to ensure that people joining have at least one connection on the platform.”

How did you acquire your first 100 customers?

“We haven't officially launched yet, but when we do, we plan to acquire our first 100 customers through our online waitlist and organic word-of-mouth marketing.”

What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?

“The key metrics we'll pay attention to are retention, churn, daily active users, and weekly active users.”

What's your favorite entrepreneurial book and podcast?

“How I built this is our favorite entrepreneurial podcast.”

What is the biggest lesson you learned during your journey?

“User testing and talking to as many people as possible is the best way to avoid bad decisions.”

Who is your support system?

“Friends and family.”

How do you stay motivated?

“We are both self-motivated and motivate each other to reach our vision. We know it's a very challenging one, but we can get there one step at a time.”

Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?

“Time management and the ability to focus only on the most important tasks.”

What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?

“That we're going for it. The hardest part is taking that first leap.”

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