One of the biggest disconnects between the tech-savvy children of today and their parents is the child’s need for privacy and the parent’s need to make sure their child is safe. Parents don’t want to be seen as overprotective, but negligence can have harmful results — 25 percent of teenagers report that they have experienced repeated bullying on their cellphone or through the Internet. So how can parents prevent this without being labeled a “helicopter parent”?
Bark has the answer. By utilizing machine learning algorithms, founder Brian Bason has found the perfect middle ground. Bark isn’t like other watchdog apps, because it only alerts parents to potential problems found on the connected device. This allows parents to have peace of mind without being invasive.
Bason spoke with Hype about how his background positioned him to create Bark, the company’s unique value proposition, and how they’ve already impacted the market.
What was your background prior to founding Bark?
Before founding Bark, I was CTO at Niche, a solution that helps advertisers collaborate with influencers across social media, which was acquired by Twitter. Prior to that, I co-founded and served as CEO of CrowdStream, a mobile platform connecting touring bands, brands and consumers across mobile and social media, which was acquired by RadioIO. Previously I served as CTO at YouCast Corp., which was acquired by SocialChorus. I graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Physics.
Did your work in the influencer space (at Niche) help you identify these issues around cyberbullying?
Having worked in the social space for a long time, I was definitely cognizant of the high level of risks online for children. Technology is amazing, but it also opens up the doors for new risks.
Elevator pitch for Bark? What problem are you solving?
Bark keeps children safer online. Bark uses advanced algorithms to detect and proactively alert parents to issues their children face, such as cyberbullying, sexting, and signs of depression and suicidal thoughts. By only showing parents potential problems on their children’s social media, text messaging, and email accounts, Bark’s approach saves parents valuable time and helps build trust between parent and child.
What age is your target market?
Our target market is composed of parents of children with a connected device. As children are getting devices at increasingly younger ages, this is generally parents with children between the ages of 5-17.
How is Bark different from traditional parental controls?
Bark’s proprietary technology differs from traditional controls because it intelligently analyzes a child’s social activity behind the scenes, sends parents alerts about possible issues only and provides recommended actions on how to deal with issues. It also doesn’t interfere with safe behaviors and uses data science and machine learning, and is far more accurate than just looking for keywords.
How does Bark help you show respect for your children’s privacy, as compared to other monitoring solutions? Why did you feel this was important?
Since Bark only alerts parents to potential risks and does not give parents unfettered access to their child’s messages, safe communications remain private for the child. Our ability to do this is driven by proprietary AI/machine learning technology, which is far more accurate than simple keyword flagging or manual spot-checking approaches. In addition to the increased accuracy, taking this approach was also important to us philosophically — we fundamentally believe the child should be considered an integral part of the solution, and that part of our role is to help parents build trust and an open dialogue with their child about online safety and responsible digital usage.
How does the technology work?
At Bark we have developed advanced machine-learning algorithms and conversational analysis techniques to help alert parents when there is a potential issues. The algorithms were developed using a number of supervised and semi-supervised learning techniques, teaching the algorithm to identify a given issue (e.g. cyberbullying) by feeding it enormous amounts of examples of that issue along with enormous amounts of examples that are not that issue.
What data have you collected thus far? What does it reveal about cyberbullying?
After analyzing tens of millions of messages, we’ve seen a number of trends emerge around a variety of types of issues children experience online. In general, every month 54 percent of children covered by Bark’s services experience at least one alert, and 80 percent of the time parents report not knowing about the issue prior to receiving the alert from Bark.
What is your revenue model?
Bark is $9/month/family, or $99/year/family.
Funded or bootstrapped? Are you looking to raise?
We have raised about $2.5M in funding from an amazing group of investors. We’re not actively fundraising.
What have been your biggest successes thus far?
In general, our parents love the peace of mind and increased awareness that Bark provides. We’re also incredibly proud to have been able to bring awareness to over a dozen potentially fatal suicidal situations, which resulted in the child getting treatment.
What about your biggest challenge and/or obstacle?
One of the biggest challenges today is encouraging open and honest communications about the dangers online while being cognizant of the amazing and wonderful things technology brings to our lives. Children today have never been without the internet, and it can be challenging to effectively communicate parental concerns while engaging our kids input. Because of that, some parents ignore the issue completely, which leaves their child vulnerable to issues they don’t even know exist. The most important thing parents can do is to have open conversations with their children about those risks and how to stay safe online.
Are you hiring?
We are always on the lookout for amazing talent!
What are you most excited about in the year ahead?
Well, I was going to say Unicorn Frappucinos at Starbucks, but a ringing endorsement from Steve Harvey, being chosen as one of 36 companies to compete at 36|86 this June, helping to support the next Techstars class this fall, and reading this feature in Hype are all a close second. It’s truly hard to decide.