Startup founders are used to baring their souls in public, usually to describe the passion they have for their fledgling companies while explaining the reasons they decide to risk it all.
Then there’s Titania Jordan, a co-founder of Privet, a new social network that calls itself “the other Atlanta-based anonymity mobile player.” She’s in a video announcing Privet’s existence. Yes, it’s to promote her new company, but it remains an eye-opening display of bravery.
Staring directly into the camera, the host of WXIA’s Tech Edge show talks about her parent’s divorce, molestation, drugs and alcohol, fights with her husband, challenges raising a child, personal health issues. “Because life got really real the second I learned to make myself throw up to lose weight,” she says in the video.
That kind of honesty spotlights the reason for Privet’s existence: While other social networks let you offer up public “highlight reels” of your lives, showing you and your family at your best, Privet will let you talk about the tougher, darker aspects of real life with others who can offer support and possible solutions, all while protecting your identity. Discussions that might involve sex/relationships, addiction, body image, etc., are kept free from trolls, bullying and other abuse with a combination of technology, community policing and human moderation.
“Social (media) is wonderful and we love it, but it’s not authentic,” said Jordan. “You can’t even go online to talk about who you’re voting for or what religion you might adhere to for fear of losing your job or losing friends, so we need to keep it real.”
The conference room at Atlanta Tech Village where Jordan and other co-founders are discussing Privet with Hypepotamus is literally an iPhone’s throw away from the former offices of Yik Yak, the last anonymous social network to make noise in the tech world. There’s also Whisper, Snapchat, After School, Rumr and Secret – apps and websites targeting younger users who wanted to get away from Mom and Dad’s prying eyes on Facebook, Instagram and other mainstays of the social media age.
Privet speaks to a different need, one that was discovered years ago when Co-Founder Anne Bobel created a Facebook group called East Cobb Moms. It was initially conceived as a way for neighbors to buy, sell and trade items without submitting to the sketchiness of Craigslist. Then Bobel used it as a resource for checking with other moms about good pediatricians, speech therapists for kids, etc.
“It started to take up the whole feed,” Bobel said. Then she offered to pass along questions that the other moms might not want their names associated with – seeking marriage counselors, for example – and she would post them anonymously. “It created this sense of comfort. I’ve been doing this now for seven years, and I have a lot of very sensitive questions that people message me. I probably get 10-12 a day just in this group, and it’s some pretty tough stuff, but they feel comfortable knowing I’m protecting their identity and I would never share information about them.”
Chris Morocco, Privet CEO and Co-Founder, says Bobel’s experience validates the need that his company can meet. But he’s aware this field is starting to get crowded, and there have already been casualties: the Secret app shut down last year after its makers said they couldn’t control user abuse. Differentiating Privet will be key.
“Part of our creed is that we believe when responsible people are real, open and honest, they can help each other beyond what anyone can imagine,” Morocco said. He admitted that he wasn’t sure the online community would embrace Privet during a soft launch mostly in the Brookhaven and Buckhead neighborhoods last summer, “but based on what we’ve seen thus far, we think this movement not only continues to build internally within Privet, but we’re seeing outside factors in the marketplace that are pointing to us being in the right place.” Unlike Whisper, which is basically a series of meme-like photos with confessions in text over them, the Privet app offers conversations in different channels: Parenting, Health, Relationships, Stylin’, Man Cave, Current, Life, Funny. And definitely unlike Whisper, Secret and others, Privet has plans to make a business out of anonymity. “We’ve had organizations approach us about the opportunity to do some things where we can create groups and provide password-protected anonymity to groups,” Morocco said. “We think there’s an opportunity for a sponsorship-type model or a subscription-type model, but we need to continue to see how things pan out.”
The Privet team, with experience in the technology and startup worlds, isn’t ready yet to share download figures or other metrics, but Morocco did say downloads are up since the press release hit news wires. That might have something to do with the power in Jordan’s video, and the challenges of “real life” that is at the heart of Privet’s mission statement.
“If you know that just one other person has been there, and they’ve gotten through it, and there is another side,” Jordan said, “that’s all you need, and there’s just not enough of that.”