Updated: Aug 10, 2020
We're excited to profile Trill Project, an anonymous social network that allows users to freely express themselves in a supportive and safe community.
We spoke to the Co-Founder Georgia Messenger a junior at Harvard and Co-President of Harvard Ventures about how she started Trill Project and her journey so far:
Firstly how did you meet your Co-Founder Ari Sokolov and what ignited the momentum to start Trill Project?
We (Georgia and Ari) met in North Carolina where we were both being recognized in the top 1% of female computer scientists in the nation by the National Center for Women and Information Technology when we were seniors in high school. Bank of America had flown us across the country for this weekend of hackathons, career recruitment, and team building. It was there (all the way across the country) that we discovered some uncanny similarities about each other. Not only were we both born within a few days of each other and lived within a few blocks of each other back home in Los Angeles, but also we both channelled our insecurities and anxieties about ourselves and the world into our coding. We realized we only had a few years left in our youth where we didn’t need to work for anyone else. Instead, we could be our own bosses and design our own adventure to truly make a difference in the world. Thus, Trill Project was created with Ari taking the lead on tech and Georgia taking the lead on communications, marketing, finances. Additionally, a good friend of ours at the time had shared how challenging her experience was coming out as bisxual, so, inspired by this, we decided to focus the early design of Trill on serving LGBTQ+ teens.
You’re both recipients of many prestigious awards, in particular you’re the awardee of the NCWIT National and the President’s National Volunteer Service Award. Can you tell us a little about both these awards and what they mean to you?
We’re really grateful to have been selected for various awards personally and for Trill. However, what’s most meaningful about these honors is the relationships that come with them. We wouldn’t have even met if it weren’t for NCWIT! We’ve made some of our greatest friends and also found new Trill team members through networks like this.
What made you become an entrepreneur? Is this something you've always wanted to pursue?
I actually wrote a blog post about this here as well. Long story short: I never intended to be an entrepreneur. I just believe there are so many problems in the world, and building businesses to address these problems is one of the most effective ways to bring solutions to market quickly and ethically. I love to build things and help others, and being an entrepreneur allows me to do that every day (as my job!).
When it comes to social media today, why is it important to create authenticity and anonymity in today’s online ecosystem?
Throughout all of our middle and high school lives, we have watched and participated in the millennial craze over social media. While social media can (and does) do some good, filters, catfishing, facetune, body shaming, and cyber bullying have turned existing online networks into public hubs for isolation and negativity. Probably everywhere, and especially in LA, it can feel like everyone around you is in competition to win the Most Curated Instagram award. It also didn’t help that we never knew which sites or corporations actually had access to all our ‘personal’ information. We’ve found with Trill by being anonymous we allow people to escape all the artificial labels that constrain them in everyday life. It is so critical not only to set realistic expectations for young people but also just for mental health in general that social content is True and Real above all else.
With rising mental health issues that are increasingly becoming linked to online bullying and defamation - how does Trill Project look to create an inclusive and positively rewarding community for people to feel safe?
As young women in STEM, we’ve found a great purpose in working together and creating something meaningful for our community. We may have built Trill, but our users are the driving force behind many of the most popular feature requests, such as private messages, integrated emergency resources, and trigger warnings on posts in the app. We want Trill to foster a sense of comfort, collaboration, and community for others around the globe. Trill Project is all about creating communities where we can focus on building each other up instead of tearing each other down. The resulting dialogue is authentic, powerful, and invites users to think, reflect, and elevate social media into something we’re really proud of.
I noticed your platform has no likes but rather the ability to privately clap to your “tribe” and there are no followers. Can you tell us more about this strategy and why it’s important for building a supportive Trill Project community?
We’re made by teenagers who deeply relate to, have insights on, and care about the issues we’re solving. We designed Trill with the intention to keep trolls of the platform with a chronological feed and the removal of likes and followers to essentially turn social media on its head. We’ve found trolls feed off the attention of getting lots of likes, so we eliminated that. We replace followers with friends, emojis with True feelings, and selfies with Real people. Our goal is to create a supportive environment where everyone is heard and validated equally among peers.
When it comes to user experience, what is Trill Project doing differently to other social networks?
Large social networks don’t have the credibility to protect user data, and the populations we are helping are underserved because they are yet to have solutions designed for them. But we’re very passionate about creating these solutions. Our competitors fall into two categories: 1) mainstream social networks (like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr) and 2) niche service providers (like Huddle and BetterHelp). We’re capturing the best of both worlds through a platform that is social and user oriented but also connected with accessible resources.
Are there any specific communities, demographics or groups the Trill Project over serves or embraces? For example was it originally formed to be inclusive of transgender teens that felt they didn’t have a safe place to be themselves correct? If so how diverse is your current community today?
We originally launched with the intention of serving the LGBTQ+ community. But since we’ve expanded to include people from all walks of life. Trill is a home for anyone struggling with mental health, recovering from trauma, or just looking to make friends in a safe alternative to mainstream social networks. Anyone and everyone is welcome on Trill.
Social Media is often used to create in some respects loud public buzz, take Tik Tok for example. An app that is extremely voyeuristic and public facing. Whereas Trill Project seems to be designed to be private and anonymous. How important is it to have diverse social networks that cater to all people and not just those wanting to be “influencers”?
Building digital communities that are private and inclusive to all is so important. Not everyone wants (or is even safe) to openly disclose aspects of their identities or inner feelings (due to home life, political climates, etc.). So we want Trill to be that place of refuge where everyone is equal to share their lived experiences without fear of judgement, and there are no “influencers” in this sort of landscape.
What is the user experience for storytelling on Trill Project. Many social networks are popular as they give users the ability to tell stories and connect with others. How does the Trill Project create storytelling experiences for it's users?
Users on Trill can make posts, answer questions, or pose questions to the community. Additionally, we have a content channel within our app where we share the stories of creators we interview in our Trill Talks.
How does Trill Project ensure anonymity for it’s users? Do you have any special protocols in place to ensure this?
Users on Trill choose a color and that determines your randomly selected identity. Once you spend time on the app to increase your Support Score, then you can also unlock new colors. If a user feels like their identity has been compromised, then they can easily change their color selection for a new username. All you need to register for a Trill account is an email and password.
Trill Project launched in 2018, what have been your key learnings since then to now?
We’ve learned to not implement something that hasn’t been designed around user needs and to act on user feedback quickly; analytics are the best way to find what users will actually use. We know what our company’s goals are (making the Internet and world a safer space), and we prioritize our time and resources towards this goal unconditionally.
At what stage are you in your fundraising cycle and what is your advice to any startup looking to raise capital for a social network?
All the funding we’ve raised to date has been equity free. Since our team is composed of all full time students, our advice to any founders in a similar stage of life to us is to build with purpose and meaning. Take advantage of pitch competitions, incubators, grants, etc. Bootstrap for as long as you can, especially for a social network where your expenses can be next to nothing if you have your tech talent in house. And when you do go on to raise from third parties, be sure that investor aligns with your company’s mission and values.
About the Author
January Barnes - Head Reporter at ParlayMe - she is an experienced global tech news journalist. She is passionate about supporting visionaries on their quest to achieve unicorn status