Look out Facebook and Google: Steve Twyman, founder of San Marcos startup Connect23.com, is hoping to offer a better option.
Four years ago, he launched Connect23.com with a simple idea: provide a safe social media experience without all the privacy issues. It’s been operational for two years to date.
“As a follower of the internet, I knew several years ago of the privacy invasion going on by ‘big tech’ and I created Connect23.com to address those issues,” he said. “I just needed to wait for the market to mature and I think the time is right to start to get the word out.”
Twyman’s target audience is anyone who values their privacy.
“We believe this crosses all demographics,” he said. “In the near term, we believe those that have been banned (temporarily or permanently) from major social websites for their medical views or political views are actively looking for an alternative they can trust.”
“We also believe that there is a large portion of our culture (5 to 10 percent) who value private communications to the point that they would switch to a service like Connect23.com if they know it exists. We have been laying low from a marketing standpoint as consumers become more aware of privacy issues. We believe the time is now to start to grow market share.”
Twyman said his website is for “everyday people,” and “it is not a site for illegal activity to occur.”
“It is simply a way to communicate without your personal information being shared to third parties and leveraged for their profit,” he said.
Who he is
Twyman, 55, and a father of four, has a tech background so this venture is fitting. With his bachelor of science degree in mathematical sciences from UC Santa Barbara and a master’s degree from UC San Diego in software engineering business operations (formally called architecture-based enterprise systems engineering), he has a comprehensive background in all aspects of software engineering.
“I have been a software engineer since college and have worked in both the commercial and defense industries as a software engineer and business leader,” he said. “I have designed, developed and deployed several types of applications, from web-based email, to large-scale databases, to first-responder software and specialized engineering applications.”
The idea began seven years ago, when he was talking to a colleague about starting a company. They considered several ideas all centered on privacy-based software services.
“We explored many ideas but had different beliefs on where and how to move the company forward,” he said. “Ultimately, we split ways and in 2014, I started building Connect23.com.”
The website went beta in 2015 and launched in 2016 and he is hoping it becomes an alternative to other social media options.
“We initially published a few press releases, but determined we needed to be patient,” he recalled.
“The overall purpose of the site is to allow people to communicate knowing their posts will never be profiled and their personal information will never be sold to third parties,” he said.
Twyman said Connect23.com’s approach, unlike big tech (e.g. Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc.), protects individual users’ privacy from third parties. He said this approach will make it competitive for these other reasons:
- Big tech exploits user’s personal information which upsets people.
- Big tech bans people based on user’s political and medical views. This forces users to look for an alternative.
- Big tech is forced to consistently sell access to even more personal data to satisfy Wall Street’s desire for ever increasing revenues. Now big tech allows third parties (via “apps”) to gain access to friend lists, individual posts, pictures etc., and use that data in ways the public is unaware of.
- Technology is at a point where a small company can keep its operating costs low while it becomes viable.
- Connect23.com is architected such that it can incrementally scale its technology and operating costs as its user base expands.
- Operating as a privately held company is critical to establishing trust with users. If it were a publicly held corporation or it required large sums of venture capital, those investors would want a quick return, pressuring it to sell personal information.
Today, the website supports computers/laptop and phone-based browsers. Twyman is finalizing phone apps for the Apple and Android stores now and will launch those by March 1 or sooner.
But if there are no ads on the Connect23.com website how does it make money?
“Like Consumer Reports, we will cover operating expenses via modest subscription fees,” he said. “The Connect23.com business model is based on two tenants: Staying privately held and subscription fees. Both tenants must be in place to protect the consumer.”
He said this assures that it can operate free from advertiser and Wall Street influence. This is required to build trust with people, he explained.
At Connect23.com, being subscription-based means there is a contract (the subscription, if you will) between Connect23.com its users. This guarantees customers’ interests are its only interest. And that is only half the equation. Connect23.com is, and will always be, privately held. This is critical to staying true to its customers’ interests, he said.
“Conversely a public corporation is pushed by Wall Street to constantly grow revenue and market share (or have their stock price drop),” Twyman said. “This forces companies such as Facebook to come up with new ways to profile people’s personal lives and sell access to that information. And that is not in the best interest of people because no one knows how that information may and will be used.”
A new source
In the end, Connect23.com is hoping to be the top trusted source for privacy-based internet services.
“Social media is only our first service and we will offer additional services as Connect23 grows and builds its brand,” he said. “We also want to give to charity through our efforts. We have established membership plans that donate to charity groups of each user’s choice.”
And will it be a hit? Will it be able to compete with those big tech companies Twyman talks about?
“I strongly believe that a subscription-based social media service will become a viable business and we will be a hit for our users,” he said. “Over time, as consumers become increasingly informed about privacy issues, they will gravitate toward Connect23.com. I do not think Facebook is going away; however, I do think people are looking for a safe alternative and will join Connect23.com to communicate with their friends and family without being exploited.”
As for Twyman he is fully dedicated to making the company a success and has devoted the last six-plus years to this effort.
“I do have another job to help with bills as I make Connect23.com self-sustainable,” he said.
Besides Twyman, Connnect23.com has an advisory board with members possessing internet startup experience based in Silicon Valley and on the East Coast. The company itself has a small number of engineers who support the product and ongoing operations.
And if you’re wondering how Twyman came up with the name he said: “It’s an easy place to connect like 1,2,3, and having a number in the name makes it easier to remember. Like 7-Eleven, Motel 6 and Six Flags.”
Visit Connect23.com to sign up, learn more. Cost of service starts at $3/month.