By Melissa Ravi | 15 Nov 2022
In today’s digital age, where it is so vital for everyone to have a social media presence, online validation is intensely sought after, and the lack of it has become a widespread source of anxiety.
This very fear kept me off social media for a long time. I was afraid of how people would judge me or if I would get emotionally caught up in trollish engagements.
This problem is very real among Gen Z and younger demographics. Members of the creator community especially are often subjected to cyberbullying and toxicity – they may be body-shamed or picked on for having different views.
As humans, we are not wired to constantly deal with this much hate. We may come across hundreds of positive comments on social platforms, but if we get one or two hostile comments, our brains tend to dwell on the negative.
This got me thinking. What if we could enjoy social media interactions that have no room for hate? What if we could create the world’s first toxicity-free social network? This is precisely what I set out to build with Wildr.
My journey to becoming a founder
You may be wondering how someone who’s built a marketing career in the financial industry ended up as a tech entrepreneur.
Well, my journey started in Singapore, where I moved with my family when I was seven. After graduating from the Singapore Management University with a bachelor’s degree in information systems, I eventually moved to the States to join my husband, Vidit, who was working as a software engineer in the Bay Area.
After working at Visa for nearly four years – first in business development, then in marketing analytics – I joined an internet marketing startup called Zenreach (now known as Adentro). That was a really great learning experience for me. In bigger companies, you are focused on a small aspect of the business, but in smaller companies, you get to have your hands in everything.
My next role was at Braintree, an entity that had been acquired by PayPal. There, I enjoyed the balance of working in a startup-like environment within a bigger organisation, before moving on to lead enterprise campaigns for all of PayPal across North America.
Living in Silicon Valley, the mecca of innovation, I was always surrounded by tech conversations, up-and-coming startups, and I got to witness how businesses were evolving. All this got me thinking about starting something of my own, but what really changed everything for me was the onset of the pandemic.
The genesis of Wildr
For many years now, Vidit and I have been mentored by Om Swami, a monk who practises a philosophy of compassion. Before giving up the material world and devoting his life to helping people, he was a businessman and a multimillion-dollar startup founder.
Through conversations with thousands of people, he became attuned to the negative impact of social media and how it affects users, emotionally and psychologically. This was an issue that Om Swami often discussed with us, and we began to bounce around an idea for what eventually became Wildr.
When COVID hit, the world was plunged into a time of upheaval, and it got me thinking about my path in life. I was doing really well in my career and could have continued to grow in it. But my mind kept going back to what Jeff Bezos once said about making choices that use our gifts and follow our convictions, so that we won’t look back when we are 80 and regret not having tried.
Building Wildr felt like an exciting, meaningful choice that could change the face of social media, make a huge impact on people’s lives, and help spread kindness, compassion, and empathy around the world.
So, what was I waiting for? For me, a corporate job was something I could always go back to. I felt something inside me saying, I have to do this.
I quit my job to focus wholeheartedly on Wildr, leading it as CEO, with Vidit as technical advisor, and our founder Om Swami continuing to guide product strategy.
Building a next-generation app
Our mission with Wildr is to solve the issue of toxic user behaviour on social media, the repercussions of which will be amplified once we get into the metaverse, where there are even fewer guardrails.
With the app, we aren’t curtailing freedom of expression; rather, we’re providing a platform where users can voice their thoughts in a constructive and non-hateful manner. We believe everyone should be able to express what they feel without fearing vitriol and malicious backlash.
70% of toxicity online happens because people are hiding behind fake or anonymous IDs. To tackle this, our platform requires every user to go through our facial detection technology to verify their identity and prove that they are a real person.
Each profile also has a coloured ring: green indicates you are contributing positively, neutral indicates you’re not an active contributor, and red indicates you’ve been caught hating on others or violating community policies.
What makes Wildr a next-generation social network is the proprietary AI technology we’re developing to help detect and filter toxic comments. Our app also eliminates the typical ad monetisation model that sells data to third parties, and we will soon be introducing ways for every user to seamlessly monetise their content.
It’s always a bumpy ride, but a fun one
Challenges are an inescapable part of the founder’s life. During the pre-seed phase of a startup, operational activities get so demanding that you feel like you’re doing a thousand things at a time! Learning to strike a balance between inward- and outward-facing responsibilities has been essential.
What really helps is, internally, having a solid team and, externally, meeting and conferring with other founders, including fellow Singaporean founders in the Bay Area that I’ve connected with through the Singapore Global Network. Having a common cultural background means we often have similar approaches and ways of working.
Despite the current slowdown in startup funding, the Wildr team is proud to have raised $2.5 million in capital from Agya Ventures and angel investors. And even though our app has only just launched, we’ve already been getting thousands of sign-ups.
These small wins feel good, not just because we are making progress towards our mission, but also as a female CEO building a social media company. While there are lots of women in the industry contributing through varied roles, there are hardly enough females leading tech companies today. I believe women bring an edge and a valuable perspective to the table because we are able to look at things through a more holistic lens.
To women thinking about becoming startup founders, I say: It’s never too late. There has never been a better time to take advantage of the resources and support available to us today.
If you’re a student, consider doing a tech-related minor. If you’re a working professional, ask to transition into a tech role, get involved in relevant courses and communities, or find mentors that can help you out. And if you feel like getting your dose of content within a positive, authentic community, let’s connect on Wildr!
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Based in Silicon Valley, Melissa is co-founder and CEO of Wildr, the world’s first toxicity-free social network, which has raised $2.5 million in pre-seed capital, led by Agya Ventures.
Connect with her here.