MeWe CEO Mark Weinstein on how his company is positioning itself as the anti-Facebook

Steven Loeb · July 17, 2019 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4e5c

MeWe just passed 5 million members, with 30 million expected by the end of the year

Social media, and Facebook in particular, have had a rough go of it over the last few years, with seemingly scandal after scandal, from Russians using the platform to effect the 2016 election to the Cambridge Analytica scandal in early 2018, which shone a harsh light on how major companies like Facebook, as well as Twitter and Google, were handling their data. Just last week, in fact, Facebook was fined $5 billion by the FTC, the largest fine ever doled out by the agency but one that has been called "an embarrassing joke" and which actually caused the company's value to go up.

As more people become concerned about their privacy, as well as what social media companies are doing with their data, and as more people begin to take action to protect themselves, there's an opening for a company who truly cares about privacy to swoop in.

That company is MeWe, a fast growing social network which, last month, raised a $4.5 million round from "high-net-worth investors," including Mark Britto, Chairman and Founder of Boku, bringing its total funding to $15 million.

Founded by Mark Weinstein, one of the early inventors of social media and a leading privacy advocate the company is positioning itself as the “Next-Gen Social Network”, complete with a beautifully integrated suite of social network features, and a member “Privacy Bill of Rights” that outlines how the company is handling user data, with rules like: "You own your personal information & content. It is explicitly not ours," and "We do not manipulate, filter, or change the order of your news feeds. Only you can do that."

The company recently passed five million users, and is now on track to have 30 million members by year's end, while projecting 150 million by the end of 2020. The company saw 405 percent growth in 2018 and is already growing twice as fast on a daily basis in 2019.

Weinstein spoke to VatorNews about the importance of MeWe’s rise in popularity and its “privacy-by-design”, and how MeWe is different, and better, than all the current mainstream social networks. He gave us his take on upending the social media landscape by providing all of us with "the best social networking experience and privacy, respect, and control for us and our data."

VatorNews: Give me the high level explanation of what MeWe is all about. What is the problem that you have identified and how are you solving it?

Mark Weinstein: MeWe is the fun, uplifting social experience in the spirit of love, trust and control. MeWe is social done right. No ads, no spyware, no BS. MeWe member data is not for sale. MeWe has all the features people love for connecting with friends, family, and like-minded constituencies, including news feeds; chats; pages; private and open groups; disappearing content; custom camera; GIF creation; live voice and video; voice messaging; secret chat with double-ratchet encryption; personal cloud; and more. MeWe is available worldwide in 19 languages on Android, iOS, and Desktop.

We’ve translated MeWe into 19 languages worldwide. MeWe has no ads, spying, targeting, sharing/selling of user data, or news feed manipulation. And there is no shadow banning or political bias. MeWe does have a strict Terms of Service so members feel safe, in control, and protected. We like to say “MeWe is for the good guys.”

VN: When did you first announce MeWe? How has been growing in terms of members, funding?

MW: We announced MeWe officially in 2016 at SXSW and were immediately named Startup of the Year Finalist for “Innovative World Technology.”

MeWe has been growing over 100 percent every year since 2016, and last year we grew 405 percent. Here’s what’s really different about us: over the years there have been a handful companies that have called themselves Facebook competitors, but none of them truly are because, to be a competitor you have to build a platform. Facebook is not a one trick pony, they have many features and services that people enjoy using. MeWe is the first true Facebook competitor, unlike Twitter and Snap, because we endeavored to engineer and build an entire platform, with all the features people love and many unique to MeWe, and without any of the BS those other companies serve up.

MeWe is here and we’re growing remarkably. Also, our funding has been really awesome, with $15 million from visionary high net worth investors who get it – they love our mission and execution, and they’re keen on the problem we’re solving, the solution we’re offering, and our remarkable upside potential for their investment.

By the way, I’m one of the handful of people who invented the first social media platforms. In my case, back in 1998 I created SuperFamily.com and SuperFriends.com, which were ranked by PC Magazine as “Top 100” sites. Those sites provided people of the world with great social networking experiences connecting family and friends. A few years ago, when Mark Zuckerberg said, ‘Privacy is a social norm of the past,’ that statement floored me – privacy is built into the DNA of our Constitution. I decided in that moment, to change my life, come back to social media and build the next generation social experience for people of the world that eliminated spying, targeting and news feed manipulation. Today we call those companies part of “surveillance capitalism.” MeWe is different – we believe in traditional capitalism – our members are customers to serve, not data to sell.

VN: Who is the typical customer for you? What audience are you going after?

MW: It’s a great question. MeWe has already been successful when so many others have fallen by wayside that claimed to be new social networks because we have great one-to-one communication, news feeds and great group communication tech. We have a whole open directory of thousands of individual groups of like-minded people, all started by members, including sports, fitness, health, hiking, entertainment, politics, music, news, and so much more. What we found is that constituencies like to move together to sites where they are welcomed. People are censored for totally normal, legal behavior today; for example, Facebook censored vegans in 2018, whereas MeWe sponsored a Vegan film by Plant Based News. Facebook has allowed targeted ads to LGBTQ people offering gay conversion, they’ve allowed targeted black community with ads discouraging them from voting, and the amount of fake news promoted into member’s news feeds is stunning. This can never happen on MeWe. So, there are many reasons why large groups and individuals come to MeWe.

The Facebook algorithm determines how many posts you see but MeWe has no algorithm manipulating that; if you’re following a MeWe page, group, or member, for example a fitness group or entertainment/star page or any group or member, everything they post MeWe is seen by you. 100 percent of the posts of pages, groups, or members that you follow come into your news feed in timeline order. That is the natural order. There’s no news feed manipulation because we’re not in the ad business. Facebook is data company masquerading as a social media company, and we have a completely different approach.

VN: Talk to me about your business model. You’re ad-free and freemium. What do users pay for? Why is this a better model than the Facebook/Twitter ad model?

MW: Our philosophy is different. The targeted ad model is now being labeled as surveillance and I don't believe in surveillance capitalism. It’s a distortion and off-purpose misinterpretation of what capitalism is meant to be. It’s written into our Constitution that we have a right to privacy.

We are classic capitalism as it’s intended, where you’re our customer, and just like you might do at a restaurant, you can order some extra things. We will be free forever, and everything you need is absolutely free, but we know from research that freemium works well when your customers love the free part and want to support your business. So, for example, if you are a MeWe member, you enjoy 2,800 emojis for free, but many MeWe members want to customize their posts and communications, so we also offer custom emojis and this week we premiered our custom sticker store too. Asian social network LINE makes $300 million annually from selling stickers to its Japanese members, by the way. At MeWe you pay as little as 99 cents for a custom emoji or sticker pack. We offer live voice and live video chat for 99 cents per month. We give you eight gigabytes of storage free, which holds around 16,000 photos, but for $3.99 per month you can get 50 gigs. We’ve got MeWe pages, so for $1.99 a month you can have your own page with followers and be in our “Page directory,” which is perfect for stars, athletes, musicians, businesses, news outlets, etc. So, for $24 a year on MeWe you can have as many followers as you want, and 100 percent of them will receive 100 percent of your posts in their page news feeds. We also have scheduled posts, and a lot of other cool stuff. Later this year we’ll have gaming options too.

And check this out: we also have a separate division called MeWePro.com, which is a Slack competitor. We’ve taken our beautiful suite of communication features and bundled it into a white-labeled, walled-in enterprise collaboration platform that scales beautifully for organizations, teams, and projects of 50 – 250,000 people. It is just $7.99 per month per person and is superior to Slack. MeWePRO is also free for non-profits. So we have a very robust revenue model and, while we’re not quoting dollar figures right now, I can say we did 3x revenue in the first six months of this year versus what we did all of last year.

VN: I want to get your thoughts on the Facebook fine from the FTC. Many commentators have said it isn’t big enough. What do you think would be an appropriate punishment for these types of violations?

MW: It’s complex. Facebook needs to be held accountable but did they get fined enough? No. It doesn’t have enough sting and it’s unlikely to change their behavior. As reporters have already noted, after the announcement of the $5 billion price tag, investor concerns of a larger fine were jettisoned and their value increased more than the fine, that says it all. Facebook already has had, for over 10 years, clear privacy policies in place intended to protect member privacy, so the challenge is not regulating what their privacy policy should be, because they’ve proven that it isn’t about what the policy says, it’s about whether they actually abided by it. Do what you say you’re going to do and they did not. Facebook got fined for Cambridge Analytica, and the Cambridge Analytica CEO said that they had data on 220 million Americans, not 87 million as reported. So, the bottom line is, fines should be tougher for violating their own stated polices; we don’t need more regulations, rather we need stronger fines, and in some cases that means new legislation that allows governing bodies to impose larger fines. But in this case the FTC had the leverage and could have fined Facebook even a trillion dollars.

VN: The FTC fine was, I believe, the largest ever handed down, but it was still only something like one month of revenue for Facebook. Is the company too big to be regulated?

MW: I don’t think question is if it’s too big to regulate effectively, it’s about the interference of money and lobbyists on decisions by governing bodies. That’s the issue here. Facebook has very deep pockets, and I was reading that they were negotiating with the FTC and the regulators about what the fine was going to be. This is where the issue is: companies that have a lot of cash, and a lot of lobbyists, are able to influence government regulatory decisions and regulations. I’m not a big advocate of Facebook being regulated or broken up; I believe in the free market system and MeWe’s success, as I’ve written about in the Wall Street Journal, reinforces that the free market system is working. But companies should be held accountable for what they promise their customers. That’s what this fine is about, it’s just that in this case, Facebook’s relative scale and size, in relation to this fine, make it seem like a slap on the wrist.

I also want to say something else about the question you asked earlier about the target audience: you can’t register on MeWe unless you’re 16 or older. I’ve written before about Facebook Messenger for Kids ages six to 11, and how that’s dangerous, and just a veiled feeder into their ecosystem. I don’t think young kids should be accessing social media, at all. There are so many credible research studies today that conclude that social media is unhealthy in countless ways for youngsters. That’s why MeWe is for those 16 and older. Demographically, it’s kids in college, and just out of college, who are the youth of the MeWe population. They’re not interested in just posting, they’ve outgrown Facebook and Snap, and they want authentic, real conversations, and want to share the fun stuff without Google, or a future grad school or employer or boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife being able to uncover it too. MeWe protects privacy that way. People enjoy the freedom to share content that is serious, fun, uplifting and very real, knowing that it is just for those they want to share it with, nobody else.

VN: Bullying is another thing where those services have terms of service that don’t seem to be enforced.

MW: MeWe is committed to creating a safe place for all walks of life to communicate and connected without fear of intimidation, hate, violence, or bullying. Bullying comes in all kinds of forms and everyday all social media companies are dealing with bullies, human trolls and bad actors. At MeWe we have a Trust and Safety team and another great thing about us is that you can’t just target somebody or something. Ad-based social media companies allow marketers to target young teenagers and everyone else, identifying emotional vulnerabilities and target those member with products to purchase. Ugh. Not on MeWe. And on MeWe, you can opt out of our member directory, which you cannot do on those other sites. The basic fundamentals on MeWe are so different and so much better when it comes to protection from bullying and harassment.

VN: Your advisory board includes Sir Tim Berners-Lee. How has he helped you?

MW: MeWe’s Advisory board includes several thought and business leaders, such as the inventor of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of Conscious Capitalism, Raj Sisodia, leading technology academic, Sherry Turkle, and several others of similar pedigree and expertise. This is humbling and keeps our company accountable to the values and high ground of our mission. Our advisers love MeWe and what we’re doing. They offer help and advice in countless areas.

Tim gives us great advice about doing the right thing for people worldwide. It’s an honor to have him as an adviser; he’s an incredible man, a rightful world hero. Importantly, Tim is deeply focused on fixing the issues of the Web. One of his fixes is his new protocol, Solid, which decentralizes data ownership for people all over the world and restores private data ownership. MeWe plans to be the first social media company to implement Solid.

VN: Where would you like to see social media go and how will MeWe help get it there?

MW: Social media, I believe, is going to be around for a long, long time – and certainly we’re going to see it evolve. MeWe is a perfect example of the evolution. Also, different technologies are coming, like Virtual Reality (VR), which is something that Facebook has invested a lot of money into and acquired many VR companies, to make the social experience with family and friends different and artificially surreal. We see it differently, and are not investing in any VR. At MeWe our focus is exclusively on real social networking, real community, and real life.

VN: What does success look like for you?

MW: We’re already successful, with rapid growth and recognition as the leading next-gen social network. We are looking at having upwards of 30 million users this year, that’s our target. By the end of 2021, we anticipate upwards of 300 million people using MeWe worldwide.

Further success is coming as we show the world that a free social network with a freemium business model works perfectly and generates excellent revenue. MeWe is showing the world that awesome social networking in the spirit it was originally intended is the right way and the best experience for users. We are a great success today. We have a great product and a great team and we’re doing the right thing. Every day I’m excited when I wake up because of what we are doing, who’s with us, and how we’re serving the people all over the world.

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