True Aims to Reroute How Users Connect on Social Media

The social networking platform connects users with people they actually know and doesn’t sell anyone’s online data.

Written by Ashley Bowden
Published on Feb. 15, 2023
True Aims to Reroute How Users Connect on Social Media
True founder Bret Cox poses for a photo against a gray pattern background.
Bret Cox, True founder and CEO. | Image: True / Built In

Sure the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the tech titans aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector.

In an effort to highlight up-and-coming tech companies, Built In launched The Future 5 across seven major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five early-stage tech companies, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing. Read our round-up of San Francisco’s rising startups from last quarter here.

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Our favorite social media apps tend to have many commonalities, from endless feeds showcasing our friends’ status updates to short-form video reels of their recent activities. While privacy settings differ from app to app, it’s generally not surprising to see one’s social network slowly become overrun with updates on strangers’ lives. Many social apps focus on simply growing someone’s network rather than ensuring they connect with people they actually know.

True decided to take a different route. The social networking platform still provides users with a space to share content among friends, but it does so in a much more controlled way.

On True, users can create an unlimited number of feeds called threads. These threads can be set to public or private. Users can add as many people as they want and control who gets to come in and out of a thread. The platform is focused on people users actually know and enables them to share content safely within the platform. Once someone shares something on True, it can’t be shared on other social platforms.

“If you think about these large companies, we never agreed to let these companies be in the middle of our personal relationships,” Bret Cox, True’s founder and CEO, told Built In. “But instead, what they’re doing is they’re pulling you back into these systems in order to mine every bit of data that they can from you in order to sell you things.”

This concept of surveillance capitalism is precisely what True intends to counteract. Collecting user data to display targeted advertising content may be profitable for businesses, but it can be viewed as invading the users’ privacy. True doesn’t retain its users’ information. If someone leaves a thread, all of the data they shared within it leaves with them. The same goes for if they delete their account altogether.

Product snapshots of the True app
Image: True / Built In

Because it doesn’t profit from targeted ads, True operates a subscription model for the content creators on its platform. For instance, if a content creator posts recipe hacks or stock market tips on their threads, True can charge users looking to access that content. 

Additionally, True leverages keyword advertising in its public threads. This means creators can run curated ads within their own threads based on keywords that relate to what the thread is about. This way True can show users relevant ads without selling their personal information. 

“[Social media] is no longer about the social graph or connecting with a friend or a family. It’s about [keeping] your attention … because that’s how [those companies] make money,” Cox said. “The longer that you are addicted to that platform, the more ads they can show you. So it’s just a loop that recurs. We want to be part of the conversation as a healthy replacement.”

So far, its mission has been resonating. True’s user base has grown at a rate of 20 percent per month since September when its app was released, Cox said. With thousands of users on the platform, True doubled in size and engagement over the holiday season.

Building upon its recent success, the company is pursuing a jam-packed product roadmap. Its first initiative is doubling down on its privacy features. True is engineering a way for users to narrow down the content they’d like to see by sorting feeds either chronologically or algorithmically, Cox said.

Additionally, True plans to launch a product called Days which will allow users to engage with one another on collaborative mobile stories. After starting a “Day,” friends can share photos with each other in a thread and then combine them into a story format.

To date, True has pulled in $18 million in venture funding to fuel the build of its solution. As the social media platform continues to grow, True’s focus on doing right by its users is unwavering.

“[The True team] is a group of folks that are trying to do the right thing,” Cox said. “This is not about money. It’s not about growth. It’s about building a sustainable product that is healthier for your family than not.”

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