anti social media

Houston startup aims to flip the script on social media marketing

Big companies are using your data to make a profit — but what if you got a kickback of that cash? That's what Houston-based Social Chains is trying to do. Pexels

Social media companies are using user data for their own financial gain, but what if users had a cut in the profits? That's the business model for Houston-based Social Chains.

"Social Chains is a social media platform of real people, real privacy, and real rewards," says Srini Katta, founder and CEO of the company. "We're fixing three problems in the social media industry."

The first problem is that user data has market value, but only the Facebook, Google, and other platforms are reaping the rewards, not the user, who's the backbone of the platform. User privacy and a growing number of fake accounts are the other issues Social Chains addresses. Katta says he realized that most importantly, users should own their data

"On our platform, the user is a stakeholder. Our platform distributes 50 percent of the profits to the users," he says.

User privacy is protected and encrypted on this new platform, and users must register with a government-issued identification. Social Chains prevents fake accounts by using facial recognition.

The biggest differentiating factor of this platform is that users make real money, but it's kept track by the site's token system, which uses blockchain technology, and users receive some of the so-called "S tokens" just for signing up. And, businesses only pay for the ads that users engage with. For instance, for a marketing email, businesses will only pay for the emails that were actually opened. It's a win-win situation, as the user receives a kickback whenever they open a marketing email or engage with ads.

Social Chains already has 5,000 users and, Katta says, that's with little to no marketing efforts. Currently, he's been working out a few kinks before launching into marketing for the platform, though he expects to do that beginning next month. Most of Social Chain's current users are high school to college students, so that will be the primary demographic for the marketing strategy.

Katta says he first encountered some of the challenges using social media marketing at one of his former startups when attempting to use Facebook ads to grow the company. He says he saw increased engagement, but not as significant of an increase in sign ups on his company page.

"We looked back to see who are the people clicking on the ads," he says. "We looked at their profiles, and they were not from the United States, even though we had given geographic preferences."

He found out that third party ad management platforms were working with Facebook and click farms all around the world to increase engagement results. Katta starting thinking of a solution for this marketing problem.

"Then, in 2016, with the rise of 'fake news,' we realized this was a bigger problem," he says.

In addition to user growth, Katta hopes to grow his investors, and the company is seeking funds for its seed round in 2019.

"To be honest, we need $100 million to build this out, so we're trying to raise money," Katta says. "Personally, I've put in $3.5 million before I took any money from investors. I have a lot of skin in the game."

Currently, Social Chains has three team members, with a fourth joining soon. Diane Yoo, who is a founding member and director of the Rice Angel Network, leads growth and investor relations for the company. One obstacle for the team has been being spread out from Houston to The Woodlands and even Austin.

"I've lived in New York and San Francisco. I moved to Houston because I wanted a quiet place to raise my family," Katta says. "The biggest challenge for Houston, compared to other cities, is other cities are so dense. Houston is so sprawling. It's really hard to network, and meet potential employees."

One of the crucial connectors for Katta has been Station Houston. The team plans on meeting to work together two days a week at Station. In addition to being a great workspace, the area acts as a good hub for potential partnerships for Social Chains. Startups need marketing, of course.

Houston-based HATCH Pitch has revealed its four finalists. The startups will take the stage during SXSW in March. Courtesy of HATCH Pitch

For the eighth year, Houston-based HATCH Pitch is headed to Austin for SXSW to host its pitch competition focused on startups making the world a better place.

This year's competition, which takes place on March 11, will be between four finalists. While the competition is invite only to guests, the pitches will be streamed online in an interactive way, so viewers can post comments or questions to the mentors, pitchers, and judges.

  • Sydney-based Edwel Energy is an app that allows users to compare the carbon footprint of millions of different products and services to enhance their eco-friendly decision-making process.
  • eHealthNow, based in Philadelphia, is the first HIPAA compliant platform that optimizes treatment plans for cancer patients in China by using oncologists overseas.
  • Dallas-based Mambo, an innovative webapp, allows for communities to customize member experiences, increase the sense of belonging, and grow revenue.
  • Neuroflow, another Philadelphia-based startup, is a health tech and analytics company that has a tool that promotes behavioral health access and engagement in order to improve outcomes, overall wellness, and cost of care.

"We chose these four startups because they are solving difficult problems that have real impact on real people," Greg Wright, founder of HATCH, says. "Their focus is on health, wellness, and environmental sustainability. Their success will make life better for overlooked groups and communities."

HATCH, a nonprofit organization that began in 2012, has dozens of alumni that have gone on to raise over $340 million and had 10 exits. The contest's 2019 mentors and judges have yet to be announced, but some of the past judges include Werner Vogels of Amazon, Kerry Rupp of True Wealth Ventures, Juliana Garaizar of TMCx, and more.

"The goal of HATCH Pitch is to provide coaching and connections to tech startups making life better," Wright says. "I'm proud that we have remained focused on this objective by evolving our summit event to provide maximum benefit to the selected finalists by surrounding them with the experience of our accomplished alumni, mentors, investors, and potential customers."