It was meditating on the idea that mental-health is the foundational problem of our generation that Matthew Kirkham, a member from our coworking space OneCoWork Catedral, started to build True-Filter (truefilter.io). True is an API-first company that aims to reduce online abuse and cyber-bullying by collaborating with international development organizations, dating apps and any other online company or individual willing to fight against hatred speech.
We had the privilege to speak with Matthew about his journey and learn more about what the future holds for this very special company that is part of our amazing community. Check it out:
Can you give us a quick intro about you and your professional background?
I started my career with another company - in finance. I had been totally engrossed in financial markets since my mid-teens and had built some tools for myself to trade better. This lead to some incredible conversations in the city and ultimately me starting a company building tools for other traders that scaled very quickly and still exists today. I learned so much about how to, and more importantly, how NOT to build companies during this experience. It has become a characteristic of my career that I stumble upon opportunities by following my passions, trying to solve problems that I face and then sharing those solutions.
How did you come up with the idea to build True Filter and what were your main motivations?
Honestly, I put very little merit on an idea for anything. Stopping online abuse is not a unique idea but it has been particularly difficult historically because you need to understand context to do it properly. However, a combination of technological shifts including advances in deep-learning for natural language have meant it’s starting to become possible. I had been meditating on the idea that mental-health is the foundational problem of our generation for a while, but I hadn’t quite figured out how I could be most useful in facilitating better mental health. It was actually in a frenzy of frustration and sadness after a friend took their own life that I built a hacky-tool that looked at indicators of depression in online forums to see if there were intervention strategies to help people. I was surprised that my original hacky solution worked at all. I started to speak about the ideas with people freely and almost everyone responded with a cyber-bullying experience of their own or how they wished they had better been able to support someone who had been through it. A free tool that allowed people to turn off online abuse seemed powerful and possible.
True Filter is a free service and will continue to be. Can you teach us a little bit about your business model?
I didn’t think much about the business model when I first started. I just wanted the tool to exist. Improving the product over time and speaking to more people lead to the realization that this is one of the biggest problems for businesses that allow users to interact with text - often hiring huge teams to moderate content. Now, we are starting to work with businesses to keep their communities safer without stifling freedom of speech because we can understand abuse in context. It also allows us to keep the suite of social-media extensions we’re working on free for individuals. I feel like True-Filter should be a utility layer for the internet - we never want it to be inaccessible.
What were (or still are) the main challenges you faced when starting the company?
Incentives. Controversy, threats, hatred and vitriol lead to higher engagement from users. Business models for online businesses in the content game are set up to be much more likely to cause mental health issues. I believe the advent of web 3.0 will generate new business models that make this less of an issue. Fundamentally, solving online abuse is a technologically solvable problem - the barriers are thus mostly political.
And your main learnings as an entrepreneur?
If anyone ever asks me my advice on starting a business it’s essential always the same: start. You’ll be 80% wrong about your idea anyway but you won’t know that properly until you start, build something and speak to people. Doing so might lead you to a much cooler and more meaningful idea anyway.
How does the future of True-Filter look like and what are the next steps for the solution?
We are an API-first company which means we can collaborate with people trying to reduce online abuse and cyber-bullying in their online communities. I hope to work with a lot more organizations to build better solutions. In particular - dating application companies to help prevent harassment which is an enormous and currently very poorly understood problem. We are also looking to work with international development organizations to help fight online identity hatred. Our API understands specific groups that are being attacked online and we think this could be immensely valuable for the OECD, UN and others to help with humanitarian affairs like detecting anti-sematic rhetoric or anti-islamic sentiment.
How has being a part of a coworking space enabled you to grow on a personal and/or professional level?
We are a remote-first company. To sit in a beautiful coworking space surrounded by friends or other talents is a no-brainer for me. I’ve met some wonderful people at OneCoWork. It can be harder to create those connections in a remote-first world so I find it adds a lot of value.