Don’t compromise your values for money. Don’t make a bad deal with the wrong investor. Stay true to your values and the right investor will show up. Once you compromise your values, everything you do from that moment forward is compromised.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Weinstein.
Mark Weinstein is the Founder and CEO of MeWe, the rapidly growing high integrity social network that flips the current social media model upside down. Mark is a world-renowned privacy expert listed as one of the Top 8 Minds in online privacy. Mark was named “Privacy by Design Ambassador” by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
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, friends, and common interest groups. I then sold those companies in the early 2000s and enjoyed a new role as a high tech consultant and author of books on personal greatness, titled “Habitually Great.”
A few years later, when Mark Zuckerberg said, “Privacy is a social norm of the past,” that statement floored me — privacy is built into the individual rights DNA of the USA’s Constitution and democracies worldwide. I decided in that moment to change my life, come back to social media and build the next generation social media experience that gives people all the great features of social media while eliminating spying, targeting, newsfeed manipulation, electioneering, and undermining democracy.
MeWe made its official launch in 2016 at SXSW (South by Southwest), where it was honored as 2016 Start-Up of the Year Finalist for “Innovative World Technology.” But we didn’t start any efforts to generate our membership then. Instead we kept on building and engineering. This is why MeWe is so great today. MeWe is now available in 19 languages worldwide on iOS, Android, and desktop and has nearly 10 million users with no marketing whatsoever.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
MeWe is disrupting the social media industry by providing social media that’s a force for good in the world. The current social media giants spy on their users, share/sell their users’ personal data with advertisers, marketers, and politicians, and manipulate the newsfeeds, minds, and votes of their users. MeWe solves these problems with an entirely different business model and philosophy. There are no ads, no targeting, no facial recognition, no newsfeed manipulation, and no election interference. MeWe gives its users the industry’s first and only Privacy Bill of Rights that guarantees they have total control of their data, newsfeeds, and privacy.
How does MeWe make money? It has a disruptive “freemium” revenue model. Users get everything they need for an awesome social media experience for free, including private and open groups; following pages; separate newsfeeds for close friends and contacts; a great custom camera; 2,800+ emojis; 8GB of cloud storage = over 16,000 photos; disappearing content, stories, plus cutting-edge features people can’t get anywhere else like MeWe’s dual-camera. Additionally, users can choose to purchase optional enhancements such as unlimited video and voice calling; custom emojis; exclusive MeWe Journals; and more. Users can also upgrade to MeWe Premium to get a bundle of all the best premium features for one low price.
MeWe was named a 2020 Most Innovative Social Media Company by Fast Company; a 2019 Best Entrepreneurial Company in America by Entrepreneur Magazine; and Start-Up of the Year Finalist at SXSW.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we first started, we used our corporate name “Sgrouples” for our beta project, while saving the name “MeWe” to use when we were ready for prime time. The name “Sgrouples” is purposefully a variation of the word “scruples” — having scruples is akin to having morals and doing the right thing. We love the corporate message — with “group” in the middle. What we quickly learned was that no one knew how to pronounce “Sgrouples”! Imagine someone in an Asian country or other different style dialect attempting to pronounce it — even Americans mucked it up. Luckily we were a step ahead with “MeWe” waiting in the wings. Whew. The simple lesson here is to make sure you name your brand or product something that everyone can pronounce around the world, no matter what language they speak. Everyone can say “MeWe”!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’ve been lucky to have many remarkable mentors in my life. Two important friends and mentors who come to mind are Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Raj Sisodia. Both are extraordinary gentlemen who have changed the world for the better, and they are important advisors on MeWe’s Advisory Board.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 and changed history forever. Since then, he’s continued to work tirelessly to improve the Web and make it even greater for everyone. Tim has been an important advisor to MeWe and has stated, “MeWe gives the power of the Internet back to the people with a platform built for connection, collaboration and privacy.”
Raj Sisodia is the founder of the global Conscious Capitalism movement. Raj has consulted numerous major companies, including Whole Foods, AT&T, Volvo, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and others. He advocates that businesses “do well by doing good,” and serve not only the interests of the company’s shareholders, but also their customers, employees, communities, and the world. This ethos has been integral for me and my company — MeWe is a true Conscious Capitalist company.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
In the evolution of the social media industry, disruption has not always been a positive thing. Launched in 2004, Facebook was presented as an altruistic platform that would connect the entire world. Facebook disrupted the social media industry with a new business model, now known as “surveillance capitalism.” User protection and privacy were tossed aside, as Facebook’s revenue model impelled them to spy on their users both within Facebook and across the Web, all the while harvesting their users’ data so that Facebook’s true customers — marketers, advertisers, and politicians — can target their users to manipulate their purchase decisions and votes.
Facebook’s “disruption” has been catastrophic to our true privacy and to democracies worldwide because it allows election meddlers to target voters. As Facebook gained popularity over the years, its business model has become the new status quo among web / social media companies. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, and all current social media giants share the same surveillance capitalism business model.
MeWe is here to give the social media industry a new and positive disruption. MeWe is flipping the current social media model upside down with a “freemium’ revenue model that rejects surveillance capitalism. No ads, no targeting, no facial recognition, no newsfeed manipulation, no election interference. It’s an ascension completely aligned with pure and true capitalism, which is about serving, delighting, and respecting your customers. We’ve nailed this. In return, our customers trust and love our company because we take care of them. At MeWe, our users are our respected customers to serve and delight, not data to sell, target or manipulate.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. If you know you’re right, never stop. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, just keep pressing forward.
2. Don’t compromise your values for money. Don’t make a bad deal with the wrong investor. Stay true to your values and the right investor will show up. Once you compromise your values, everything you do from that moment forward is compromised.
3. Losing sleep because of the problems and challenges you face doesn’t help you or solve anything — in fact, it makes you less likely to succeed because your clarity of thought and action is diminished. The problems you have as an entrepreneur and in your personal life will still be there in the morning. Train yourself to detach and forget about them for the moment and get some rest. It is interesting that many members of our Advisory Board are meditators. Stressing out, losing sleep, freaking out, and allowing your challenges to overwhelm you doesn’t solve a thing. There’s no need to be a martyr and wear your suffering on your sleeve. Obstacles and setbacks are just part of life on Earth — perfect in its imperfection. You can and will get to the promised land of success by overcoming and sidestepping everything in the way — best achieved by keeping yourself healthy with exercise, diet, and plenty of high-quality rest, no matter what.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
MeWe’s growth is entirely organic — we do zero paid marketing. Our growth comes from word of mouth from happy users who love the platform — and people love MeWe! We have over 160,000 reviews in the app stores with a 4.4 rating in the iOS Store.
Our strategy for growth is simply putting our users first and ensuring that we are serving and delighting them. We have a great customer support team that communicates with our users every day so we’re always attuned to what our users want from us and that helps shape what we do as a company to better serve them.
By keeping our focus on delighting our users, we are able to achieve rapid growth. With no marketing whatsoever, we now have nearly 10 million users worldwide and expect up to 40 million people by the end of 2020.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We’re going to go from 10 million to 300 million users very quickly. This will really shake things up. MeWe will become the “new normal.” And we are going to revolutionize ad-tech too — a story for a different day☺. The manipulation of our thoughts and votes in unprecedented nefarious ways must stop. The world is at an inflection point regarding data privacy, freedom of speech, and the survival of democracy.
MeWe is a movement. This success is coming because we are showing the world that a free social network with a freemium business model that actually respects and safeguards its users works perfectly and generates excellent revenue. Millions have already joined the MeWe movement, and we see hundreds of millions more joining in the years ahead.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Shoshana Zuboff’s 2019 book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” is an excellent book that brilliantly illuminates the global surveillance paradigm that we’re all currently participating in. I’m thankful that this book has awakened people to the importance of having control of our data, our thoughts, and our privacy.
On March 6, just prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, I delivered a TEDx Talk titled “The Rise of Surveillance Capitalism” which was published on TED’s YouTube channel on April 29. My talk provides a further exposé of this global socioeconomic experiment in which everything we do is tracked, analyzed, and monetized. The pervasiveness of this distortion of capitalism is breathtaking. My talk culminates by calling for a privacy revolution to reclaim what rightfully belongs to us — and this is rather urgent to preserve the sanctity of democratic principles worldwide.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes comes from my dear friend Jack Canfield, who is the legendary author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series and a MeWe advisor. Jack says, “Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. I wake up every day deeply grateful for my family, my loved ones, and the work I get to do serving people all over the world.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m working every day to push forward the global privacy movement and reinvigorate the true, authentic and fun purpose of social networking. Social media was invented to use the Web and Internet to keep us connected to loved ones, friends, family, and to meet like-minded others and learn about new ideas. This movement is already here and is quickly gaining steam as people’s attitudes toward data privacy continue to evolve. More than ever, people have lost trust in the current social media giants as they’ve manipulated and censored us while violating our privacy in countless ways and times.
A 2020 survey published by Axios found that 93% of Americans would switch to a company that prioritizes their data privacy; and 88% are frustrated that they don’t have more control over their data. A 2019 survey by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that 74% of Americans believe social media companies collecting users’ personal data is not an acceptable tradeoff for ‘free’ services; and 60% don’t trust Facebook to protect their personal information.
The social media giants violate our true privacy, disrupt our democracy by allowing election meddlers to target voters, and censor good users and groups simply for sharing opinions that don’t align with the views of that social network’s leaders. They have even been shown to boost inflammatory content that outrages their users because that drives higher engagement. I illustrate these harmful actions and more in my TEDx Talk: “The Rise of Surveillance Capitalism.”
Fortunately, the tides are shifting. People worldwide are waking up to the importance of data privacy and are demanding the freedom to be their authentic selves without being spied on, targeted or manipulated. People by the millions and are moving away from Facebook and other surveillance capitalist companies and are supporting companies like MeWe that are designed to respect and protect users and their privacy. The global community still has much more work to do in these areas, but we are making giant strides in the right direction. The privacy revolution is underway.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best way to follow me online is by joining MeWe! Sign up today at www.mewe.com or download the MeWe app on iOS or Android. I make frequent posts in MeWe’s “News and Updates” group that reach all MeWe members.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!