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Hila Peled
CEO of Topishare/ Hila Peled

Tbilisi Based Start-Up Transforms Social Networks

For the last few years, startups have become country’s one of the most significant issues. Georgia is making efforts in funding local innovative projects and also attracting international startups.

“Reasonable salaries, good developers, reliable internet, easy business registration, a creative and solid start-up community, and a nice climate”, this is how Hila Peled CEO of Topishare describes Georgia’s business atmosphere in an interview with CBW.

For the last few years, startups have become country’s one of the most significant issues. Georgia is making efforts in funding local innovative projects and also attracting international startups.

Tell us briefly about your company; what you do, how you started and etc.

Topishare was born in the deep jungles of Costa Rica where we had moved to escape our ‘cushy’ western lifestyle, after 15 years, 7 days a week, 20 hours a day of setting up and running tech start-ups from the UK and Israel.

My 22 year old daughter Rotem realized – with monkeys flying around, snakes in the pool, and amazing sunsets – that the local community in St. Theresa was unable to talk to the people outside of Costa Rica about their amazing community: Facebook has only 2.7% organic reach, which means that only 2.7% of the people who like your page can see what you post. Unless you pay, of course, then the number goes up slightly. And that just didn’t feel right to my daughter.

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While we started working on a small online project for the community in Costa Rica, we soon realized that although social networks started out for all the good reasons, they have all become corrupt: they violate the users’ privacy by collecting and storing their information (even stuff you draft but delete is stored, analyzed, and sold to advertisers); they decide, through algorithms what you see and don’t see, you can’t decide this yourself; they make money over what you share (through these advertisements); and if you have a page and you want to boost a post to certain countries you choose, they decide to boost it in only a few of them.

That’s when we decided to develop a better alternative, where you can talk to people who share the same interests, and where your privacy is protected: and topishare was born.

I understood the potential immediately, and realized topishare was something needed in the world today.

 In a world where people are “addicted” to their famous social networks, how is your company going to establish itself in such a huge market?

I don’t think people are ‘addicted’, and the statistics show something different as well. People still use the major social networks, but they are not happy with them. People use Facebook because their friends, family and co-workers are on it, they got used to it, it became a part of their life. But the numbers clearly show that people are looking for something better, a place where their privacy is protected, where you don’t scroll for hours on your newsfeed and not see anything you’re interested in, and where you can have interesting global conversations. And that’s what topishare offers.

And I wouldn’t start such a huge project if I didn’t feel like something needed to change in the online world. Me and my husband Yair invested $500k, our time, our skills, in topishare, and I want to bring this change together with the users. And you can only do this when you have a fair company.

That is why topishare will share its profits with the users through multiple different models. One of these is that users will be able to control the advertising, the user can earn money by deciding which advertisement goes where.

As we know your company is aimed at connecting people in one social network, where you cannot find any personal information, do you think that this will play a sufficient role in attracting people to join your community?

At topishare people can decide how much information they want to share, they can be completely anonymous, or not at all, it’s their decision. And this is one of our killer features: sometimes you don’t want to whole world to know you love Justin Bieber, but you may want to share your love for him with other people.

But this is not our only feature. We also don’t sell people’s personal information, like Facebook, Instagram, and all the others do. We have many more features that will be uploaded to topishare in the near future. We recently released audio posting, this means that you can record what you say and post it instantly to topishare. If you’re not confident you write well, but you feel like you express yourself better when you speak, this feature is perfect for you.

Facebook and other social networks benefit from letting businesses know in what people show their interests, how are you going to develop your business in this aspect?

At topishare we have a business model that doesn’t require users to give up their privacy, but where businesses can make money as well.

Topishare is based on so-called kingdoms (as we call groups/threads), so advertising is targeted because they are at the kingdoms that talk about the same issue: cat food in the side-box in a kingdom about cats, dvd advertising in a side-box in a kingdom on the Game of Thrones, the possibilities are endless.

Businesses can also open their own kingdoms, for free, where they have 100% organic reach with their audience. Facebook and others limit organic reach for businesses, people who like their business can’t see what they post. This is not the case with topishare: no algorithms that limit your outreach. But if you want to advertise outside your own kingdom, you can pay a reasonable amount for this.

We have other business-models as well, which we will implement in the future.

How do you see your company in future, will your social network be as huge as other platforms?

If we will continue in our current rate, we have users in over 70 countries after we launched our beta version only 2 months ago, we will easily become a major competitor to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others. The main difference with these platforms is that we believe in doing good, we are in the game to change the online world for the better, to create a platform for the users, and that is our strength.

You mentioned in your article that startups need to move to Georgia, which indeed is a place where you can develop a project from an idea to beta, why do you came up with the idea of moving to Georgia and how did you get to know about this country and its opportunities?

After having run topishare from Costa Rica, we decided we needed a better internet connection, no electricity outings, and we moved to Panama. But shady investors made us re-think our decision and based on advice of a friend we moved their business to Bulgaria. But an uneasy business-to-business relation atmosphere and non-English speaking bureaucrats (who you need to deal with when you start a business) weren’t ideal either. Our lawyer had told us about Georgia already in 2008, and we decided to research it online.

We had no prior connections here, but after having been in Tbilisi for 7 months we are very happy with our move and plan on staying here: reasonable salaries, good developers, reliable internet, easy business registration, a creative and solid start-up community, and a nice climate.

Topishare

Currently we are operating from the Tech Park that GITA set up, and we’re collaborating closely with them in helping Georgia to build a solid start-up community.

One of your articles titles like this: “Global start-ups: cut costs! Think Tbilisi, not Silicon Valley”. This is home to hundreds of start-up and global technology companies, with Google, Apple and Facebook among the most prominent. What made you to say that and how do you think will Georgia become a startup nation?

You can see globally a major change happening, especially within silicon valley: investors and start-ups are looking at different places to be based. You should realize: operating from silicon valley is very expensive. If you’re an investor, your money will go to extremely high salaries for developers, etc, and won’t go into the product itself.

Same goes for London, Sweden, and others. Investors start to realize that the largest percentage of their investment goes to merely operating the start-up, not the idea it has.

I have set up several different start-ups, and I believe a start-up is not only a business, it’s something you create for people. And you create options for the younger generation. You can do something good for where you are located.

And Georgia is in a good position, and I saw the potential it had. The location, the atmosphere. And I know other start-ups, and investors, will see this as well.

What activities do you plan in the near future? Tell us about your plans and currently on what are you working on?

We want to share with you a little secret. We are closing our first investment round with an investor for $1m, we are currently evaluated at $10m. (and it’s not the first investor who wanted to invest in us, we declined three previous investors).

This gives us the option to build our app, to build tools for people with disabilities, to push our marketing, hire more people in Georgia, translate topishare into many different languages, and we have some other features that will be implemented soon as well.

What this shows as well, is that Georgia can be the next silicon valley. If we can raise this from outside of Georgia, while operating from here, others can as well. If you have a great idea, an amazing team, the right timing, and a smart business plan, you will find someone who believes in you.