The man who devised the legal strategy that killed Gawker is pitching a paid, invitation-only social network to top tech, business and academic leaders.
Aron Ping D’Souza, who helped early Facebook investor Peter Thiel sue Gawker into bankruptcy, is trying to get the website — called Column — off the ground, according to a pitch deck sent to MIT Technology Review. Calling itself “The Social Network for the Busy,” the company says in its materials that “we aim to be the social network for productive people, and enable people to use fractured time slices productively.” It won’t accept advertising.
The ban on advertising may be an effort to avoid the barrage of criticism that Facebook and other public social media sites have received, including from political leaders who say the companies allow ads with fake information that could influence elections. While Twitter and Alphabet’s Google have agreed to restrict or block political advertising to quiet critics, Facebook has declined to do so, saying it would prefer to see regulation that covers the issue.
Column may raise $50 million from “500 equity holders that are public intellectuals” that would each pay $100,000 to invest in the site and have their own community, or “column,” according to the pitch deck. Thiel is listed as “committed” to the site, though an unidentified spokeswoman told the MIT publication that wasn’t true.
Jake Lodwick, the co-founder of Vimeo, is listed as Column’s chief technology officer. The presentation says Lodwick is “recognized as the inventor of the ‘Like Button,’ but Column will have a twist on that feature. Instead of being able to like a post, users will be able to label it ‘truth.'”
Social Impact Capital Founder Sarah Cone is listed in the presentation as “creative director & board chair,” but when contacted by the MIT publication she said the titles and positions of the people at Column were still being worked out.
The presentation also says First Round Capital’s Rob Hayes, who was one of Uber’s earliest investors, is committed to the site. Column is in talks with Marc Benioff, founder of SalesForce, and British physicist Stephen Wolfram, according to the pitch.
Specialized social media networks including Mastodon, Ello, and Peach also have offered themselves as alternatives to Facebook and Twitter. None have the reach or impact of the major social media sites.
Ello has amassed $13.7 million investments since 2014 from investors including AEDC Capital, Highway 12 Ventures and Techstars, which has two seats at the company’s board. Founded in 2013, Ello is a social media dedicated to artists and designers who want to support each other’s creative career. Peach, a smartphone application focusing on a simplified social media experience, raised $4.95 million in series A funds from RRE Ventures in 2015, according to PitchBook data.
- MIT Technology Review said it received the unsolicited pitch deck in an attempt to recruit the publication as a partner. There was no indication that it was confidential, the publication said.