Industry: Social Media/Entertainment
Founding Student Name(s): Kevin Gillespie and Jolene Huey, both undergraduate M.E.T. students (they both study engineering and business in UC Berkeley’s Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology Program, earning two Bachelor of Science degrees in four years.)
Brief Description of Solution: We are creating a social media and entertainment app called Gravity. It’s a new—and we believe healthier—kind of entertainment that allows all of our stakeholders to be participants rather than products. While serving content, our app uses more reliable feedback to both assume less about users and provide a more fulfilling and diversified experience.
What led you to launch this venture? Social media users face addiction and negative content spirals. Creators face burn-out and toxicity. Advertisers face increasingly stringent policies and the drowning out of their ads. Across all major stakeholders, there are major problems that seem impossible to address in isolation. However, the room for innovative solutions emerges when you view them all together. This venture was founded on the realization that while current algorithms on social media are good at what they’re built to do (maximize watch-time), this has corresponded with worsening treatment of stakeholders, opening up an opportunity to build a better option and disrupt the industry.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? While we are still building our offering, our team has been making large strides on all sides of development. Aside from receiving a grant from Haas, our biggest accomplishment is running a consistent early-access testing cohort, which has helped us identify issues with real data, solve issues week-to-week, and collect market insights.
How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? Although I’m early in the Haas curriculum, I’ve already felt great benefits from my course material. In a class called M.E.T. Special Topics, taught by Professor Saikat Chaudhuri, we learned how to think about the intersection of innovation and management, which has directly affected how we operate. Conversations with Professor Chaudhuri and Professor Dan Mulhern have also been extremely insightful, as well as leadership lessons from Professor Dana Carney.
Which business class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? M.E.T. Special Topics, which taught me how to think big picture about complex and dynamic systems. My biggest takeaway is that the potential for innovation, though less certain than day to day operations, is something that should be fully considered in management decisions and market strategy.
What business professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Saikat Chaudhuri, who is also director of the M.E.T. program, meets with our founding team. He has helped us identify what opportunities to pursue, provided advice on managing teams across time zones, and been a resource whenever we have any questions.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Steve Jobs is almost a cliche answer––and for good reason. He was a very complex and extremely influential figure. However, I can’t think of any other entrepreneur who truly resonates with me the way he does––specifically because he set out to manifest his vision in his own way. I have no interest in being exactly like Steve Jobs, because what made Steve Jobs is like no one else. What I do wish to learn from his life is his creative, inside-out approach to business and innovation. I’d like to bring this spirit to everything I do.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? Success in the short-form entertainment industry would allow us to transfer our work and research to other areas of interest that equally need change, such as news media and music. These can equally serve as pivot options in the event things do not work out. Our ultimate vision is to build a brand that merges trust, creativity, and social connection, and we will take this brand and vision as far as it can possibly go.