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These four young men are taking on Facebook! Will they succeed?

Last updated on: December 18, 2013 19:47 IST

These four young men are taking on Facebook! Will they succeed?

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Prasanna D Zore

Meet Aditya Dhull, Prince Jacob Thomas, Mohit Narwal and Chandy Thomas!

These four young men are all set to take on Facebook with their startup Treetins.com.

Treetins is a platform where 'strangers can go social' and its founders are hoping it will provide a great alternative to Facebook

But does it really have the potential to succeed? Will it make money? More importantly, will it go viral?

Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore gets talking to the new entrepreneurs.

Office address: 17th Floor of a posh office at Nariman Point, one of Mumbai’s toniest business districts.

Employees: Founder Prince Jacob Thomas, three co-founders -- Aditya Dhull, Mohit Narwal, Chandy Thomas -- and two interns. One of these six takes turns to make cupcakes so that the other five get to work at their stations.

Office space: Big enough for four to five people to squeeze in along with their laptops. Thanks to Monish Ghatalia, owner of an advertising company who was magnanimous enough to let out his office library to these four to green flag their unique venture.

Name of the web site: Treetins.com (Treetins is an anagram for interest)

Often heard from people with whom these entrepreneurs haggle for discounts on promotion material: Kya sahab, posh Nariman Point main office aur itna bargain karte ho (Sir, you have an office in the posh Nariman point area and yet you bargain for discounts).

Aim: To make Treetins.com a platform where ‘strangers can go social’ and create a social network of people based on their interest to take on Facebook.

In nutshell, Prince, Aditya, Chandy and Mohit are reinventing the Internet wheel that first helped strangers connect with each other openly through various messenger services but later closed itself by going social, giving you the choice to sift out strangers from your circle of friends.

This is how people connect on Treetins:

Any user who registers on Treetins has to first ‘Express’ (write) her/his interest. Like, somebody writing about an honest taxi driver who made her/his day. While this ‘Expression’ about the taxi driver will be in public domain the people who read it will have no way to know the person who posted it. They can only see the ‘Expression’.

Anybody interested in your ‘Expression’ can start a conversation with you by clicking on ‘Converse with this person’ tab by writing something in turn. When you receive this person’s ‘Expression’ you can either start a conversation -- thereby connecting with this stranger – or opt out of it if you think the person is not genuine.

If you actually start this conversation then there you are connecting with a stranger on the basis of a shared interest: in this case the honesty of the taxi driver or anything else that relates to the ‘Expression’.

“The idea behind Treetins is that you are not connected to your own circle of friends and families or colleagues. The idea here is to connect with strangers. Our uniqueness is that there is always serendipity when you meet or connect with a stranger,” says Prince about the venture’s unique selling proposition or how is it different from say Facebook.

“On Treetins your identity is not revealed unless you choose to reply to a conversation,” he says, further differentiating Treetins from other social networking sites which face issues like users’ privacy.

“On Treetins everything revolves around expressions. Like what you have to say on a particular topic or an interest. The other person’s reply is what really determines whether you have to connect with her or him.

Until then the person who responds to your interest does not know who you are,” Prince informs.

In this interview Aditya, Mohit, Chandy and Prince, apart from hardselling Treetins.com, talk about their plans, challenges and lessons they learnt as entrepreneurs who quit their jobs to realise their dream.

You launched on December 5. What has been the initial response?

Mohit: It has been very good. A lot of readers have invited their friends and gradually the numbers are picking up. We are seeing lot of expressions being posted on the site and the average time spent on the site is close to 40 minutes. That means a lot of people are browsing through the content.

As of now, mostly influencers like tech bloggers and people in the tech domain have registered in considerable numbers and we expect to see this number multiply manifold in the coming days.

Idea that created Treetins…

Prince: The world-wide-web was supposed to connect people across geographies. This used to happen a lot in the days of Yahoo! Messenger. You could randomly connect with people anywhere in the world, share things with them randomly. But over a period of time networks that have grown are very closed (Facebook, Google Circles). From being able to connect to anyone, anywhere in any part of the world, you are now restricted only to your circle of friends and family. Somewhere, a little fatigue has set in and if you see the behaviour of people on Facebook a lot of users are passive now. What these passive users do now is browse through pictures, click on the ‘Like’ button because you cannot disappoint a friend who has posted a picture of her/his with his fiancé/fiancée.

In fact in Western countries user-behaviour of this kind is a bigger phenomenon. Having noticed this behaviour we all somewhere felt that the Internet will have to come a full cycle and go to where it all began. People would want to break out of their network and connect with people outside their circles.

There were attempts made like Chat Roulette, Omegle, etc. But the problem with these platforms was the moment you try to connect with strangers the whole process becomes weird or creepy. What we have also found out is that people don’t want to connect to strangers in the absence of any context. It makes the whole effort pointless.

In one business newspaper we were reading an article that Facebook has brought out the stalker in youngsters. This shows that people are interested in other people outside their social network but they don’t have any proper means to reach out to them.

We can connect with friends’ friends on Facebook but we can’t add them because it would make us feel like stalkers. You can connect with strangers across various chat rooms but there is no context there. One takes a lot of time to introduce themselves using A/S/C (short cuts used for age, sex and city/country) and by the time you find common interest a lot of time has passed. Most of the times such conversations lead to web cam invites again making the entire exercise very creepy.

While most of these platforms were started with the right intention, somehow people don’t have easy and safer access to strangers with common interests.

The thought behind starting Treetins was to use the Internet’s ability to reach out to maximum people and create a platform where people can connect with strangers only when they want to.


Image: From left: Aditya Dhull, Prince Jacob Thomas, Mohit Narwal and Chandy Thomas
Photographs: Courtesy Treetins.com

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Making strangers social

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Your challenges as entrepreneurs…

Mohit: The biggest challenge right now for us is that as much as we are trying to promote ‘making strangers social’ as a concept, while people may like it, it is equally very difficult for people to start getting used to it.

To be able to sensitise people about the value of meeting strangers and interacting with them is the biggest challenge we are facing right now.

That said and done, we realised that of the two or three initiatives that we have done like ‘share your table’, people are actually quite open to an idea like this. It is for us to push them to give them a medium and to be able to start experiencing the joys of connecting with strangers.

You have left your respective careers and ventured into unknown territory. Your insecurities…

When we left our existing jobs and moved on to this our seniors were really helpful. They guided us through; even now they continue to call us and offer help. We had this fear but surprisingly and thankfully we have worked under very good people and we can get back to our respective jobs anytime.

But we left our jobs to pursue our dream very seriously.

How much time before you call it a day if it does not workout for you?

We are looking at a lifetime. The idea of Treetins is much bigger than we initially thought. We started with a web platform and it is growing much more than that.

We haven’t really thought about that yet (about quitting…). All our efforts are invested in making sure that the idea works out.


Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/ Rediff.com
Tags: Treetins

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'The wait for the right time never ends'

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Lessons learnt…

Prince: I remember reading a Chinese proverb which said that before starting a game you should know the rules. You should know the stakes and you should know the enemies. Somewhere, when we started out, in our excitement we neglected the rules a bit and only after getting in we realised there were things we needed to have done before starting Treetins.

While we are very confident of the idea and love the concept we realised that we should have done a little more groundwork to execute this idea in a better way.

Until now we were the only employees. Now we have two interns working with us. We are slowly learning to make our employees to be as passionate about Treetins as we are.

Aditya: What I have learnt is that when you are starting there are a lot of ideas and thoughts that you come up with and after a point you keep thinking over them instead of working on those ideas. When you are working in an organisation and if you have a lot of ideas then you have this go-to person who helps you shortlist, polish and fine-tune ideas. In starting out on one’s own there is nobody to report to or delegate work to. You are the one who has to take a decision and act upon it.

Mohit: This is one lesson we all have learnt: Even if you don’t know whether it is going to work out or not for you, just go for it. Try it out, make changes on the go. Try again, fine-tune it further; keep trying till you make your idea real.

Advice to young entrerpreneurs…

Don’t be worried about taking the first step.

We procrastinate a lot about the right time to start-up. There is nothing better than jumping first and then knowing whether it was right or not. The wait for the right time never ends. Only when you try doing it once will you know if you like it or not, whether you will be successful or not.

Pros and cons of friends starting-up a business venture…

Pro is since you already know your friends are on the same wavelength you can partner and execute better with friends.

Con would be one is already afraid if you should speak up and tell your team member to pull up his socks or not.


Photographs: Steve-65/Wikimedia Commons

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