Fighting for Truth in a Fake News World
Winter sun shimmers over the golden panorama of Venice Beach, with sand, palms and the Pacific stretching as far as the eye can see. Preethi Kasireddy has a vision as far-reaching as this striking view from her office window. In a world where verifiable fact is often blurred by opinion and agenda, Kasireddy wants to reinstate one simple yet vital thing: the truth.
From investment banking to Silicon Valley, Kasireddy, B.S. ISE ’12, has had an impressive career trajectory in a short time. Last year she burst onto the startup founder scene after raising $3 million in seed funding for her company, TruStory.
TruStory is a social network in which a community of experts researches and validates the claims that people make online. By crowdsourcing the truth, the company’s ambitious goal is to “build a trust layer for the internet.”
The tool enables us to basically curate truth,” Kasireddy explained. “TruStory is about validating and having a discussion about objective things that we can actually prove, with real data and evidence.
But before TruStory could succeed, “We need to build a playbook for a single market first so we can have a playbook for other markets,” she said.
That single market is the cryptocurrency sphere. Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ether, are currencies that exist purely in digital or virtual form, with no central issuing or regulating authority. They use cryptography, or generated codes, to ensure the secure transfer of funds or cryptocurrency “tokens.”
TruStory works by engaging a network of experts drawn from the cryptocurrency community and asking them to verify the content in tweets, blog posts, white papers, websites and more. Based on research and consensus from the community, TruStory rewards members with tokens for verifying accurate information, and penalizes them by removing tokens where information is found to be inaccurate. The idea is that the expert community will stake their reputation on thoroughly researching and verifying claims.
In cryptocurrency, initial coin offerings (ICOs) are a fundraising tool, allowing investors to buy digital tokens. But because there is less regulation, ICOs can be exploited by shady startups. A 2017 study found that almost 80 percent of ICOs were scams. In one case last year, the founders of $30 million crypto startup Centra were indicted for securities fraud, having engaged in undisclosed paid celebrity endorsements from boxer Floyd Mayweather and recording artist DJ Khaled, who were subsequently fined for their involvement.
Kasireddy said her passion to create the platform was born out of personal experience with an untrustworthy crypto company.
“I joined a project as a consultant, but I realized later that what they were presenting didn’t make any sense,” she said. “I put my reputation on the line for two or three months.”
Engineering was a natural fit for Kasireddy, having excelled at math and physics in school. She eventually gravitated toward industrial and systems engineering because of its varied mix of engineering disciplines and a culture she found more social.
After graduation she entered finance, working for Goldman Sachs before joining the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. There, she saw the startup side of finance.
“I was just in love with what a startup can do with so little,” she said.
She taught herself how to code in just nine months and joined the cryptocurrency startup Coinbase as an engineer. But, “In the end, I just I don’t think I was born to be an employee,” she laughed, and the idea for TruStory began to gel.
She found support from angel investor Shana Fisher, a board partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Within a few months, Kasireddy had raised a seed round of $3 million.
Kasireddy advises those considering launching a business to be passionate about the problem they are trying to solve, and then to actually solve it.
“You also need to make sure you can deal with ambiguity. Running a startup is all about being able to jump into this world of unknowns and just figure it out.”
TruStory will have a private launch for user testing in March before a public launch this summer. Find out more at www.trustory.io.