We Exist to Make Corporations Richer and Are Operating as a Slush Fund for BlackRock
And we would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!
Don’t let the charming pineapple mascot fool you.
TIKI’s existence serves primarily as another means to enrich the Bernie-Sanders-loathed 1% of the 1% of the 1% of the richest people on this planet. Mike and I have tramp stamp tattoos that read “Property of BlackRock” and “Property of Vanguard,” respectively, both tattooed in Comic Sans font. Every morning before our standup we watch They Live starring Rowdy Roddy Piper and criticize the aliens for their lack of innovation. We surely would have done malevolent world domination better. And we will.
Of course, this is completely satirical and admittedly clickbait-y. Though, I can absolutely see why through a certain lens, this might be an over-exaggeration of a sentiment felt by those who came across TIKI in the years 2020 through mid-2022 when we were building a user-facing application and have since been receiving countless Substack newsletters catered to businesses.
If so, or if you’re just someone who learned about TIKI when we were building the user-facing app and you’re confused, then this blog is for you.
Earlier this week, we received a comment on our most recent blog. As the author chose to remain anonymous, I can reproduce both the original comment and my response below, if you’d like to read them:
When I came across this and showed it to Mike, he told me to either respond in a helpful manner or send the Michael Jordan crying face meme. I chose the former, but admittedly I was tempted by the latter. It certainly reminded me of my customer support days in which I answered sometimes up to 100 customer emails per day, all thoughtfully typed out by hand. I can assure you, at least from this one isolated anecdote, most people aren’t writing to businesses because of how awesome they think the business is.
Regarding this comment, on one hand, I totally get it. Back then we said we were building an app for users. Last summer we switched it up and said we were building and SDK. In our eyes, the end product is generally the same (in that it assigns data ownership to users, and users make decisions about how their data is used or not used in exchange for compensation), still aligns with our original vision, and will be better for users in both the short- and long-term (history will be the judge of that, but we’re pretty confident in that statement). However I totally get it if that’s not how it’s perceived, and we haven’t done a very good job of directly addressing users since we initially announced our SDK pivot.
On the other hand, anons pretending to know our motivations and morals is pretty lame.
Our Original Plan Wasn’t Going to Work
When we first started this, we thought we could get users paid for their data. We thought the only way to remedy the growing data problem on the web was to build a system that works for both businesses and users. You can’t turn data off completely, and you can’t just make all data everywhere free with no restrictions. Both scenarios end in disaster.
So we built the technology that would allow for users to claim ownership of their data. The plan was then to have users download the TIKI app, connect popular applications like Netflix, Instagram, etc, and have users make Tinder-esque swipe-based decisions on how their data could be used and for what purposes. For example, Meta is tracking your face. Want to turn that off? Swipe left. Meta wants to serve you personalized ads? Want to keep that on? Swipe right. The key functionality of that was the ability to swipe right in order to anonymously sell your data. This was how we planned to get anonymous data to turn into insights. We then had to figure out how to sell that data and get users paid. We were inspired by services like Spotify, who offered music streaming. We thought we could stream insights and have a subscription model.
It seemed like a good plan. Pretty much everyone knows how to swipe. Pretty much everyone knows what Spotify does. However there were some clear holes in this plan that we discovered while talking to users, businesses, and investors.
Users Wanted To Do Less, Businesses Didn’t Totally Get It, Investors Weren’t Sure The Model Would Work
From the user perspective, the big issue was that people generally didn’t want to download another application and spend time making decisions over and over. Sure, some did, but generally speaking people were into the concept of getting compensated for their data, but didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time doing it. They didn’t want to have to link all of their accounts; they just wanted to make decisions using the applications and websites they were already using.
For businesses, the “Spotify for data” selling point wasn’t well understood. Most had their own way of getting data, and even if it was flawed, they at least were familiar with their own way of doing things. A change would have to make tons of sense, and even if it did, it had to be dramatically better than the way they were doing things before.
Overall, it was an issue of supply and demand. We required supply (data from users) in order to get demand (businesses wanting to make offers for data), but without the demand, we couldn’t get the supply. For businesses to really want to purchase insights from user data, we would need tens of millions of users to make it worth their while, and not just tens of millions of users who signed up for the app or even downloaded it—I mean tens of millions of daily active users. That was a number we just didn’t have, and getting to those numbers would be incredibly expensive and not very feasible.
On top of this, it would take time to find buyers for data, meaning initial payouts would be very small, giving less incentive for users to be active. As for the value of the data, we realized that the data would be flawed if buyers were looking for datasets that represent entire regions or countries. The types of people who would check in on an application to make what we estimated to be an approximate value (after finding buyers) of $1000 year is not representative of an entire region or country’s population, which means unless you’re specifically trying to extract insights from this specific group, insights would be flawed and would require a business to purchase more data from other businesses—a complicated and convoluted process.
We were stuck in a chicken-and-egg standoff when it came to the actual productization.
We had to make a decision, and the decision we arrived at was the TIKI SDK.
So How Does this SDK Work For Users?
This isn’t going to be a technical section here. There’s some material in previous blogs that you can check out if you want to get nerdy.
First, a quick recap: the first iteration of a TIKI product was our beta app. It required users to download an application and then make decisions about their data. Uses could decide to sell certain data by swiping right, the data would be anonymized and sent to our knowledge graph, we’d drive insights from said graph, and we’d find buyers for the data. The problem was, nobody is really interested in buying data from a few thousand users, which is what we had at the time. Even if they did, the return for users in those initial stages would have been negligible.
That’s it. That’s the gist of it. A slightly more in-depth explanation of this can be found in this blog from November.
Way More Users, Way Faster
The best part of all of this, and why we strongly feel the SDK route is the best one, is this way we can reach way more users than we ever could have done on our own, and we can do it much, much faster. If we sign up a business with millions of daily active users, we immediately have millions of TIKI users. This makes your data much more valuable to buyers (when combined with millions of other users) if you’re inclined to make a deal, or if you’re the privacy-at-all-costs type, then millions of users will have the ability to tell that company to go pound sand, kick rocks, and take a long stroll off a short pier.
We have big goals with TIKI. We had big goals when we started, and we have big goals now. Nobody is completely sure what the total market value for consumer data is, but we estimate it to be over $1 trillion. Meaning, TIKI became a $1 billion dollar company, we’d be making a .001% impact on the industry. Mike’s always said his goal is to be at least a $1 trillion company. People think he’s joking. He’s not. And it’s not because he wants to get rich and ride off into the sunset to get a nice tan on his BlackRock tramp stamp. It’s because $1 trillion is what it takes to really change the way that the world views, collects, exchanges, and values data, because that’s what it really takes to compete with the Metas and Googles of the world who have set a standard of shitty data practices. To get anywhere close to that number, we need to reach as many people and businesses as possible. We think the SDK is our best bet.
I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a blog Mike wrote back in 2020 when TIKI was merely an idea:
The problem isn’t with data itself or even in sharing it. It’s in the use of data to control, manipulate, exploit. Where that gets messy, who decides? Companies? No, thank you. Governments? Pass.
Users. We, as users, should decide how our data is used, shared. That means the ability to make informed decisions about our data. I mean, actual decisions. Pages on pages of terms of service agreements, or 30 toggle switches with no sensible explanations do not count (I see you LinkedIn).
I think we’re all probably in agreement, data privacy and control are big, big problems, but I’m not going to go thru the 80 apps on my phone changing mostly pointless settings.
Worse yet, say someone spends millions to create some really cool new software to change data ownership. Why would any company willingly give up control? They already hide behind antiquated laws performing borderline creepy data collection. Tech’s always going to move faster than law. Ban cookies and boom more tracking pixels, pointless, right?
Bans never work, especially not when something is so valuable (drug war anyone?). What does work is transparent, fair, open markets.
We can do it with data IF enough people participate. Collecting data is hard, expensive, and risky. Companies would gladly buy data directly from users as needed. Hell, 73% of data collected goes unused.
The great thing about a market is it allows buyers and sellers to agree on terms and price. As a user, you can decide who can and cannot buy your data and even for what use. As a buyer, you pay only for what you need. Transparency and control returned to users. Businesses get the insights they need at a fraction of the cost.
Since the beginning we’ve known the key to all of this working is users. The product has slightly changed form, but the catalyst for success was, and will forever be, informed decisions made by users.
‘Til next time,