Meet The Founders of Trill
What happens when you bring five bright southern California teenage girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) together? Creativity is unleashed and a power team is formed. This is the case with Alexandra, Ariana, Isabella, Georgia and Sara. These thriving students and budding entrepreneurs are the creators of The Trill Project, an anonymous social network that allows users to safely express themselves in a supportive community.
Together, through Trill, they are looking to reconstruct the narrative around social media and the way teenagers use it on a day-to-day basis. A big hairy audacious goal? Yes. But these young ladies are well equipped for taking their vision and making it a reality. Each is a star in her own right. Some of their individual successes include founding companies, prestigious national award recepients (think South by Southwest, National Hispanic Recognition Program and Congressional awards!), KodewithKlossy Scholar (yes, Klossy as in model Karlie Kloss) and more!
Their common love for coding and computing initially brought four of these young women together. A happenstance meeting with a fifth member at a computing conference led to the formation of their leadership team.
Research shows that women are largely absent from technology innovation and that diversity in computing is lacking (read more here). The Trill leadership team sat down with Faalta to share their perspective on leadership, balancing their studies with entrepreneurship, and how they manage challenges together. The result is an authentic account of their experiences and lessons learned thus far.
What’s been the team's process for taking your vision and making Trill into the actual platform it is now?
TRILL: Trill actually began as a Girls Who Code project. So we started with what we knew best, and that was to code. We were infatuated with the idea of using the dark web for something positive and fed up with never knowing what sites had access to all of our personal information because of our social networking accounts. We coded and then coded some more until the first version of Trill was complete.
The five of us met regularly and our process was slow at first. We learned that entrepreneurship takes a great deal of patience. To begin, we read all sorts of blogs and books about marketing, startups, and leadership. We then immersed ourselves in research on how we could connect with existing LGBT+ support organizations, build a base of influencers, and create our brand. Once we got our social media accounts set up, we began messaging a wide range of people from LGBT+ support blogs on Tumblr with five followers to influencers with millions of followers. Our process accelerated quickly though as we gained support from accounts like Women In Tech, Positively Social, Maud Arnold, and Gracie Abrams. By the time we competed in Founder’s Bootcamp, we accumulated 1,000 signups for our beta overnight due to our messaging of people on Tumblr inviting them to try our project. Founder's Bootcamp was a humbling and rewarding experience where we were lucky enough to win $50,000.
Since then, to make our vision a reality we have been sending out our beta to our users. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We are hoping to launch exclusively to the App Store in June of this year, so we are busy planning our launch party, coordinating press, and making sure our product is the best it can be.
How do you balance being students and entrepreneurs?
TRILL: It’s not easy, but when you have a passion, you make it work. School is not something that prevents us from doing Trill; in fact, it is what we have learned as students and the people we have met through our school that are huge assets to our entrepreneurial endeavours. We like to keep ourselves busy, and Trill certainly does that. The best part about Trill is that we are in it together. All five of us are still in high school, so we lean on each other for support if we ever feel overwhelmed. We also get a little help from coffee!
Female founders have cited a lack of available mentors or advisors as holding them back. Have you found this to be a challenge?
TRILL: We’ve definitely been very lucky [in regards to] mentors and advisors. We’ve had the opportunity [to form] worthwhile connections at our school along with people who believe in our mission. Our technical advisor is Conrad Kramer, who sold his company to Apple, and developed some of the very libraries that we are using in the app. Our business advisor, Rob Levin, is our teacher, and a graduate of the Stanford Business School. Our financial advisor is Lotay Yang, founder of Black Card Circle Foundation. And, finally, our communications and marketing advisor is Jane Buckingham, a fellow woman in business who founded Trendera.
We sought mentors that we knew would align themselves with Trill’s goals. The biggest tip we would give would be to reach out to many people until you find the right fit. It is very important that your advisors never force you, as founders, to change your vision for your company.
At Founder’s Bootcamp, a startup accelerator for high school students which we competed in, we were one of the only teams of all female founders present. We stood out in the room for sure; but it didn’t have to be a negative situation. In fact, because of our minority status we were noticed by a wide range of influential people, some of whom even ended up joining our advising team. For all the aspiring female founders out there, embrace your identity and never let a room full of men intimidate you. If you are confident and have a product that speaks for itself, mentors and advisors who are the right fit will join your team.
What are some of your motivators that have propelled you and helped you push against being risk averse?
TRILL: Our team is unique because we all come from different places, but somehow we found ourselves here together. We have fostered a common love and purpose in Trill. Therefore, taking risks is made significantly easier. We are one team, and so we share equally in not only the bitter drawbacks but also the sweet rewards of taking risks.
We are motivated by knowing if we aren’t going to do it, then who will? Trill asks users the question: “What would you tell if nobody knew you were telling it?” So we have to ask ourselves the even tougher question: "What would we do if failure wasn’t a possibility?" We strive to run our company with this mindset and feel we wouldn’t be leading lives authentic to Trill’s mission if we didn’t.
We recognize that taking risks is a vulnerable action, but we are motivated by Trill, by each other, and by [the] necessity to be the change we so desperately need to see in this world and that means the fear of taking risks is a small price to pay.
Perhaps one of the most important skills of all is the ability to navigate obstacles. How have you learned to tackle issues head on?
TRILL: For us, as women studying STEM, we know what it is like to be marginalized. But we have found solace by leaning on each other and by creating something meaningful for our community. We love to code, to create, and, most importantly, to challenge the status quo. When making Trill, we have stumbled (and continue to stumble!) across all sorts of difficulties, maintaining traction on our social media pages, dealing with bugs in the app, answering all the contact messages (most of which are kind, but some of which, of course, are not) we receive in a timely fashion, and financial management.
To stay organized, our team meets weekly in person, our group chat is active every single day. Ultimately, teamwork is what equips us with the ability to navigate obstacles. Acquiring this skill is a process, which we are still in the midst of. But everyday, from reading, researching, and learning from not only external sources of inspiration but also from each other, we grow more accustomed to facing challenges head on. With arduous academic schedules, full plates of extra curriculars, a family life, and a social life to balance we have had to learn that there is no use in procrastinating. Trill is not only a passion of ours but also we believe it to be a necessity for social change, and so we give Trill the time, drive, and dedication we feel it demands and deserves.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
TRILL: “A wise woman knows how little she knows, and how much she still has to learn.”
What does leadership mean to you?
TRILL: We’ve grown up during quite the transformative historical period. We’ve witnessed the first Black president step into office, the rise of the strongest female presidential candidate ever, her downfall in arguably the most controversial election in American history, and the beginnings of social justice movements on the internet (#BLM, #MeToo, #YesAllWomen, #GirlsWhoCode)... We may be young, but we already feel like we’ve seen it all.
It may seem like a cliché, but we firmly believe that leadership and responsibility go hand in hand. To us, leadership is simple: It is a duty to an entity greater than any single person. Leadership is devotion, sacrifice, and commitment to shaping a better future.