Even though people are more connected than ever before, alienation from one another is becoming more common. Social media has mostly worked to dehumanise us, reducing even our closest relatives and friends to little more than letters on a screen. On platforms with tens of thousands of people, we eventually find ourselves alone in our homes.
I recently chatted with Jiali Zhang and Ria Shah, the co-founders of Trust, an app that seeks to restore the connection to the experiences we enjoy on our phones. Belief aims to bring back human interaction to how we communicate by allowing consumers to report audio messages to share with others – a unique notion in an impersonal world. Jiali and Ria discuss what inspired them to start Belief and the challenges they’ve faced as women in business.
Mary Juetten (Mary Juetten): What is your organisation’s name, and where are you located?
Jiali Zhang: Our name is Belief, and we’re a completely digital company! Our origins are in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, but our members are spread around the United States, Asia, and Europe.
Juetten: How long have you been doing this?
Zhang: In October of 2019, Belief launched ‘HearHealth,’ a platform for exchanging perspectives and experiences in the healthcare field. We quickly recognised that we were building a product that benefited more than just patients and providers, so we switched to a social platform for communication, broadening our user base beyond healthcare.
Juetten: What flaw are you addressing?
Ria Shah (Ria Shah): Keeping up with people we care about is always a time commitment, and even when we do have the time, we often lack the power to do so. This leaves event unsaid, and over time, we begin to define people and relationships based on the limited encounters with them. There are many methods to connect, but none of them makes it easier to meet up with our loved ones in a manner that makes us feel connected to their thoughts and perspectives. We have far less potential to know viewpoints that aren’t our own if we don’t have enough time and energy to ask important inquiries in our connections. Inevitably, this has resulted in a loss of faith in our society, as well as a cascade of structural issues.
The repercussions of this may be seen in healthcare, where social experiences account for 80% of health outcomes, while healthcare workers have little to no access to their patients’ lived experiences. There’s a need for more accurate data, not just in healthcare but across sectors looking for ways to reduce bias in AI and big data. When we brainstormed solutions to this problem, current social data just didn’t cut it. Our social media feeds are seldom accurate portrayals of the people we know, and they certainly don’t offer us a clear sense of their larger life experiences. As a result, we designed something that allows us to communicate information about ourselves while improving our perception of others.
We’ve devalued some experiences by ignoring information about them, especially those of individuals who have historically had less possession and, at this moment, fewer options to be heard. This suggests that people’s lives and well-being are determined by events about which we do not know. We’re missing the basics: better data, as soon as we have advanced knowledge like information science – providing us with a way to perceive the unknown. We don’t have equal information from all communities’ experienced consultants.
We’re working on an app that makes listening to our users’ stories easier, reducing the frustration of not having enough time or energy to keep up. Belief is the app’s name, and it gives everyone a better way to communicate truthfully with the people they care about. The audio social network, which allows users to hear life’s narratives – eliciting experiences from others they care about or sharing their own – is built on our fundamental value of listening. The App offers a convenient way to develop trust in today’s interactions, which, if used wisely, might help communities get the treatment they need. As time-consuming as it may be to ask each other to tell stories, it’s what we do when we’re all together. We just haven’t used expertise to reduce barriers to what we want: human connection.
The Belief App is the first step in a larger vision to provide hyper-local perspectives on ideas and experiences that provide more authentic social data. We encourage each other to share our whole experiences by using our simple solution to build trust: active listening. This allows for more holistic knowledge, resulting in less biased experience and a more trusting future.
Juetten: Who are your prospects, and how do you find out about them?
Shah: Our consumers are those who want a more authentic way to stay in touch with their friends and family. We want to monetize by giving users – both individuals and businesses – the opportunity to pay for premium features. These features, such as unlimited listening to public stories, will enhance their experience on the App. At scale, Belief has the potential to provide enterprises with a unique service: building trust with their stakeholders who are Belief customers, such as cohorts of patients, students, consumers, and others. by gaining knowledge of more authentic encounters that affect their backside lines.
We’re now preparing to finance and deploy a beta version of the App to our network of family, friends, and partners.
Juetten: How did past responsibilities and/or experience help this current mission?
Zhang: Long before we met as co-founders and even friends, both of us had worked with advocacy groups for vulnerable populations in our communities — myself with a firm that helped the homeless in the greater Seattle area, and Ria with the organisation of a programme for LGBTQ+ children in inner-city Baltimore. We saw a fortress of belief inside these groups via our distinct but parallel experiences, but it was never extended to individuals or things beyond the community.
We discovered that group leaders aided in forming this idea by establishing genuine connections, mostly via the simple act of listening. Following their lead, each of us listened with open ears to the many voices from these groups, gently but steadily gaining their trust. We were impacted not just by the life stories we heard, but we also saw the importance of listening in uncovering similar experiences, forming genuine connections, and ultimately, trust.
We both saw the need for a platform that could magnify unheard perspectives and untold stories, as well as serve as a vehicle for trust-building in a culture that is more susceptible to suspicion. Our shared experiences inspired us to go on this trip but remembering the people and voices we met along the way keeps us motivated and grounded as we navigate the highs and lows of the journey. As co-founders of Building Belief, we want to help people build belief in themselves as human beings.
Juetten: Is it true that being a woman influenced your decision to establish and run a business?
Zhang: Being two girls studying in a male-dominated field and working in a corporate environment, we’ve felt like we weren’t being heard at times. We wanted to communicate openly about our experiences, but we were hesitant to do so on current social applications because of their more ‘light-hearted’ or shallow culture. On Belief, we may express ourselves and feel certain that others in our Belief circles would listen, understand, and provide advice and luxury. We’re also all privileged to have powerful women in our lives, but we seldom have the chance to sit down and ask them more probing questions. We can ask them to share their Beliefs stories with us. We saw that the women from the communities we worked with and their amazing stories didn’t have a platform outside of their communities to be heard, on top of our frustrations and motivations. They’ll utilise their voices to tell their stories with Belief, and the stories they tell are usually a testament to the value they hold.
Juetten: Have you recently noticed any problems exclusive to female founders?
Shah: As women, we’re prone to underselling ourselves and being hyper-aware of how we should behave to be taken seriously — all of this may drown out our ability to just be ourselves. So one of our major concerns has been communicating about Belief confidently and conveying the strong perception we have in our imagination to others — without coming out as overconfident. We’ve found the courage to boldly talk about our work and its importance while channelling who we are to offer credibility to our case, thanks to a supportive community of mentors and advisers, as well as validation from beta consumers.
Juetten: Did you raise any funds?
Shah: We’re currently self-funded.
Juetten: Starting a business is a journey; what is your favourite startup storey?
Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali, the creators of Atoms, are some of our favourite startup stories. We initially became aware of them because of their role in People of New York. They started from the ground up, coming from different backgrounds, using KFC as their office and sharing a single laptop computer. They’ve grown from a group of local craftspeople in a tiny hamlet in Pakistan to become the first shoe company to offer quarter sizes, addressing the most common shoe purchasing issue — fit. Regardless of their low origins, they didn’t let their humble beginnings stop them from chasing their dreams, and despite several disappointments, they were determined to try once more. When we feel unqualified to follow our vision and experience our rejections and disappointments, this bravery and perseverance serve as a reminder to pick it up and keep trying.
Juetten: What criteria do you use to define success, and what is your favourite success storey?
Zhang: We assess our success by our impact on customers, whether on a local or large scale: we’re successful if the people who use our product experience real changes in their connections and communities. As a group, we judge our performance by transforming difficult situations into viable options.
Whitney Wolfe Herd, the creator of Bumble, is one of our favourite success stories. While most people know Whitney as the co-founder of Bumble and the youngest woman to ever take a company public, many people don’t realise that Bumble’s success was built on the failure of another company she co-founded, Tinder. Her then-boyfriend harassed her, a company executive dumped and eventually fired. Instead of allowing the nightmare to consume her, it spurred her determination. Whitney has faced the pinnacle of sexism in her personal and professional lives, yet she has found a way to overcome these enormous obstacles.
As a consequence, it’s one of our favourite success stories. Whitney not only represents the courage of an advocate for more healthy relationships and better work situations for women, but she also uses these attributes to encourage women worldwide to do the same. Her bravery and tenacity are inspiring, and they inspire us as we build Belief.
Juetten: Do you have any advice for female startups in their early stages?
- Remind yourself of the notion that prompted creating what you’re working on. As women, we constantly come to a halt due to the different hurdles we unavoidably encounter. Options may change over time – you’ll be refining, improving, and changing the product – but remembering the ‘why’ behind it isn’t just inspiring. Still, it also helps you understand your future more clearly and define success by what matters.
- As women, we are usually nervous about asking for too much and refrain from doing so right away. Ask for exactly what you want – it’s valuable in life, but it’s much more important as a founder when a lot is going on, and you need to move quickly.
- And this one is for all entrepreneurs, not just women: starting a company is a “marathon, not a sprint,” as a wise person once told us when we were originally HearHealth. Grow accustomed to the idea that the fights will get harder as time goes on but that you will get stronger in the process.
Juetten: What is your next milestone, and do you have any long-term plans for your company?
Shah: The deployment of our beta product and assembly success indicators will be our next milestones. The long-term vision is straightforward: enable trust-building inside relationships and across communities a less difficult and more accessible occurrence regularly.
Thanks to Jiali and Ria for sharing their startup experiences and we stay up for seeing the product when it comes out of beta. It’s tough work working an organization, so believing that what you’re doing and understanding that it would lengthen past the marathon to a triathlon, is crucial to success. #onwards.