Steve Morris is not "CEO material." He's very clear on that point.
"I'm a software developer and have been all my life," said Morris, founder and CTO of Bubblr. "I've spent my career at various places developing software and trying to come up with really left-field solutions to problems."
Morris has worked in the auto industry on computer mainframes and developed automated manufacturing solutions, but now he's working on something different. Morris, a self-proclaimed "news junkie," wanted a better way to consume news, so he did what developers often do when faced with a problem – he created an app. Soon, though, he noticed his application might have another use altogether.
"It occurred to me that [this app] was kind of like a template for a different way to search for stuff on the internet," he said. "One that worked in a completely different way than Google does."
That was the seed that would later grow into Bubblr, a breaking news application and mobile marketing platform aimed at empowering end users, suppliers and content creators, rather than big businesses.
The problem of the internet's evolution
While Bubblr started as a personal project to create a better news aggregator, it grew into a mission to reform the internet. Driven by a philosophy of ethics and fairness, Morris wants to change what he sees as a pay-to-play system designed to benefit a digital oligopoly.
"It occurred to me that when the internet was first taking off, everyone had this dream of commercial activity being democratized," Morris said. "Small suppliers would be able to compete with giants with just a website; the real edge would be given to those who could innovate the most."
Unfortunately, Morris said, that dream seems to have died. The internet is dominated by large search engines, social platforms and massive retailers. For Morris, these companies have cornered the market and charge a "global tax" on all businesses – one that must be paid if they want a chance to compete.
"Traffic is all driven by content, which people expect to get for free, but the cost of that is being bombarded with unsolicited ads," Morris said. "Now, we're moving into this world where people's behavior, data and identity is being exploited by this model."
According to Morris, content creators don't see their fair share of the value they generate, small suppliers can't afford to compete for attention with companies that have deeper pockets, and the end users' experience suffers while their data is captured, stored, analyzed and exploited.
"People are starting to realize this model doesn't work," Morris said. He sees Bubblr's model as the solution.
Bubblr's mission to change the internet
Founded in 2015, Bubblr is building an audience with the goal of offering an alternative model. Morris said he wants to see content creators rewarded for their work, while small suppliers have an equal chance to compete with big players. He also wants to empower the end user with a superior search experience that doesn't come at the cost of their personal data.
Bubblr's model is relatively simple: All suppliers pay the same monthly subscription to be listed on Bubblr. Upon signing up, suppliers fill out specifics about their business. For example, Morris said, a bed-and-breakfast could select its location and common local activities such as fishing and hiking. The more precise these profiles are, the likelier their company will end up in front of end users conducting relevant searches. End users simply enter the information they're looking for, so someone who wanted to visit a B&B for a quiet nature retreat would see suppliers relevant to that query. The end user can then upvote or downvote the result, or flag it as completely irrelevant, improving the algorithm for similar future searches.
Morris said Bubblr needs to build an audience first, though.
"For Bubblr to work, we need at least 1 million regular monthly users and 100 suppliers across a range of different categories of services and products," he said. That's where the content creators come in.
Bubblr aims to build its initial audience with a breaking news application and "app factory," which creates branded content applications for creators. To reward content creators for their work, Morris said, Bubblr shares 50% of the revenue it generates from its search platform with them, based on how much of their content is consumed.
With Bubblr, Morris said, there are several key differences from the prevailing model:
- No personal data about the end user is captured. There are no logins or cookies; users remain anonymous to Bubblr.
- Suppliers get noticed based on the relevance of their listing to the end user's query, regardless of their size. Every supplier pays the same amount, so there is no gaming the system.
- Content providers are rewarded with revenue-sharing opportunities from Bubblr's mobile marketing platform. The more they help grow the platform, the more they stand to make.
"It's just a better model," Morris said. "We know it works, and now people are realizing how dreadful the existing economic models on the internet are, especially over the abuse of private data."
Where is Bubblr now?
Currently, Bubblr is raising money to realize its model. Morris said fundraising has taken off in recent years, especially with high-profile stories of data misuse circulating in the news. Moreover, Morris believes using blockchain to authenticate genuine content and avoid promoting "fake news" is an element of Bubblr's breaking news app that everybody can get behind. The search function comes next, once Bubblr develops a sufficient audience to support it.
"We've only built a prototype of the search process," Morris said. "We've built a model, and we're going through a significant fundraise that should be completed in three months' time. We're spending hundreds of millions to develop this mobile platform. ... The key is that we first need to build the audience, which we're doing with the news app."
The backbone of Bubblr's model is ethics and fairness, Morris said. All its employees own a stake in the company, investors are aware that 50% of the revenue will be given away to content creators, and suppliers can expect to be treated equally.
"One of the reasons that I personally want to do this is to show people you can have a successful business and tech startup without being an evil, psychopathic monster," Morris said, "that you can be socially responsible but also competitive and entrepreneurial. That doesn't mean you can't be fair. All our business decisions are based on fairness."
While Morris acknowledges that Bubblr would "never make as much as Google" even if it does take off, that's not his goal. His real objective, he said, is simple: "We want to change the world."