Startup Feature: An interview with the cofounder of Truthly

HIVE recently caught up with Hrachya Manukyan, the cofounder of  Truthly, an anonymous messaging and feedback app for friends and contacts. Based in Armenia, the website is currently in beta with a mobile version on the way.

Below Manukyan shares the original inspiration for the company and how they plan to differentiate from international competition. He also discusses the growing Armenian tech ecosystem and the benefits of starting up in Yerevan.

What inspired you to create Truthly?

The idea of Truthly was simply born when I wanted to tell to my friend something but was afraid to do it face-to-face. It was just personal advice to help him improve one aspect of his life, but it was really hard for me to tell him because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

For all of us, there are things that may bother us about our friends and things we would like to help them to work on, but we are unable to share our thoughts with them freely. I thought it would be great if we could just tell them anything we want anonymously. I shared the idea with my friend Alexander, he liked it, and we started work on Truthly a few weeks later.

How does Truthly work?

Truthly allows people to give honest feedback to their friends by sending direct, anonymous messages to them. People can give feedback only to people they really know; users have to answer some personal questions about the other person (mobile phone number, birthday or other custom questions) before sending a message to a person. Users can also be recognized as a “social friend” via Facebook for example. Thus strangers are not able to give unwanted feedback or spam.

Truthly encourages people to ask for feedback about themselves. If you want more feedback, you can ask for it on Facebook or other social networks via the platform. Users themselves don’t need to sign in or leave any personal information which ensures 100% anonymity.

When did you start developing Truthly and when will it launch?

Website development was started in January 2013, and the first beta of was launched in August. Now we are going to switch Truthly to mobile. Mobile app development was started in June 2014 and the first release is expected in early August.

Describe how you built your team.

I started Truthly with my friend Alexander Adamyan (he is the founder of two successful companies – Simply Print and Simply Technologies in Armenia). We both are programmers and handle development ourselves. But everything changed about a month ago when we expanded our team. Now Simply Technologies is our partner company and our team consists of six members. We have a professional designer, a great marketing specialist and experienced developers. Our new team is one of the greatest things that happened with us since the project started.

What makes your startup unique compared to others in the space?

We are focused on personal, constructive feedback which makes us different from other anonymous apps and websites. Our aim is not just fun or socializing; we want to help people to become better and achieve more through honest feedback. We encourage people to ask for feedback themselves; a lot of people on Truthly already ask for feedback from their friends on Facebook and are getting it. Luckily, we’ve seen 95% constructive feedback.

Where are you based and what markets are you targeting?

We are based in Armenia but are mainly focused on international markets. Our key markets are Russia, Europe and North America. Our current users are mostly from Russia, Italy, the U.S., Romania, Serbia, Turkey, the UK, and Georgia.

Besides funding, what is Truthly looking for from possible partners?

Although funding can help us a lot to spend more time and efforts on Truthly, it is not the main thing we need. We mostly want the opportunity to be a part of a creative and innovative environment like Silicon Valley. We need to communicate and be in touch with mentors, experienced entrepreneurs and people like us (for example, recently we met former Myspace CEO Mike Jones here in Yerevan. Our 2 hour conversation was very valuable for us and gave us a lot of great ideas). If we receive some funding or a grant we would love to use part of it to move to Silicon Valley or a similar place for some time.

What's the next step for Truthly?

Next we are focused on developing the mobile app and expanding our model for getting feedback. We started from the website and validated the problem that we are going to solve using the online community, but to scale we need to  switch to mobile. We are currently in the mobile development stage and the app release is expected in early August. That will be the first version of Truthly.

Next we have some work to do to develop the mechanism for how people receive feedback. Direct anonymous messages are not the only way of giving or receiving feedback. We tested the option of predefined simple questions that can be sent to a person’s friends. We will integrate this and other features in the next releases of Truthly. After 2-3 years, when we have a critical mass of users we hope to start using a B2C2B model allowing individuals to offer Truthly to their companies or send anonymous feedback to their management.

How has Truthly engaged the Armenian tech ecosystem?

Although we don’t consider Armenia as our main market, we live and work in Armenia. 30% of our users are from Armenia and our team consists of all Armenians. We love our country and want to develop a startup environment here. We created Startup Club in Armenia, including 11 promising, globally-focused startups. During our meetups, we are sharing our knowledge and experience with each other.

What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs in Armenia?

I see a great future for young Armenian entrepreneurs. While there is still work to be done, there is a lot of potential to be tapped here. Some of us must go through places like Silicon Valley to see and experience all the energy there, collect it and return to Armenia to innovate here. A lot of things have been done in the last two years to develop the startup environment in Armenia.

But while Armenian youth have innovative minds, many need to begin to think globally.  You can be brilliant and have all of the characteristics of a good entrepreneur, but if you don’t think globally you can’t create something big. You can create products that will change your neighborhood, maybe your city or a country but they will not change the world. We need entrepreneurs who want to change the world. Start small but think big.