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“There’s still a gap when you look at the ability of popular social networks to inspire real action.”

Aris Michalopoulos is the founder and CEO of empeopled, a community-based conversation platform that delivers its users a feed of high-quality content and conversations related to their interests.

Aris holds a degree in economics from the University of Chicago, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2005. Aris is passionate about transforming social media into a medium of action and believes that by bringing political structure to social tools, we can help solve the world’s biggest problems. He is a 2014 Fellow in the Startup Leadership Program in Chicago.


BusinessInterviews.com: Where does your passion for transforming social media into a medium of action come from?

Aris: I’ve always had a passion for social media. My interest in social media really first sparked in early 2003 when I created the social network WhoUp while a student at the University of Chicago. The social media landscape has changed significantly since then, but there’s still a gap when you look at the ability of popular social networks to inspire real action.

BusinessInterviews.com: empeopled is your third social media company. What have you learned from previous ventures that you’ve been able to apply to this one?

Aris: I’ve learned that building a business that depends on network effects is epically difficult. You either need to be lucky and go viral quickly, or be prepared for a long and hard battle to win the hearts and minds of users. With empeopled, we prepared for the latter, mentally and financially.

BusinessInterviews.com: What inspired the concept behind empeopled? Can you talk a bit about the development process and any challenges that you faced along the way?

Aris: The inspiration for empeopled stemmed from the gradual realization that social media had devolved into a distraction: everything from photos of old acquaintances you haven’t talked to since high school to cat photos and endless BuzzFeed articles. We dreamt of a social platform able to distill the best content from across the Internet through curation by members with similar interests and ideals. Our larger hope is that by gathering together the right people around specific topics and providing the proper means of organization, we can spark intelligent conversation that eventually leads to offline action.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some social media trends that you’re excited about?

Aris: As social platforms gain in popularity, I think it will become increasingly important for these networks to provide consumers with some means of organization. There are over 2.5 billion people on the Internet. These people are generating content and having conversations, yet we only have a basic means of determining who and what we should be paying attention to. Once we can start organizing people and ideas, social media will be able to play a more impactful role in our lives.

I’m also closely following the social entrepreneurship trend. Social media has such great potential to organize and empower groups of people, and it’s refreshing to see entrepreneurs committed to using social as a medium to generate real change, instead of just profits.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share why you think it’s important for startups and tech companies to speak out in support of internet freedom and what are some ways that that they can do their part?

Aris: Putting morality and ethics aside, startups and tech companies need to realize that their livelihood and ability to ‘disrupt’ is dependent on internet freedom. Without that freedom, the status quo has more power to preserve its interests and as a result, innovation is stifled.

The first step is to for startups and tech companies to combat this is to speak up. It may not seem to affect you today, but by tomorrow it may be too late.

BusinessInterviews.com: As a serial entrepreneur, what’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?

Aris: I left a comfortable job with the hedge fund to work on empeopled full-time. It’s a story that’s still playing out, but I enjoy what I’m doing every day.

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