Solving Privacy Through Ephemerality at Glimpse

Ephemerality, Privacy and “Glimpse”: Interview with Elissa Shevinsky, the CEO of Glimpse

As we all know and experience, we live days sculpted by the overwhelming presence of modern technological devices. If such devices have helped our life in many ways, they have also raised new issues and worries. Everything we make in the internet leaves a digital footprint, stored in servers throughout the world. That is the very nature of the web.

Such a massive storage of data, what we call now big data, has affected our conceptions of privacy, making us more vulnerable and not in total control of all that we do. Responding to the worries of civil society in May 2014, the European Union Court of Justice ruled that ordinary Internet users have a “right to be forgotten.” The startup world hasn´t been indifferent to such problematics, and for the last few years we saw the emergence of various ephemeral apps, promising the user their so much praised privacy. Glimpse is one of such apps, that gained increased attention as the most interesting ephemeral messaging solutions. The app uses end-to-end encryption when sending messages, and keeps no user logs.

The woman behind Glimpse, is Elissa Shevinsky, that began by being a journalist & lobbyist, until she moved to the startups world. She was the founder and CEO of MakeOut Labs, a startup building online dating and social networking software, but her interest and obsession with ephemerality, led her to co-found Glimpse with Pax Dickinson, a former CTO of Business Insider. Both were involved in an episode that raised awareness to some pockets of sexism still existing in the tech startup world. Pax Dickinson, and Elissa Shevinsky ended their working partnership after he tweeted in defense of an app called Titstare. But the two later on reconciled after Mr. Dickinson wrote a public apology, and their partnership moved on to more fruitful terrain.

Intelligenthq interviewed Elissa Shevinsky about her interesting project:

Can you tell us the history of the company “weneedglimpse”

Pax and I founded Glimpse in March 2013, at the SXSW festival. But we’d been working together (on a similar idea) beforehand – he was an advisor to my last company. I’ve been obsessed with ephemerality forever, and Pax was one of the first people to share that with me. It was really intense in the early days of Glimpse. Pax was still at Business Insider, and I still was CEO of my other company MakeOut Labs. Thinking about where we were last summer makes me really appreciate where we are now – everyone is full time on Glimpse, Kelly Hoey is the best possible independent board member, our investors are super helpful and we’ve really come together as a team. I try to stop and appreciate this stuff. It took me and Pax years to put together this team – it means so much to me to have this.

How has been your experience concerning the male dominated world of tech ?

What can I say about male dominated tech? What’s really interesting to me right now is how sexism isn’t equally distributed throughout the industry. There are amazing men (and women) who want to collaborate in a respectful and productive way. The key is to find those people. That’s not just about sexism – I’ve found that the worst sexism tends to happen when people just aren’t professional for whatever reason. When people appreciate what it means to show up to work, when they take their leadership roles seriously – that’s when see more respectful and collaborative environments. The American Apparel CEO is such a great example of this – he was apparently wearing his underpants to the office. Who does that? As for work environments, well, it’s been a long time since I worked in someone else’s office. I’m fortunate to be able to run my own company and create my own environment.I think that more experienced women (and men) in tech should mentor the more junior people in the industry, and help them find their best possible career moves (which includes stuff like making introductions to friends with awesome companies that are hiring.)

How could we improve the number of women in tech ?  What can women do to change the male dominated “sexist” culture still prevalent in the tech startup world ?

This is a hard question but right now I think what the best possible thing is for women to mentor junior women interested in the industry. I’d also love to see more women angel invest.

What are your projects for the future concerning your Startup?

Glimpse is focusing on building features for our current early adopter group, which is mostly high schoolers and sorority girls. We had started out very privacy focused, and discovered that our users wanted to use the app in much more social ways. So I’m working closely now with young women from Bronx Science, and with our brand ambassadors at college sororities. Right now I’m just staying very close to our users, and focusing on what’s next with the product. A lot of the features that they’re saying they want were always part of our roadmap. So…it’s kind of cool that we can pivot like this (from “private” to “social”) and still be true to our original vision.

What is your opinion on the issues of privacy/transparency that increasingly characterize our times ?  Big Data is also one of the buzzwords of nowadays. Is it possible to realize value from Big Data ?

Data is great, but you need to know what you’re looking for and how to analyze it. There are so many different issues to get into with data but my biggest pet peeve is definitely retargeting. I’ll go shopping at Sephora or JCrew, add stuff to my cart and then decide I just don’t love those items. Then I’ll see ad after ad encouraging me to buy that cashmere sweater that I decided I didn’t really want. It’s like I’m being haunted by my abandoned shopping cart.