The Greek American Who Wants to Build the New Facebook

Photo by Eirik Solheim

Greek-American Silicon Valley investor Jason Calacanis has a very ambitious plan; to create the new Facebook, or a “social network that is actually good for society”.

For that purpose, Calacanis made The Openbook Challenge, a campaign that will offer seven “purpose-driven teams” $100,000 in investment to build a social network that could replace Facebook while protecting consumer privacy.

“We want to invest in replacements that don’t manipulate people and that protect our democracy from bad actors looking to spread misinformation,” the challenge website reads.

Seven winning teams will be invited to join Calacanis’ Launch incubator where they will work for 12 weeks under the mentorship of the investor to develop their social network, The Guardian newspaper reports.

“All community and social products on the internet have had their era, from AOL to MySpace, and typically they’re not shut down by the government – they’re slowly replaced by better products,” said Calacanis in a blogpost announcing the challenge. “So, let’s start the process of replacing Facebook.”

The Greek Reporter had discovered the genius of Calacanis as far back as 2008. At the time, he had started the first human-powered search engine, Mahalo.com, a platform he had described as being something between Wikipedia and Google.

Here is one of the things he had said about the future 10 years ago:

“Television sets will download half their programming from the Internet in the next five years, and folks will watch a lot of TV shows over their iPhone and laptops.”

That was 2008. In 2009, Calacanis challenged Mark Zuckerberg for the first time on the issue of privacy. He recorded an “open message” to Zuckerberg via a video he posted to YouTube (watch below) in which he said:

“You have no idea what you are doing when it comes to privacy. You have a lack of leadership at your company when it comes to privacy and you have a glib and reckless approach to people’s privacy.

“You are a brilliant engineer who is creating a level of mistrust with his users that is unprecedented and obnoxious.”

Later Calacanis invested in Uber and Thumbtack and has written a book called Angel – How to Invest in Technology Startups – Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000, which points to two reasons why Facebook has not yet been displaced.

As the Greek-American investor told The Guardian: “First, Zuckerberg has done an exceptional job of buying competitors. Instagram and WhatsApp were well on their way to disrupting Facebook when Zuck masterfully bought them out, sealing his monopoly position. The data they have across these three platforms builds an unprecedented moat.”

The second reason, he said, is Zuckerberg’s ability to “quickly steal innovative features from startups that refuse to sell to him, like Snapchat”.

Now, the Greek-American investor will have to select the seven companies, who will each receive $100,000 in return for a six-percent stake in their business. He aims at putting a great rival to Facebook and — why not — replace it.

“No matter how strong a big company is, there is always a chance that an indefatigable founder with a clever idea and a kick-ass team will be able to beat them,” he told The Guardian.