As a founder, there’s always so much to do that it sometimes takes a push to step back and really notice and appreciate all your company has accomplished. Today, I have the opportunity to take that moment, as we announce our $30 Million Series A funding round. The round, led by Lakestar, is a testament to the incredible work Modulate is doing in making online interactions safer and combating online toxicity, and it’s also a great reminder to reflect on how far we’ve come. So let’s talk a bit about Modulate’s beginnings, what we’re up to now - and of course, where we’re going next.
How We Got Here
In undergrad, my cofounder Carter Huffman and I used to take long walks along the Charles River in Cambridge, discussing the sorts of topics college kids always gravitate towards – high-handed philosophy, futurism, and a healthy dose of excitement about artificial intelligence.
One topic that came up often was the set of ideals we referred to as the “promise of the internet.” By connecting everyone in the world, we had opened up an incredibly powerful opportunity for individual learning, joy, and innovation, as well as societal growth.
But, as we often lamented, that promise was (and is still!) unfulfilled. For all the amazing things the internet has brought us, it’s still arguably best known for the problems it created: invasive advertising and the erosion of privacy; addictive and manipulative apps and business models; an overload of information (and misinformation); and, most notably, the decreased connectedness that leads to so much toxicity.
This problem continually captured our imagination during college and even after. What would it look like, to actually see the promise of the internet fulfilled? We knew that an essential part of the answer would be to make interacting online feel more human, more meaningful, and especially less toxic…but how?
Even when we founded Modulate in 2017 to make the internet a safer and more welcoming place for everyone, we still didn’t quite know how to accomplish that. Oh, we had ideas – and some pretty amazing tech to back them up! – but it wasn’t until we chatted with the most popular and engaging social platforms out there that we started to truly understand why fixing toxicity was so hard.
We ultimately learned that though it was understood that people require voice-based interactions in order to convey emotion online, voice processing was so complex that platforms lacked any sort of tools to monitor for toxicity. It was a conundrum: voice chat builds trust and camaraderie to foster safe and engaged online communities, but there was no way to prevent toxic behavior that was cost-effective, privacy-respecting, or remotely intelligent…much less all three!
“Hey,” we thought, “we’re a couple of MIT kids, and they’re describing a technical problem. That’s right in our wheelhouse – how hard can it possibly be?”
Several years and millions of dollars in seed money later, we can confidently answer that it’s quite a hard problem indeed. But at the same time, we’re incredibly proud of our amazing team for having overcome those challenges to build ToxMod, the world’s first moderation platform specifically designed for voice and all it entails.
Where We’re Going
Now we move on to our next challenge – bringing this solution to every game, community, and platform, and enabling them all to protect their users in the way we know they strive to do. That is precisely why we’re so excited to announce our $30 Million Series A, led by Lakestar and supported by investors like Hyperplane, Everblue, and Galaxy. We know developers of all shapes and sizes have been eagerly awaiting a voice moderation system like ToxMod, and, thanks to our early success with top titles like Rec Room (and a few more exciting partnership to be announced soon), we’re humbled to have so many amazing folks agreeing that we’ve got something remarkable in our hands.
With this new capital in hand, we’ve already begun quite the hiring spree – by the end of this month, we’ll have a team of 27, compared to 15 earlier this year! And we’re not stopping there – we’re continuing to grow throughout the rest of the year in all areas of the business (see our open roles here!). Moderation is a complex and constantly-evolving problem, so our platform needs to evolve alongside those changing trends. We need software engineers, businesspeople, operations and support staff, and most of all, folks who share our passion for making a safer internet so that we can provide unique, thoughtful, and meaningful partnerships for each of our customers.
Today, ToxMod is focused on supporting English – expect to see new languages coming out the door soon. We’re also working closely with existing and upcoming customers to tackle some of the biggest remaining challenges around moderation. How can we protect children before a sexual predator comes after them, rather than recognizing and punishing the perpetrator after the fact? How can we make sure to respect the diversity of players and give each group the space to define their own norms, while also providing strong guarantees of safety to those who feel they need them? Moderators themselves have an awfully tough job listening to toxic content everyday – what can we do to make their jobs easier and support their mental health? Expect to see further innovation from Modulate addressing these areas in the coming months and years.
A final note regarding this fundraise – it couldn’t have happened without our team. Carter and I have been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such a diverse, passionate, and brilliant group of people, and while I absolutely am overjoyed that we’ll be able to help so many others enjoy a richer online social experience, I must confess that not even that feeling quite matches the potent mix of pride, humility, and exhilaration I feel when looking at the team we’ve assembled and the unique culture of transparency, growth, and mutual appreciation we’re building together. Thanks so much to everyone who has been part of the Modulate journey so far: our friends and family, our supportive investors, our wonderful customers, and especially our remarkable employees. And to those of you building online platforms with an eye towards inclusivity – or seeking a job that combines fascinating problems, amazing people, and a genuine positive impact in the world – I can’t wait to work with you.