Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Q&A: ‘Talk to me if’: Students to connect if they relate on new app

Illustration by Nineth Kanieski Koso
Students post “talk to me if” statements for others to respond to.

With new app Talk to me if, Northwestern students can reach out to one another if they have ever painted The Rock, want to try a new coffee shop or plan a trip downtown.

Vlada Bortnik (McCormick ‘01), creator of TTMI, graduated with a background in computer engineering and art. Having previously worked in tech and non-profit organizations, Bortnik said she wanted to create something herself.

“Seeing ideas can go from an idea to actually implementation, I really got hooked on this idea of starting a company and being an entrepreneur,” Bortnik said.

Bortnik and her husband co-founded Marco Polo, a video chat app that allows users to send and receive videos for asynchronous conversation. She began developing TTMI last summer alongside student representatives from colleges around the country.

The app is live at Yale University and Utah State University — and will be released at NU on May 2 with a launch party. Students can join a waitlist until then.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily: A theme with both TTMI and Marco Polo is bringing people together. What’s your motivation and the importance of creating platforms that bridge human connection, even online?

Bortnik: My husband (and I) saw how, together, one plus one doesn’t make two — it makes more than that. After our previous startup, we started having a family, and that really shifted everything for us. We really didn’t want to have a job just to have a job. We wanted something that was going to make a huge difference in the world. As we were having kids, the question was, “What can we do for our kids?” For us, it was so obvious. We just wanted more happiness. Because both of us have engineering backgrounds, it was like, “I think we can actually figure out how to bring more happiness in the world.” We read all the research papers on happiness. We really dove into understanding what makes people happy. And the thing that kept coming up was relationships.

The Daily: How does TTMI embody those values, trying to spread that happiness but also pioneer a new way to build those connections?

Bortnik: The purpose of the company is to help people feel close. There’s so many people you don’t know. There are lots of times in your life where you move into a new place, you start something new, and there’s nobody that they know. Our focus shifted into, “How can we expand our purpose?” One way to expand our purpose is to look at this other side of the problem statement.

Especially in college life when you first get to school — and sometimes even after the first few years — it’s hard to find the person who gets you. College is a time where you make your friends for different hobbies, majors, classes, but there’s actually not that many great ways to do that. College is the best time to meet people, yet people are so involved on their phones that actually it’s hard to get them to connect. TTMI was born from lots of research, lots of talking to students, lots of iteration to break down the barrier. It’s the low-stakes way to meet people who are into the same stuff as you.

The Daily: What makes this app different from current popular social media?

Bortnik: Connections really matter. The soul of our whole company is to create technology that’s good for you. This is not another social media app where things are less social, more media. This is really an app for connection. Social media started as a way to connect but over the years became a lot more about quantity of connections, as opposed to the quality of connections.

Email: [email protected] 

X: @kelleylu_

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