Three months ago, he was laid off from Twitter. Now, his competing app Spill is funded. • TechCrunch
“I can’t explain it. It’s weird,” Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell said. After losing his job at Twitter when Elon Musk took over, the former global head of Social & Editorial didn’t want to rest — he wanted to build. “Coming straight out of it, I was just like, ‘Oh, it’s time. It’s time to build, whether we get support or not.’”
Luckily for Terrell, his new social media app Spill has already raised a $2.75 million seed round, the company announced today. Since revealing the project in mid-December, Spill reached 60,000 handle reservations.
Spill currently employs less than 10 people and has three strategic advisors, including former Twitter design chief Dantley Davis, #OscarsSoWhite creator and DEI advocate April Reign, and civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson. Serving as CTO is DeVaris Brown, a former Twitter product manager who left in 2020 to found Meroxa, a Series A startup that makes it easier for companies to build their data pipelines.
Terrell has more than a decade of director-level experience in marketing and social content, running campaigns for companies like HBO and Showtime before Twitter. If there’s any tech founder who can put his finger on the pulse of what social media users actually want, it’s Terrell — especially with an all-star team of advisors and colleagues in his corner.
Like Twitter, Spill will have a live news feed where users can post “spills,” a reference to the phrase “spill the tea.” Spill is also building a feature called “tea parties,” where users can host both online and IRL events, then get in-app bonuses to apply to things like boosting their posts — these bonuses will also be for sale.
“We’re really leaning into meme culture, making it easier to put text on images or gifs — little touches and tweaks like that have been really exciting,” Terrell said.
As Black social media founders, Terrell and Brown have observed the way that Black cultural contributions are ripped off or overshadowed, while white creators get credit for creating dances or memes that they had nothing to do with. Spill plans to incorporate blockchain technology to credit and pay creators who start trends and wide-ranging conversations, though Terrell is adamant that Spill is not a crypto project and will not pay in crypto. Rather, it’s just another technological tool that will exist under the hood.
On traditional social media platforms, Black people have carved out their own communities, like Black Twitter. Spill hopes to be a home for Black users from the get-go, since the very people building the app are part of that community. Terrell has been consulting Black creators about what they’re looking for on Spill, while Brown is building an AI moderation model that incorporates Black dialects in its DNA. Historically, studies have shown that tweets written in AAVE (African American vernacular English) were 2.2 times as likely to be mistakenly flagged as offensive. That’s because most AI can’t understand the cultural context in which certain speech is being used, especially if the humans behind the algorithm don’t understand either.
“We’re going to be more intentional and be more accurate around things that will be deemed offensive, because, again, this is our lived experience or learned experience,” Brown told TechCrunch in December. “It’ll be much more accurate to catch those kinds of things that will detract from the platform that would not lend to creating a safe space for our users and our creators.”
With its $2.75 million in pre-seed funding, the app will begin expanding its team — first, it will hire for four roles in engineering and community management.
Leading the investment are MaC Venture Capital and Kapor Center, with participation from Sunset Ventures. As reported by TechCrunch, Black founders remain disproportionately overlooked in venture capital, raising just 1% of funds in 2022.
“We knew we were up against quite a lot,” said Terrell. But when Terrell pitched Spill to the Kapor Center, a fund that specifically works to close access gaps for diverse founders, the investors decided to contribute within ten minutes of their pitch.
“We are excited that Spill aims to address major challenges created by existing social media platforms and utilize technology to build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive online communities,” said Allison Scott, CEO of the Kapor Center, in an emailed statement.
Spill plans to launch in alpha during the first quarter of this year. Users can reserve their handles on Spill’s website.