- Marvel actor Blondy Baruti has launched BePerk, a social network aimed at giving users control.
- Baruti spoke with Insider about designing the app.
- “I believe in this, so I invested everything that I made in the last four years,” he said.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Back in 2017, Marvel actor Blondy Baruti was watching a few model friends post on social media, hungry for likes and followers, when he decided there had to be a better way.
“I thought, I won’t be able to stop all of this, but I can at least try to slow it down or minimize it by creating something in social media that will be focused on giving the power to the users,” Baruti said during a Thursday phone call from his Los Angeles home.
In the years since, Baruti, who played an alien villain, Huhtar, in “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2,” has used much of the money he earned from acting and writing a memoir to build the social media app BePerk.
Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Baruti escaped a bloody conflict in his youth, walking hundreds of miles to safety. After making his way to the US, he played college basketball – he’s about 6-foot-8 – and eventually ended up in Hollywood.
He told those stories in his 2018 memoir, written with Joe Layden, entitled “The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti: My Unlikely Journey from the Congo to Hollywood.”
Now, he’s been slowly rolling BePerk out to users, with an official launch timed to coincide with May’s Mental Health Awareness Month. The elevator pitch is that the app is focused on giving the user control instead of making it about likes or follower counts.
When the app’s users post photos or videos, they get to decide how long others can see them, with the low end set at just a few seconds. Information about how many followers each person has or how many views a post gets can be set to private.
The app’s features are a direct response to studies that have said social networks like Instagram are detrimental to young adults’ mental health, Baruti said. He says he doesn’t plan to rely on algorithms to get content in front of users, but rather let them choose what they want to see.
“Algorithms also cause a lot of user frustration,” said Janet Deskins, who teaches at Walden University’s MS in Marketing program. She added: “When frustration sets in, many people start searching for a different social media platform that appears to be less invasive.”
Deskins and others pointed out a range of boutique social apps that were vying for those who’ve decided Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter don’t offer enough control to users. Among them were Vero, MeWe, and Howbout.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore how Big Tech has been handling user data and infringing on user privacy, what with the heads of these major tech platforms appearing before Congress on a regular basis,” said Attila Tomaschek, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy.
Neil Tanna, chief executive at Howbout, said in an email that his app was built for “intimate” networks, not people who’ve you’ve never met.
On a phone call between London and Los Angeles on Thursday, Baruti was energetic, excited to talk about his new project, despite the early hour where he was.
“Hey man, hey man – I come from the Congo, OK,” he said. “I walked 500 miles, so I’m always hyped up.”
Baruti said he was used to being up at all hours, because he’d hired a team of overseas designers and coders to help him build the BePerk app. During the first year of the project, he’d be busy working most of the night. He would hop in bed after dinner, then wake up at about 10pm. He’d stay online with this team until 4am. Then he’d grab a quick “nap” and be ready for his day job.
“That was when it was super, super, super tough for me, just to try to balance everything,” Baruti said.
On the California paperwork filed for BePerk’s parent company, called Gods Hands Inc., Baruti’s listed as CEO, CFO, and secretary.
The app has his fingerprint on every part of it, down to the colors used for many of the buttons and screens. (“I always liked light blue, sky blue.”) The logo is a flash, signifying how fast a post can disappear. (“It was like a lightning bolt, like real quick, like a flash, like poof.”)
He wouldn’t say exactly how much of his money he’s spent to get the app up and running. But he said the next steps included introducing ads – a portion of each ad buy will go to charity – and seeking out new investors.
“I didn’t get any investment from anyone,” Baruti said. “I believe in this, so I invested everything that I made in the last four years from that time – from the movie, the book deal, from a couple shows I did for ABC.”