Bootstrapper Mandeep Dhillon Launches Togetherville

One of our fellow Bootstrappers, Mandeep Singh Dhillon, co-founder and CEO of Togetherville Inc, ( launches his social network for children to the public. Katherine Boehret wrote about them in “A Social Network to Grow On,” reporting that after operating as a private beta with 800 test users for six months, the site went public on May 18, 2010.

“The site provides a social-networking environment that kids can enjoy and that parents will feel comfortable managing.  It is designed to function as a safe, kid-centric social network. The site guides kids ages 6 through 10 on how to communicate online with others, using canned responses and parental participation. Togetherville links into Facebook so parents who use the popular social-networking site can have a say in who their children are connecting with and can even interact with their kids online.”

Larry Magid covered them in his “Magid on Tech” column “New Social Site Designed for Children” noting some well thought out features:

Like Facebook — and unlike virtual worlds like Club Penguin — children are identified by their real names and real pictures, but the only people they can interact with are other children who have been pre-approved by their parents.

It’s a totally different model than anything I’ve seen before, and after a preview and several conversations with founder Mandeep Dhillon, I’m very impressed with what they are trying to do.

The idea behind Togetherville is to create online “neighborhoods” similar to real-life neighborhoods where children interact with each other and adults they know.

Only a parent can set up a child’s Togetherville account and link the child to other children and trusted adults such as grandparents and other family members.

Children can interact with other Togetherville members but only by selecting prescreened “quips,” text comments approved by Togetherville staff.

That greatly reduces the chances of cyber-bullying and abusive behavior and eliminates any opportunity for a child to reveal personal information such as their home address.

Kevin Makice calledTogetherville a “Digital Training Ground for Young Geeks” noting that:

Fully compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), Togetherville is intended for kids who are too young for Facebook, officially, but have parents immersed in that culture. The 6- to 10-year-olds are invited to engage with their real-world friends, play games, watch videos, and create art. Grownups act as the gateways for new contacts, assuming the responsibility for inviting other families to join each child’s online neighborhood. Experiencing online networking together, grownups can guide their kids through the age-appropriate content in an ad-free environment.

Mandeep attended the Palo Alto  Bootstrappers Breakfast in December of 2008 while he was still bootstrapping.  We asked him today about his journey since then and for any advice for fellow bootstrappers. He said:

When we started Togetherville, we had passion, and no money.  For more than two years I passed up opportunities to do other things because I believed that building a better online experience for my kids was worth it.  If you have the passion, you can cross a lot of barriers.  We were not going to be deterred, and ultimately, passion is required to produce a product that has real impact.

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