Waunakee resident Caeli Rice has developed a smartphone app for Apple and Android devices, allowing users to share information without surrendering their personal data.
The 37-year-old software developer launched the app, Tosslet, in early September.
She said the application is similar to social-media platforms that enable users to share messages with their followers, yet different in the sense that no data collection takes place.
“We don’t collect any information about the people receiving the messages,” Rice said. “They don’t even put in an email address, making it safer and providing more privacy than some other options people may have. No logging in or password to remember.”
Rather than selling data, Rice said revenue comes from the purchase of “tosses” – comparable to status updates on Facebook, or tweets on Twitter – by those wishing to post information.
Tosses cost anywhere from 40 cents to a dollar, depending on the total number that are purchased.
Rice said the feature is designed for local businesses and organizations, as it allows them to share information with members of their community who have downloaded the app.
“This makes it really affordable for small businesses to reach lots of people who are nearby,” Rice said. “They could toss out a message every week for an entire year for about $20, or every day of the year for less than $150.”
For community members, or “catchers,” the app is free to use.
Rice said the idea spawned from her desire to remain informed about local programs and events while maintaining privacy in the online world. Existing platforms failed to provide that opportunity.
Social media had become a place where personal data was monetized for marketing purposes.
“I didn’t use Facebook diligently for years because I was just tired of it,” Rice said. “The feed is so driven by their algorithm, to try and get you to stay on their app or their website, or target you with advertising. A lot of times, you’ll see an event that took place days ago. That’s not helpful.”
Rice sought a better alternative, even if it meant creating one herself. Fortunately for her, she had the skillset to do just that.
A computer-engineering major, Rice graduated from UW-Madison in 2005. She pursued a career in software development, initially working for medical-device and scientific-instrument companies.
Her job involved writing software for anesthesia machines, ICU ventilators and spectrometers.
In 2010, Rice moved to Westport so that her newborn son could attend the Waunakee school district. The ensuing months would serve as the incubation period for her future business.
“I just had a lot of time where I was taking long walks with (my son),” Rice said, “and I’d just think up different ideas. Like if I wanted to write a website or an app, or build something for the world, what would it be? And eventually, I landed on the idea for Tosslet.”
Early concepts involved throwing a virtual ball, back and forth, between mobile devices.
Rice bought the domain name Tosslet.com in 2011, unsure of what the product would look like. Six years passed before she became serious about developing the idea into a software program.
In that time, her vision had become more concrete.
“I thought it would be great if there was an app where people could spread the word about events that they’re putting on, or want people to attend, in a way that was affordable and transparent – and not about data collection,” Rice said.
Rice reached out to various startup accelerators for seed investment. One of them, Y Combinator stressed the importance of having a co-founder to help get her business off the ground.
Rice recruited former colleague and MBA Stephan Woods.
Following several failed attempts to receive funding, the two decided to rethink their business strategy. Eventually, they agreed to forego funding and maintain more of their intellectual rights.
“One of the problems with getting investors is that you’re beholden to repaying those investors, on top of potentially following whatever leads they want you to take,” Rice said. “It can kind of take on a life of its own, and drive you to do things you wouldn’t necessarily do otherwise.”
The pair formed their own limited liability company, Tosslet LLC, in 2018.
October of that year, they released the first version of their web app. Users were given the ability to share messages with followers, without comprising either party’s data.
“The website was the back-end of the whole product,” Rice said. “And right after I finished with Version 1 of the website code, I started playing around with the mobile app development… And by August 2020, we were pretty close to where we are now.”
Woods relocated, and Rice launched the mobile app in September.
The software developer said she has already begun working on a second version of the app, which will include a notifications feature among other improvements.
She said the goal is to one day expand to other communities throughout the country.