Celly launches its DIY network

0513 FOB Launch CellyDoes the world really need another social network?

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0513 FOB Launch Celly
Russell Okamoto, CEO of Celly
// Photo by Adam Wickham

Does the world really need another social network? If it’s a network that focuses on the social good, doesn’t bombard users with ads, and allows people to start and host their own networks, the answer is a resounding “yes,” says Russell Okamoto, CEO of Portland startup Celly. Founded in 2011, the company lets organizations, groups and individuals create “cells”: free, text messaging-based mobile social networks for group communication. So far government agencies, schools and nonprofits have taken advantage of the service. Teachers use Celly for student assessment, while groups such as Doctors Without Borders are interested in tapping the mobile network to collect health information from rural populations. In lieu of onsite advertising — “We don’t believe people want to be spammed,” Okamoto says — Celly aims to monetize by selling enterprise subscriptions. How will the company succeed in an industry fraught with competition? The days of centralized social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are numbered, Okamoto responds. “That’s all going to go away, and there will be a new reality where people want to own data, host it on their own machines and selectively talk to each other,” he says. Not that there aren’t challenges ahead. “We’re up against some of the richest, most powerful companies in the world,” Okamoto acknowledges. “You could say we’re foolish or we have a winning strategy.”


PRODUCT: Social media platform

CEO: Russell Okamoto



GRAND AMBITIONS: “I’m a 46-year-old with a daughter who is a high school student. I’m not a 20-something trying to build frivolous Snapchat-like things. Social enterprise is woven into the DNA of our business plan. We wanted to build something game changing.”

MONEY TRAIL: Secured $1.4 million investment led by Oregon Angel Fund in February. Five employees, including co-founder Greg Passmore. “We don’t have that many paying customers yet, but we have a lot of fans.”