These Harvard grads just launched a startup with $3.95 million led by Accel to give users more control over data and make privacy policies less 'terrible'

TranscendBen Brook, CEO and cofounder of Transcend
  • On Thursday, Transcend launched with a $US3.95 million seed round led by Accel.
  • Transcend focuses on data privacy by gives users more control over their data by making it easier for them to see how apps are using their personal data and downloading it.
  • Transcend CEO Ben Brook co-founded Transcend as a student at Harvard, and he explains how it initially ‘got rejected like 18 times’ before getting a check that helped Transcend take off.
  • With more regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, Brook believes data privacy will become even more important in the coming years.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The idea for Transcend started after cofounders Ben Brook and Michael Farrell became friends studying computer science at Harvard.

One thing that they would talk about constantly was privacy, and they decided to start a company focused on it. Right before graduation, they flew out to Silicon Valley to pitch their ideas to investors.

“We got rejected like 18 times,” Brook told Business Insider.

But things took a turn when Brook and Farrell were headed to the airport to fly home when they got a call from a Harvard alumnus, who told them he would write them a check for $US50,000. That was enough to get them off the ground.

Now Transcend is coming out of stealth mode, with the announcement on Thursday of a $US3.95 million seed round of funding led by venture capital firm Accel.

Transcend ties directly into helping people see how companies are using and tracking their data. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation passed in 2018 was just one regulation that required companies to disclose how they’re using data and give them control over it. Brook expects more such regulations to come.

“Privacy was our greatest passion,” Brook said. “Furthermore, companies were also agonized by the technical challenges of managing their personal data.”

“An impenetrable wall of legal text”

Brook sees two major problems when it comes to privacy. One is that people have “terrible” customer experience when it comes to privacy policies. To address this, Transcend is working to build a better interface for customers – essentially, a one-stop shop for users to understand what a company is doing with their personal data.

Companies can plug the software applications they’re using into Transcend, and Transcend will automatically gather together information about the application’s data privacy.

“[Privacy policies are] written for lawyers by other lawyers,” Brook said. “To the actual users of the technology, they’re given an impenetrable wall of legal text. Privacy policies are the most unusable thing on the Internet…We present things in a TLDR format to understand what data is being collected and what it’s being used for.”

The second problem is that people should have rights to their data. For example, if someone wants to download their data or opt out of the marketing and sale of their personal information, they can do so from Transcend ‘s platform.

“Things were about to be different in the privacy world”

Brook and Farrell went into starting a company straight out of college. They came up with the idea because they were interested in downloading their personal data from apps, but there wasn’t an easy way to do it. And with the passage of GDPR, they felt it was the right time to build a platform that deals with how people access and control their personal information.


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“I think the default was to go to work at a company, but we really felt like we were onto something,” Brook said. “We were so passionate about privacy. We had an inkling that things were about to be different in the privacy world.”

When they were at the airport two years ago, they were “sort of heads down” and weren’t even sure if they were going to be able to launch a startup until they got that call.

“I think since then, it’s been relatively smooth sailing,” Brook said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a brand new market that’s growing quite rapidly.”

Looking back, Brook said he realised he and Farrell didn’t know how to approach investors.

“I think at the time, we were relatively naive compared to ourselves today,” Brook said. “It was frustrating, but at the time, it was before privacy was even an important thing. It made sense at the time because very few investors realised there was about to be a great privacy awakening the following year. Initially it was a little frustrating, but we got the check.”

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