Building a better social media platform
Computer Engineering student Alexandra Debow wants authentic connection, not merely likes and followers
Alexandra Debow (’25) was born in Hong Kong, studied at NYU Shanghai and NYU Paris, and interned in San Francisco before coming to Brooklyn to enter NYU Tandon. That peripatetic life had both benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, she made friends wherever she went; on the other hand, moving meant bidding farewell to all those friends.
She ultimately grew tired of saying goodbye: it seemed like such a final declaration, so she took to saying instead, “See you again, somewhere, somehow,” a more accurate way to express her desire to stay connected to those who had become important to her.
An acronym derived from that phrase — “somewhere, somehow” — provided the name for a venture she recently launched: swsh, a social media platform that stresses genuine friendship, rather than follower counts and advertising content. “Social media stretches wide, it does not stretch deep,” she asserts. “We are given an illusion that all of our followers are our friends. In reality, they are not. Your finite true friends are lost in a daunting infinite feed of your followers.”
Debow realized the need for a platform like swsh after having an epiphany. Her social media feeds had come to feel like “an unfamiliar jungle of wild beasts I do not know — ads plastered from brands I do not care for, influencers’ posts pushed,” as she explains. It felt both irrelevant and overwhelming, governed by “an algorithm that knows everyone but no one.” swsh, which was a finalist in the Stern 300K Entrepreneurs Challenge and recently closed a pre-seed round of funding, harks back to the earlier days of social media, when it was easy to scroll through content from actual friends, whose activities and opinions a user truly cared about.
The start-up, which now encompasses a team with two other co-founders, engineers, and product designers, in addition to Debow as CEO, is far from the first she has built: at the height of the pandemic, she launched Alive Vibe, a virtual events marketplace connecting 30,000+ members of Gen Z (a label encompassing those born between 1996 and 2010), and her other ventures include a founders’ dinner series, a podcast network that attracts an estimated 20,000 listeners, and the WHY WAIT? Collective, which she describes as China’s first Gen Z-led women’s entrepreneurship conference.
Last month, she was invited to speak in San Francisco at the popular conference TechCrunch Disrupt, as part of a program on “Gen Z Founders You Should Know.” “My co-founder Weilyn Chong and I met with some ageism initially,” Debow says. “Attendees didn’t initially believe we were there as invited speakers, but it was satisfying to be onstage presenting what we’ve accomplished.”