Social Network Becomes Founder’s Mission After Family Tragedy

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Family has always been the cornerstone of Ryan Beale’s life. So it may come as little surprise that the 31-year-old created a business, Chattertree.com, designed to help families remain connected in an increasingly fragmented world.

Growing up in a close-knit home as the youngest of three boys, Beale also has a surname that has become synonymous with Detroit commercial real estate. After graduating from Michigan State University, it seemed natural that he would work for his father, Jerry, at The Beale Group.

But, like so many of his contemporaries, he chose to leave Detroit and seek out new adventures; at age 23, he moved to Chicago with the intent of enrolling in a graduate writing program.

Pragmatic, Beale hedged his bet by earning an Illinois real estate broker’s license; the hedge paid off when he learned the writing program was full. Putting his creative aspirations on hold, he fell back on what he knew best, opening a Chicago brokerage firm called Beale Group & Associates LLC.

Through hard work, and without the benefit of name recognition, Beale pounded the pavement and grew the firm into a successful venture. However, a social activist nature and his desire for something creative were not tamped down.

Chattertree.com founder Ryan Beale, 31.

“Back home people knew my family and our company’s name. In Chicago, I was a 23-year-old with a baby face trying to compete with the industry leaders,” Beale said. “I wanted to earn my living by making a positive difference in the world. I thought that would be the perfect balance in life.”

In 2007, contemplating various options, he launched a beta-version of the social networking site he conceived for families. Two years in, his migration from real estate was sidetracked by personal tragedy when his older brother, Steven, committed suicide at age 37.

“Those were tough times for my family,” he said. “We carried a lot of depression. Often it felt like we had the weight of the world on our shoulders.”

Beset by grief, Beale took that pain and channeled it into his social network with the help of business partner Todd Brook of Envision IT Media. The final product: Chattertree.com, a social networking community just for families, where they can chat, send messages, video conference and share photos.

“My dream had always been to write something socially positive that could make a difference on a global scale. Chattertree is that book that I always envisioned,” Beale said. “After my brother passed away, I realized that this was not only something I was passionate about, it was a mission.”

Beale’s partner said he was first drawn to the idea of Chattertree after hearing Beale describe what family meant to him. “I saw the passion he had for his own family and the need to provide tools that assist in healthy, safe communications,” Brook said. “Being a family man myself, I was interested in finding a place where I could share stories, photos of my son and personal details without concern of the world seeing [them].”

After raising additional capital, Beale and Brook launched a full-featured version of Chattertree.com in May 2010. Already, the site has thousands of users in more than 100 countries.

Jason Finn, a Chattertree customer from Chicago, uses the site to keep his far-flung family close. To him, privacy is the main draw.

“I don’t like putting photos of my son on Facebook where anyone can find them,” said Finn, who also uses the site’s video chat feature to stay close to family members in Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Atlanta.

Beale said that Chattertree has provided his life with the balance he always wanted. “Having grown up in a real-estate family, I’ll always have my foot in the game,” he said.

And the difference Chattertree.com has made in his own life by allowing he and his parents to stay close — and deal with the aftermath of his brother’s death — has further strengthened his ties to them and his hometown, he said.

Beale also revealed, via e-mail, that he is planning on shuttering his Chicago brokerage firm to return home this spring, bringing Chattertree.com’s operations with him and continuing to grow the business in Detroit.

“I am optimistic that Chattertree will have the potential to grow deep roots in Detroit that will extend throughout the country, if not world,” he said. “At this point, I’m just eager to get back home and hit the ground running.”

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