Vero, the hot new social media app, is being praised for its similarity to Facebook and Twitter — and for keeping annoying ads off the platform.
In less than 24 hours, it’s been downloaded more than 500,000 times, and by Monday, it was quickly approaching 1 million downloads. That influx of traffic has caused the app to crash frequently.
But Vero CEO and founder Ayman Hariri was calm and collected during our phone conversation Tuesday. Despite receiving criticism from being the son of a corrupt politician and being involved in a company that stopped paying employees, Hariri answered every question thoroughly and with a sense of pause and understanding.
It’s been a busy week for Hariri since his app gained attention from the Instagram community and other internet personalities calling attention to its simplicity, chronological timeline, and lack of advertising. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of digital agency VaynerMedia with a massive social following, has signed up and suggested his employees download it. Others, like Mashable’s Brian Koerber, are calling for its death.
“I’d recommend you spare yourself the frustration of this app. To say it’s in beta is an understatement – I’m currently stuck on the log in screen again,” said Elan Sablich, director of media and IT at Princeton Properties.
All of this attention for a three-year-old app has raised questions about what Vero is and who is behind it. Amid Vero’s hype cycle over the last week, Twitter users have noted Hariri’s questionable past. For example, this thread from animator and software designer Pasquale D’Silva called attention the app’s founder and team. His results came from Google, as he admitted, and is mostly factual but unanswered by the CEO, until our conversation.
Founder is a Lebanese billionaire heir
— Pasquale D’Silva (@pasql) February 26, 2018
As D’Silva asked, what’s the billionaire’s personal incentive for creating Vero?
“When people call me the b-word, it doesn’t really represent my beliefs or anything. I don’t think that having a belief in something should be affected by material things,” Hariri said. “When we started this we really came into it just with a very personal approach, which was, ‘Why are our friends acting the way that they are online that’s incredibly different than the people we know them to be in the real world?'”
“You look, and you say, ‘Wait a second, people just want to be able to connect with each other and share the things that they know.'”
The motivation, in part, came from the negative news he saw surrounding other social networks. The app was founded in 2015, prior to the overwhelming discussion around fake news on social media. Of course, there were still conversations about the effects of getting news, in general, from Facebook and other harmful effects the network can cause.
“You see all sorts of articles being written about being getting depression using social media and fake news, and you look, and you say, ‘Wait a second, people just want to be able to connect with each other and share the things that they know.'”
Vero’s tagline is “true social.” That mission is a bit confusing since what constitutes a real social interaction is debatable. Does liking your friend’s Instagram count as a “true” social interaction? The app is pretty easy to use and helps connect users to their friends by pulling contacts from your phonebook, if you so choose. In a few taps, users sign up by registering an email and a password. Then users add a photo and a bio, and they can start adding friends, all of whom receive a label of close friend, friend, or acquaintance. Creating a post means either sharing a photo, a link, a song, movie, TV show, a book, or a place — for now. The feed is chronological.
For Hariri and his team, “true social” means connecting people with other people around passions.
“Vero is social network that lets you share the things that you love from TV shows, to movies, to books, to photos, stuff that you find online with whoever you want. It’s really built to mimic real world interactions between people,” Hariri said. “The greatest social network is the one that interacts between people. We’re trying to create one that is the most natural. That is the most sustainable emotionally.”
Unlike Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, the end goal for Hariri with Vero doesn’t seem to be connecting the world. Data provided to Mashable by Apptopia on Tuesday morning showed the app’s users skewed male and older. Sixty eight percent of Vero’s users are male, and 50 percent are between 21 and 40 years old.
“I don’t think of it as the world, and I don’t think of it as male female or in those kinds of terms. I want to reach people, and when somebody asks me who is your target user, what kind of user do you want using Vero? For me, it’s just people who have passions,” Hariri said.
Vero’s manifesto and terms forbid the use of bots and fake accounts. In our conversation, he stressed that the company is not after numbers “for the sake of numbers.” That’s something all social networks, from Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat, have been criticized for since oftentimes these numbers our inflated.
But Vero users have expressed concern about the terms of service.
Does everyone realize that Vero’s Terms of Service include being able to use ALL of your content, including your likeness, and everything you upload to your profile, without your permission or knowledge? No thanks, I’m good.
— sliz (@suuuplizzie) February 27, 2018
When I asked Hariri about the criticism of the terms of service, including ownership rights, he noted that he had the same concerns as someone not well-versed in content regulations prior to launching his own social app. That’s why he hired a legal team to help him write those terms of service.
Hariri said he told his legal team to update the page after he saw people, online, vocalizing that they did not agree with the terms. They did:
We have updated both to clarify.
We appreciate your trust!
— Vero (@verotruesocial) February 23, 2018
“My attitude toward creators is I’m in awe of all them,” Hariri said. “I would never consider just because they placed their content on my platform that I have the rights and ownership of them.”
That idea of “trust” echoes Hariri’s own motto. In fact, Vero is Italian for true. A big concern that I saw online and had heard from others was the reputation of the CEO. You don’t get to learn everything about someone over the course of a 30-minute conversation, but what I did learn is that he said “honesty” is everything to him.
So apparently the ceo of vero is the worlds largest d-bag. Also their terms of service may be one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Later Vero ✌️
— Sean Thompson (@ImSeanThompson) February 27, 2018
I asked about his father, Rafic Hariri, a Lebanese business tycoon who also served as prime minister of Lebanon from 1992 to 1998 and from 2000 to 2004. He was assassinated in 2005 and has been repeatedly criticized for acting corruptly during Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. His son Hariri disputed that claim.
“Anyone who says that my father was corrupt is unfortunately very misinformed,” Hariri said. “My father gave his life for his country and when he became successful could have just remained a business man but he decided to go and make a difference in this country.”
Hariri noted that his father helped put 30,000 students through college “on his own dime.”
“Anyone who says that my father was corrupt is unfortunately very misinformed,” Hariri said.
“He had the vision of understanding war would end at some point. War is not a sustainable situation, and he worked hard himself to end the war, but he didn’t want a generation to be lost to the war and didn’t have an education and couldn’t contribute positively to rebuild the country. My father is my hero,” Hariri added.
Now, Hariri is building a social network that he believes will help people improve their social lives. Vero is about sharing passions, easily and having the people you want to see them actually see them. Yes, there’s a like button. Yes, there’s commenting. But every aspect is carefully considered by him and his team of 30 employees.
“We worked tirelessly at the beginning to define what is it to share and why. What does it all mean? What do you want to be able to do? We questioned everything,” Hariri said.
That doesn’t mean Vero’s team executed on every priority prior to this hype cycle. For example, the app lacked an easy way to delete an account, until shortly after our conversation where I asked why that’s the case.
Vero’s team of 30 works remotely and is skewed heavily male, Hariri admitted.
“It isn’t at the level that i would like it to be. I’m a big believer in the same subject which is to make sure that we have a diverse of a team as possible. But on the other side, from a nationality standpoint, we have people from France, Germany, Russia, England, myself Lebanese, my cofounder is Jordanian. Our thinking is to be open,” he said.
But every company needs to make money to survive. It won’t all come from Hariri’s pockets.
“At the end of the day we’re businesses. If I say we’re building a social platform, the first question that comes out of peoples mouth is, ‘How are you going to monetize?’ The answer is advertising or we’ll figure it out later,” Hariri said.
Vero is focused on subscription. The first million users will have Vero free for life. But for everyone else, there’s a fee. According to the terms of service and manifesto, the pricing isn’t determined yet.
of course a social network wants to snag you with a subscription model. why? recurring billing is like opening your own bank. people forget they’re paying for your thing because it’s so cheap and barely ever use it.
— drew olanoff (@yoda) February 27, 2018
Hariri and I didn’t have time to chat about the pricing, other than him guaranteeing the first 1 million users have Vero free for the rest of their lives. He told CNBC last year the goal was to have the app cost “a few dollars a year.”
I reached out to his press team to ask if they had surpassed a million years and if they had a pricing system in place. A Vero spokesperson said the company would “be releasing more information soon regarding number of users and future pricing plans but cannot comment at this time.”
If you’re one of the first million of Vero users, you’ll never have to worry about payment. The question is: Will you stick around?