Vero co-founder Ayman Hariri tried to clear the air with Entrepreneur about some of the backlash Vero has received.
8 min read
For a while, it’s seemed that Instagram and Snapchat are unimpeachable. They’ve been the two preferred mobile-first social networks for years, and little has gotten in their way.
Any apps that have sprung up as challengers have faded into oblivion. Remember when people talked about Ello for a hot second in 2014? Or Google Plus back in 2011?
This week, a new (well, almost three-year-old) platform called Vero has come out of the woodwork, and some people over the age of 18 are asking themselves, “Is this just a typo of Vevo, the video company?” But it’s not. Vero means “truth” in Latin (and Esperanto and Italian.) It’s now the number-one free app in Google Play and ranks eighth in the iOS App Store.
Vero has positioned itself as a different kind of social network, one designed in response to the ways in which existing networks have counterintuitively made people unsociable. It’s grown from less than 1 million registered users to nearly 3 million, according to the company, over the past several days.
“Our intention is really to create an online social network that mimics the greatest social network that exists, which is the one that exists between people,” Vero co-founder Ayman Hariri told Entrepreneur. “Our responsibility as designers and developers is to have technology be a tool for people — to have it enhance their life experiences and not to detract from them.”
Read on to learn how Vero differs from the other social platforms and get a sense of why it’s attracting so much attention now.
How is Vero different than existing platforms?
Photos, videos and text content shared by users on Vero doesn’t just blast out to a mix of their friends and followers. You can specify which fellow users are your close friends, acquaintances or mere followers and post to each group separately.
Another big draw of Vero is that its feed isn’t manipulated by an algorithm. Posts from accounts users appear in chronological order (like they used to on Instagram).
There are no ads on Vero, either. The business model is subscription-based. To sign up, users must provide their name, email address and mobile phone number, but for now, Vero’s not charging anyone.
Where did it come from?
Vero was founded in 2013 and launched in 2015. It was co-founded by Ayman Hariri. He’s a billionaire and the son of former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafic Hariri, who resigned in 2004 and was assassinated in 2005. He’s also the half-brother of Lebanon’s current prime minister, Saad Hariri, who’s been in office since 2016.
Ayman Hariri told Entrepreneur he served as deputy general manager of Saudi Oger, a now-defunct construction company founded by his father, from 2005 until 2013. During that time, his brother served as general manager. In 2013, Hariri said he sold his shares and exited the company to co-found Vero.
“I really felt like it was time to pursue my dreams in the world of tech,” he said, claiming that he had no role in the company after 2013.
Saudi Oger shut down in July 2017. The company was unable to pay thousands of workers for months after the Saudi Arabian government delayed payments to builders in 2015, prompting riots, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The Saudi Labour Ministry government provided food and basic necessities to Saudi Oger workers, many of whom lived in cramped, unsanitary conditions in company-constructed dorms and labor camps with little or no access to food, running water, electricity or medical care, Reuters reported.
After 2013, Hariri told Entrepreneur that he’s unsure who took over leadership of Saudi Oger. “Different managers, really,” he said. “I really wasn’t involved after that, so I didn’t keep up.”
But a document published by Mashableseems to indicate that Hariri divested from Saudi Oger in 2014. And a 2016 Vero press release identifies Hariri as “also Vice Chairman & Deputy CEO of Saudi Oger Ltd.”
Many users have discovered the information about Saudi Oger, assumed involvement by Hariri and responded with backlash and even a #DeleteVero hashtag.
People are trying to figure out why Vero went viral.
It’s difficult to pinpoint. Some people think it’s because of all of the backlash. Others say “the teens are lovin’ it.” But Mashablereports that Apptopia data revealed that 50 percent of the app’s users are between 21 and 40 years old — and 68 percent male.
Hariri told CNN Techthat he links Vero’s recent uptick in users to word of mouth across user communities, from the cosplay community to tattoo artists, which were early adopters Vero targeted, but did not pay to use or promote the platform.
“When somebody asks me, ‘What is your target demographic?’ Our target demographic is people and their passions,” Hariri told Entrepreneur. “People who have passions who want to share them … with our unique audience selector or more publicly with followers.”
How is the user experience?
So far, not great for some. Because the app has soared in popularity, it’s servers have slowed down. Many users have taken to Twitter for customer support.
We apologize for the late update.
We are scaling our servers to meet the increasing demand.
We appreciate your continued patience while we work to restore service.
— Vero (@verotruesocial) February 26, 2018
Hariri said that Vero is increasing the capacity of its servers and introducing software patches that Vero “couldn’t take into account before, given that the number of users wasn’t there.”
How does an ad-free social platform work?
The company will eventually charge subscriptions. Originally, it promised its first 1 million users free service indefinitely, but it’s extended the offer.
“As promised, our first million users have access to Vero free for life. However, given the service interruptions, we are extending that offer to all new users until further notice,” Vero’s website has stated since Feb. 28. “We will confirm the start date and pricing of Vero subscriptions soon.”
The recent surge in the number of registered Vero users slowed down the service, and many people who tried to register had trouble doing so.
Hariri said that Vero wants the eventual annual subscription fee to be “accessible,” though the company isn’t ready to announce a figure yet.
As for another revenue stream, Vero is also a marketplace for entrepreneurs. The company charges a transaction fee to merchants when they sell via its “Buy Now” feature. Buy Now allows brands and influencers to sell products via Vero posts.
Any brand can create a verified account on Vero. Then, if Vero determines that an entity is capable of selling and fulfilling orders, they may share posts directly with their followers — only those who have opted in to see their posts — that contain an item they’re selling and a “buy” button for in-app purchases, Hariri said.
One Twitter user summarizes a primary concern:
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
We have updated both to clarify.
We appreciate your trust!
— Vero (@verotruesocial) February 23, 2018
“We do not claim to own any of the content that you share on Vero,” Hariri said. “It’s standard language and standard practice to ask for things like, basically a license for us to host it on their behalf.”
He added: “I can understand users’ concern about that, because there’s so much going on on data mining, and the use of data, and the monetization of that data, and the monetization of users’ behavior. I think people are in such a mode of concern that even the slightest thing that they don’t understand, etc., makes them react where they’re worried about something.”
Despite the #DeleteVero hashtag, people have had trouble doing so.
Deleting Vero hasn’t been an immediate process for those who have attempted to do so — they’ve had to submit a request.
“Anybody who asks to delete their account gets their account deleted,” Hariri said, explaining that the company will roll out automatic in-app account deletion (with no need for a request) in the next day or so after testing the feature.