In a week, Vero has gone from obscurity to the hottest app in social media. But its rise in popularity has been matched by the shady business dealings of its founder.
Millennials found a new Instagram in an old app.
Photo-sharing app Vero — which was launched in 2015 by the billionaire Lebanese businessman Ayman Hariri — never really got going. That is until this week.
Vero became the flavour of the month, after years of anonymity, through the implementation of a US-focused advertising campaign targeting dissatisfied Instagram users.
It flaunted its algorithm-free chronological feed, and explained that unlike Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, it prohibits advertising.
It also claimed to collect minimal data from its users, while giving them total control of their posts. They can turn followers off and on, and publish to one of four categories — close friends, friends, acquaintances, or anyone.
This paired with strategic brand ambassadors like Hollywood director Zack Snyder, photographer Greg Williams and musician Banks, saw the visual content platform go viral.
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of digital agency VaynerMedia — who has 3 million followers on Instagram and a million Twitter — even signed up and suggested his employees download it.
What goes up…
Having experienced nothing like it before, the Vero team couldn’t handle the influx of traffic.
The first million downloads are free, at which point newcomers will be charged to subscribe (there is talk it will be a few dollars a year). So, social media users were scrambling to beat the cut-off.
As a result, from February 21 the app has crashed regularly. There were also issues with registration and the language used in the company’s terms of service.
Tweets along the lines of the one below were regularly trotted out, as complaints came in thick and fast.
Due to very large traffic, we’re experiencing intermittent technical issues.
We’re working to resolve them as soon as possible.
— Vero (@verotruesocial) February 24, 2018
People then began reading up on Vero’s founder Ayman Hariri and were alarmed to learn that the family construction firm Saudi Oger made headlines in 2016 for refusing to pay thousands of its migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, and cutting off food, water and electricity in the labour camps.
His father — five-term former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — founded the company, and it had fallen to Ayman and Saad (also a former Lebanese PM) to lead after his assassination in 2005.
welp Vero was fun until i realized their CEO stopped paying salaries to 9,000 Filipino workers at his previous construction company rendering them essentially homeless and reliant on food donations. peace ✌🏼
— tyler hansen (@_heyheytyler) February 27, 2018
The social media outcry over both the alleged human rights offences, and the app’s practical flaws, saw Mashable just hours ago, publish a ‘how to delete your Vero account’ article.
Despite its charge up the official rankings, on Apple’s App Store it is currently rated a 2.1 out of 5 product from 2,800 reviews, and on Google Play it has a score of 2.5 out 5 after 12,000 respondents weighed-in.
But with the momentum the app has at present, and the reasons for the interest in the first place, it is unlikely to fall off the map any time soon.
And as Hariri tells Mashable, Vero — which reportedly has about 30 employees scattered across Europe and the US — was built to be “the most sustainable [social media platform] emotionally”.
“Vero is a 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,” he 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.”