Co-founder of new social platform Vero, Ayman Hariri, explains why he’s taking on Facebook.
Social media can be an extremely lucrative business if you get it right, but only one company has. Otherwise hugely successful companies such as Google and News Corp have failed so it takes a brave person to try to take Facebook on at its own game.
Ayman Hariri (pictured) is one of them. The co-founder and CEO of new social platform Vero (Latin for truth) reckons he can go one better and has the will, patience and resources to see his hunch through. While tech startups typically have to look to voracious venture capitalists for funding and accept the many compromises that come with such Faustian pacts, Hariri is independently wealthy and thus able to operate at his own pace.
“My background allows me to do the things that I do – it allows for the slow-cook approach,” said Hariri in an exclusive interview with Telecoms.com. “Sometimes we’ll look at something a few times but decide to shelve it for a period of time and come back to it because it’s just not right and I see that time and time again, when you take that approach, you come up with something great.”
The thing in question is Vero, a new mobile-based social platform that aims to make the process of social networking easier and more personal than it currently is. From the start Hariri and his colleagues wanted to examine the reasons people use such services and design a new platform that makes achieving those aims as effortless as possible.
“Vero is a new social network that we wanted to build from the ground up to put the user experience first,” said Hariri. “A couple of years ago the co-founders and I were talking about the state of social networks and seeing how our friends were behaving online, and we noticed a very different side of them online than we’d ever seen before in the real world.
“We analysed why that was and why people were acting so differently and it turns out that people are just not wired to deal with everybody on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ way. We assign different degrees of intimacy to the different people in our lives and when we’re faced with a one-size-fits-all we create what is almost a new, fake persona for ourselves that caters for the fact that we’re standing on top of a soap box, or in some cases in the middle of a stadium, which is very different to any situation we encounter in the real world.
“So we wanted to create an online environment where people felt they could be themselves. It starts with the basic premise that we don’t regard everyone in our lives with the same level of intimacy. So practically speaking what we did was to create concentric circles, where you start with close friends, then you go to friends, and then acquaintances.
“Even though people may have more degrees than that we wanted to keep it simple and manageable within an app environment. It’s a very simple concept but it’s also how we live our lives; your best friend isn’t going to find out things about you in the news, and you don’t expect your closest confidants to go blabbing about you all around town.
On top of these concentric circles of intimacy Vero sorts the types of things people generally like to share into six categories: movies, music, books, websites, places and photos. Stuff shared on Vero is automatically sorted into these categories and then aggregated into ‘collections’. Lastly there is the ability for brands to have a Vero presence and host their own web stores on the platform, enabling e-commerce without having to move to another website.
“We’re in this for the long haul here and one of the things we believe in is commerce and the market,” said Hariri. “Done the right way is can be very powerful, whether it’s recommendations you trust or brands that you trust, you are more likely to purchase. There’s so much information and there are so many options out there that we need people to curate for us, so we look to our brands, celebrities and anybody we have an affinity with to tell us what they think about something.
“In a social environment where you’re following something like a brand, you can’t actually action anything in these social apps today, but we believe the social environment should be an extension of e-commerce. So we’ve created a commerce layer that allows people to purchase the product within the app immediately. Brands can create a catalogue of items on Vero and have a seventh type of post made available to them – the product post – and the same goes for celebrities and brand ambassadors, but these will only be seen if you follow the brand.”
This last point was one Hariri was keen to emphasise. Nothing disturbs a nice social encounter more than having unsolicited advertising imposed on the participants, but this is also what most internet ventures are founded on. Vero is currently free to use but will eventually charge a small annual subscription to new users, and that will be the revenue model. Again, they can afford to be patient about this as they’re not under short term financial pressure.
“I’m asking a user to take a leap of faith with me; that I will treat them well, safeguard their privacy and give them the best user experience,” said Hariri.
“Before we soft-launched the app last summer we spent approximately two years designing and building it. It’s kind of like and accordion in so much as you start to mess with one thing and it affects something you thought you’d got right back at the beginning. It can cost you a lot of money or you can be smart about it and it doesn’t. That’s why you’ll see we’re not quick to release a new update every two seconds – we want to get it right.”
Right now Vero is only available on iOS, but as you would expect an Android version is in the pipeline. In keeping with the patient business strategy Hariri expects user numbers to grow via recommendation. There are no plans for mass marketing but they are going to invest in unique content, which they expect to be a significant driver.
In these frantic, short-termist times it’s good to encounter business ventures that put quality ahead of commerce and perfectionism ahead of speed. Vero might not explode in the way Facebook did a decade ago but if it reaches critical mass it just might gain enough momentum to offer a genuine alternative to the king of social media.