Harry Hamburg – Exponential Investor (United Kingdom) –
Have you ever heard of Vero?
I’m guessing probably not. And there’s every chance you never will.
But the story of Vero is a good one. It follows that most classic of plotlines. The one of a brilliant creator who is eventually destroyed by their own creation.
In this case, the creation was spawned, and later devoured by social media.
You see Vero was a new social media upstart. It saw everything that was wrong with the current platforms – harvesting data, lack of real connection, fake lives, dishonesty, etc, and set about trying to fix those problems.
On Vero’s homepage it sets out its own manifesto, which reads:
People naturally seek connection.
That’s why online social networks have been so widely adopted over the past ten years.
They offered the promise of constant connection and the means to keep in touch with friends and to share what’s happening in our lives.
But as time passed, an imbalance began to form between the interests of the platforms and the best interests of the users.
And a false sense of connection left us lonelier than ever.
In real life, people are never presented with a one size fits all audience. We share different things with different people.
Most social networks reduce everyone to a friend or a follower. This encourages us to only share the parts of our lives we think are the most interesting.
When you can control who sees what, you can behave in a way that is more natural, which we believe ends up being better for you.
So we decided to create something more authentic.
We created a social network that lets you be yourself. Hence the name Vero. Meaning truth.
We made our business model subion-based.
Making our users our customers, not advertisers.
The greatest social network is the one that already exists between people.
Vero’s mission is to make it available online.
Thanks for helping us build a truly social network.
Vero’s rise wasn’t all that fast. It first launched in 2015, and it never really made a splash until this February.
Just as people were at their most outraged over Facebook’s data fiasco and Instagram’s new algorithms, Vero took its shot.
It targeted the fabled “influencers” on YouTube and Instagram, and asked them to make the switch to its platform.
In the world of social media, you don’t really have to target the masses. All you need to do is get some of the big names on board and their followers will come running.
No one wants to miss out on “the next big thing”. No one wants to be that last one of their friends to switch over from Myspace.
Vero’s plan worked beautifully
For a brief time, Vero was the most downloaded app on both Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
It was gaining followers by the million. Yes, it was a little bit buggy. But it was under huge strain from all the idealistic social media darlings rushing to stake their claim on its platform. A little buginess was to be expected.
I mean, its code was written by consummate professionals. It couldn’t possibly be something in the code that was not up to par…
Actually, come to think of it, who had written Vero’s code?
As people started to look into it, they were outraged. Outraged in only way people can pretend to be on social media. You see, Vero’s coders weren’t hoodie-wearing hippies in Silicon Valley. They were… Russians.
How dare Vero choose to hire Russian coders *cough, hackers*?
It was Russian hackers that put Trump in power. It was Russian hackers that made people vote for Brexit. It was even Russian hackers that spread that virus that attacked our NHS last year.
And now this ethical social media platform is hiring Russians!
As you can imagine, Vero’s target audience was outraged.
But then it went from bad to worse, as the nationality of its programmers soon turned out to be the least of Vero’s worries.
At the peak of Vero’s rise, someone posted this:
The new ethical social media app – which is so brazen as to literally name itself “truth” – was hiding some very dirty secrets.
It turns out Vero’s founder and CEO is Ayman Hariri.
And as The Daily Beast reports, Hariri is probably not a very nice man:
Before beginning his social-media escapades, Hariri served as deputy chief executive officer and vice chairman of his family’s now-defunct construction company, Saudi Oger, a business that was the source of most of his family’s wealth.
Throughout his time there, the company was plagued with problems and allegations of abuse; under Hariri’s watch, over 31,000 complaints of nonpayment of wages were filed against the Saudi Oger.
The company was so negligent that in some cases the Saudi Arabian government had to step in and provide food and basic living supplies to workers spurned by the company.
Unpaid workers were forced to live in crowded dorms in labor camps constructed by the company, Reuters reported in 2016. Throughout their time working for Saudi Oger, many workers were denied access to food, water, and medical care.
Hariri, of course, responded with a timeline of his life over the last few years, which he says proves he wasn’t involved in the exploitation and mistreatment of those workers.
But it didn’t really help. The damage was done. And why would you believe him anyway?
By now those same “influencers” that Vero had coaxed away from Instagram were spreading the now-trending hashtag #deletevero.
But even this wasn’t the end of Vero’s woes. Because as it turned out, to steal a famous internet meme…
One does not merely “delete” Vero
That’s right, the social network founded on honesty, integrity and giving real control back to users doesn’t even let you delete your account without its say so.
This Twitter user summed up the whole, strange and surreal event well:
The moral of the story is another classic one, I’m sure you are familiar with: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
If you set yourself out to be a bastion of truth and champion of ethical behaviour, it’s probably best to make sure you don’t have any major secrets to expose.
And if you’re targeting your product at the most fickle, self-involved people on the internet, be aware that all that love can very quickly turn into hate.
Now, if you want to leave a comment about today’s piece, you can find me on Vero.
Until next time,
Editor, Exponential Investor
PS Despite all this, it really wouldn’t be surprising to see Vero rise from the ashes. After all, everyone loves a comeback story… and everyone loves the chance to put that comeback kid back in its place when it missteps again.