As Facebook continues to face scrutiny about its possible role in influencing the U.S. presidential election, a different kind of social network, Vero, has jumped the top of the charts, thrusting its Riyadh-based Lebanese billionaire cofounder into the spotlight.
Vero became one of the most downloaded social apps worldwide in both the Apple App Store and Google Play’s Android Apps store this week. It first appeared as No. 1 on app stores on Monday.
According to app market data and insights company App Annie, Vero was the most downloaded social app in 18 countries around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and France on Wednesday when it reached one million users.
It remains unclear as to why Vero, founded in 2015, surged in popularity this week. It has an average 2 out of 5 star reviews on both app stores.
Its cofounder, billionaire Ayman Hariri, is a son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 while still in office. His brother, Saad Hariri, is also a billionaire and is the current prime minister of Lebanon.
Vero is pursuing a different business model. It will eventually rely on an annual fee from users rather than collect advertising dollars. The company has yet to decide on the size of the fee it will charge. “Our subscription model will allow us to keep Vero advertising-free, and to focus solely on delivering the best social experience instead of trying to find new ways to monetize our users’ behavior or tricking them back in the app with notifications,” Vero’s website declares.
Vero initially promised to waive the annual subscription fee for life for only the first million users. On February 21, the company tweeted that it was experiencing technical issues due to a high volume of registrations, but it had not reached 1 million users yet. After several days of continued technical difficulties Vero announced on Wednesday, February 28 that it had breached 1 million users and that it would extend its free for life offer indefinitely.
“As a result of this sudden surge, the Vero servers have unfortunately been stretched to the point that we’ve encountered technical issues,” a spokesman for Vero wrote to Forbes in an e-mail. “As a result, we will be extending the ‘Free for Life’ offer to all new users until further notice.”
Saudi Oger reportedly shut down in June 2017. The construction firm, short on cash, allegedly had not paid its workforce, which included French engineers and thousands of South Asian migrant workers, since 2015. The Saudi Arabian government was forced to step in and pay those wages.
In 2017, Ayman Hariri sold a 42% stake in GroupMed, a family holding company with investments in banking, insurance and real estate in seven countries within the Middle East and Europe, for $530 million.
Hariri manages his tech startup investments through Red Sea Ventures, a New York-based venture capital fund. The company website lists Scott Birnbaum as founder of Red Sea Ventures; Birnbaum is a cofounder of Vero. The fund has invested in over 30 startups including Nest Labs, which was acquired by Google in 2014.
The app allows users to group their connections into different categories in order to control sharing settings. “Most social networks reduce everyone to a friend or a follower,” Vero’s website says. “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.”