Social media platform VERO plans to launch subscriptions next year

Co-founded by Ayman Hariri, company has been touted as an ad-free, algorithm-free alternative to the likes of Facebook, TikTok and Twitter

Ayman Hariri, co-founder and CEO of VERO
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With about six million users, VERO, a social media platform co-founded by Dubai-based Ayman Hariri, is ready to take its next step.

“We’re looking forward to launching subscriptions in 2024,” said Mr Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri.

VERO, owned by VERO Labs, was launched in 2015, touted as an ad-free and algorithm-free alternative to social networks such as Facebook, TikTok and Twitter.

"We haven't turned on subscription yet because it's part of a bigger plan that we've had for this platform since day one and it's taken a while for us to build the full vision," he said.

The subscription model, however, will not affect the existing users, who will continue to be able to use the social platform for free.

The app prominently features photos, videos, links, music and films near the top of the screen, while providing a feed showcasing content from other users, similar to the look and feel of other social media apps.

When asked why the world needs another social network, Mr Hariri disagreed with the premise of the question.

“That would imply that we’re doing things similar to everybody else,” he said, before acknowledging the presence of other platforms. “I think we do need to have an alternative."

The platform’s name, VERO, is no accident. It was taken from Latin, a variation of veritas, meaning truth.

“I noticed that my friends I knew really well were acting different on social media from how I really knew them in the real world,” he said, emphasising that algorithms on existing platforms are incentivising shocking and potentially polarising content.

Mr Hariri also said current social media platforms operate on an "addictive model" that ultimately doesn't interest him.

"You end up cutting corners and doing anything you can to get the audience on your platform and keeping their attention, and that doesn't align with me," he said.

In comparison, VERO seems like a decaffeinated version of the social networks currently in the mainstream.

It caters heavily to musicians, photographers, videographers and content creators such as Peter McKinnon, who has 280,000 followers on the platform. For comparison purposes, Mr McKinnon, who regularly showcases his wildlife photography across several platforms, also has 5.9 million followers on YouTube.

"It's all about high quality versus low quality," Mr Hariri said of VERO's strategy and approach. "With TikTok and Pinterest, a lot of these platforms connect an audience to content and not to creators ... but what we're more interested in is connecting an audience to creators through the creator's content."

Acquiring a stock exchange

Back in June, VERO made headlines and raised eyebrows when it acquired Tokenise Stock Exchange International Ltd, which billed itself as the world's first regulated stock exchange for tokenised securities.

At first, the acquisition might seem unorthodox, but in terms of eventually creating shared value between users and a social platform, Mr Hariri said the business move made perfect sense.

He noted that VERO's decision to acquire a stock exchange would allow for users to share in the platform's hypothetical success.

"We want this to be community-owned," he said. "We want to be fully regulated ... when you look at any creator community, the creators provide enormous equity value they never have access to, and what we want to do is to allow for creators to unlock ownership in the platform at scale for the value they're bringing."

Mr Hariri also said by acquiring Tokenise, VERO would eventually be able to introduce features that would enable creators and their followers on the platform to co-own projects and collaborate with others.

Plans to advertise?

Mr Hariri said VERO made the decision in recent years to not actively advertise the platform, but added that the company's initial marketing and advertising in 2018 led to a surge in the app's popularity.

"We spent a little on advertising and suddenly we became the No 1 app in the world," he said, before reflection on the technical strain prompted by the surge in users.

"It really crushed us and it wasn't what we were expecting," he said.

"It was a lesson learnt to only do that [advertise], when we're ready, and we feel like we're going to be ready to do that in 2024."

Regional reflections

Although the company, VERO Labs, is based in New York, Mr Hariri, a Dubai resident with ample Middle Eastern experience, reflected on the region's start-up atmosphere, both the pluses and minuses, and even touched upon the economic crisis in Lebanon.

"Lebanon is really complicated because you have so many outside forces influencing decision making in the country," he said, before talking about the start-up and entrepreneurship environment in the Mena region as a whole.

"The idea of founding a company and starting something new and being on an adventure, that's high-risk and it comes with the possibility of failure," he noted, referring to the dangers that come with the territory of start-ups regionally and around the world.

"I think culturally speaking in the Middle East, we don't take failure very well, but it's such a necessary part of the learning experience and eventually building things."

"We need to build that [failure acceptance] into the equation, even down to the school level, and then I think we would get many more people who are much more willing to take risks, because culturally it needs to be accepted that it's part of the journey towards success."

Updated: January 24, 2024, 4:32 AM