This photo-sharing app may be an Instagram killer
Just four months ago, Dispo, the photo-sharing app that allows users to take retro-style pictures that they can’t see until 9 a.m. the next morning—much like a disposable camera—looked unbeatable. It had a fresh take on the single-most-popular digital activity for a generation stressed out by the pressures of Instagram perfection. It had the funding to grow and a buzzy valuation of $200 million for an app still in beta. It scored a splashy New York Times profile. Most of all, it had David Dobrik, perhaps the most successful digital creator of the last decade, whose stardom emerged first on Vine, blossomed on YouTube, and then exploded further on TikTok. The likable 24-year-old star who was once dubbed “Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon” was a multimillionaire with a golden touch, and now he was going to build a new social network.
Then the calendar turned to March, and Dobrik went from one of the most beloved and successful social media stars on the planet to one of its most disgraced. A member of Dobrik’s Vlog Squad—the posse of guys and gals with whom he shoots Jackass-style videos—was accused of raping a woman while making a video for Dobrik’s YouTube channel. (Dobrik responded to the charges in an apology video in which he said that “consent is something that’s super, super important to me . . . I’m sorry I let you down.”) As a result of the allegations, Dobrik stepped down from Dispo, and Spark Capital, which had led its $20 million series A funding round, severed ties with the company.
The company could have vaporized. Or rebranded. But Dispo CEO Daniel Liss, a Harvard and Stanford alum who worked in politics before turning to tech, didn’t panic. In the wake of the turmoil, Liss says, he and his team “sat down for a couple weeks. We said, ‘okay, we’re putting marketing on hold.’ We’d gone from feeling like the world was on fire, we were top of the App Store, there was euphoric press. So we were kind of holding our breath.” Then he and the Dispo team—all of whom remained at the company—decided to dig in and continue to work on their product. Sure, their greatest branding tool was now gone (Dobrik has amassed more than 18 million YouTube followers and 25 million-plus TikTok fans), meaning millions more would have to be spent in marketing dollars. But as they put their heads down and thought through what Dispo was all about, they realized that the answer went far beyond any one person.
The company’s mission—to move beyond the Facebook and Instagram era of curated images of perfect-seeming lives—had only become more crystallized in the wake of the scandal.
The result of that introspective period, which included a series of conversations to reassure investors, including Sofia Vergara, Weekend Fund, and Shrug Capital, has led to a relaunch of sorts for Dispo. Although the app has remained available to download this whole time, Dispo has not done any promotion or outreach over the past few months as it instead focused on building a product that aims to be more than just a really fun way to take and experience photographs. Indeed, new features and an amplification of its overall message makes it clear that the app is as much about righting the wrongs of Big Tech as it is about snapping pics.
This vision helped Dispo—whose team is majority female and majority people of color—retain all of its other original investors, also including Seven Seven Six, Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian’s venture fund—though Ohanian has said that any profits he sees from this investment in Dispo will be donated to “an organization working with survivors of sexual assault.” Liss and company also attracted a new group of advisors and investors, including photographers Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona; NBA stars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala (via their respective investment vehicles Thirty Five Ventures and F9 Strategies); Endeavor; and Angelica Nwandu, CEO of the Shade Room.
Liss says that Dispo is “the antithesis of this curated, perfect aesthetic that has dominated the last decade,” thanks to forces like Instagram and Facebook. “We believe what we’re capturing now is this new wave of social media. That’s why we’re so excited to be at the vanguard of it. We all know that Hollywood, fashion, art—there are cycles in culture. Social media is so young, we’re actually heading into its first-ever cycle, which is back to the beginning.
“A lot of what we’re doing feels reminiscent of the early days of social media, but there are other parts we’re hoping to get right from the absolute beginning, which is a much greater emphasis on trust and safety; a much greater emphasis on thinking critically about the impact the product is having on a person’s mental health. The early days of social media were all about ‘move fast and break things.’ Our thought is, ‘move fast and build things.’ How can you create something that is additive and not just destructive for the sake of growth?”
PHOTO SHARING’S NEW WAVE
The trend toward spontaneous and imperfect interactions on social media has been gaining steam with the rise of companies like TikTok and Clubhouse, where conversations take place live and unedited (in contrast to the podcast model). In the photo-sharing space, Poparazzi, an app whose camera function won’t let you take front-facing selfies and that forces you to fill your profile only with pictures others have taken or uploaded of you, debuted at No. 1 on the iPhone app store in the U.S. in late May, reaching approximately 1.1 million downloads in the U.S. and 2 million globally its first week. Meanwhile, BeReal, an app that’s taken off in France and that asks users to post a photo of themselves once a day by using both the selfie camera and the outward-facing camera on the backside of the phone—thus creating a more realistic image—is valued at $150 million following a $30 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz and Accel. All of these companies create the first real threat to the multibillion-dollar ecosystem of Instagram, which along with Snapchat—the last notable innovation before TikTok—have proven to be impenetrable to competitors.
Read the full article on fastcompany.co.za.