HalloApp is a private ad-free social network from two early WhatsApp employees

Two of the earliest employees behind WhatsApp have emerged with a new private social network called HalloApp.

Starting Monday, anyone can download and sign up for HalloApp in Apple’s App Store and Google Play on Android devices. There are many parallels between HalloApp and WhatsApp: the app is designed for group or individual chats with close friends and family, the only way you can find people is by knowing their phone number, the messages are encrypted, and there are no ads.

While other startups have over the years tried and failed to build successful social networks for close friends (RIP Path), the pedigree of HalloApp’s two cofounders, Neeraj Arora and Michael Donohue, makes this particular effort notable. They both worked at WhatsApp before and after Facebook bought it for $22 billion. Arora was WhatsApp’s chief business officer until 2018 and a key figure in negotiating the Facebook deal. And Donohue was WhatsApp’s engineering director for nearly nine years before he left Facebook in 2019.

Both Arora and Donohue declined to be interviewed for this story, citing a desire to avoid press attention so early in the app’s lifespan. But they did recently sit down for an interview on Christopher Lochhead’s “Follow Your Different” podcast, in which Arora said, “I think the best way to grow is to create an amazing product that people love to tell their friends and family about.”

HalloApp is broken up into four main tabs—a home feed of posts from your friends, group chats, individual chats, and settings—and its overall aesthetic is very minimal. There are no algorithms sorting posts or group chats.

Arora laid out the philosophy behind HalloApp in a company blog post on Monday, in which positions it as the antidote to traditional, engagement-driven social media, or “the 21st century cigarette.”

“Imagine your friends online were your real friends,” he wrote. “Imagine your feed wasn’t filled with people and posts you didn’t care about. Imagine scrolling through meaningful moments and seeing what you wanted you to see—not what the algorithm wanted you to see. Imagine not being treated like a product.”

While the blog post doesn’t name Facebook specifically, it’s no secret that WhatsApp’s two cofounders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, left Facebook over disagreements about plans to monetize WhatsApp with ads. Acton, who now funds the encrypted messaging app Signal, famously tweeted “#deletefacebook” during the height of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. WhatsApp still doesn’t have ads, but Facebook has recently made a push to get businesses selling goods and interacting with customers on the app.

Eventually, HalloApp plans to charge users for features with a subscription, mimicking how WhatsApp originally monetized before Facebook bought it. For now, the 12-person company is running off an undisclosed amount of money the cofounders raised from investors.

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