Poparazzi, the anti-Instagram social app that shot to the top of the App Store last year, today details, for the first time, its company’s growth stats, future plans, and Series A led by Benchmark, previously unconfirmed. The LA-area startup is now reporting that its iOS alone saw more than 5 million installs in its first year, with users mostly in Gen Z.
The startup claims that 75% of its users are between 14 and 18 years old and 95% of users are between 14 and 21 years old. Most of its users are based in the United States, and so far they have shared over 100 million photos and videos. on the app.
While the startup has positioned itself as an Instagram alternative where friends create your profile, the app’s competition today isn’t really the established tech giants. Instead, it’s the new set of “alternative” social media apps that target younger audiences, like Yubo, Locket, Live in, Hallo App, BeReal and others. In general, this group of apps shares a thesis that big tech is no longer the best place to connect with your real-life friends. With differentiated angles, they all claim to offer this opportunity.
Some of them already exceed Poparazzi. Yubo says it has had 60 million signups so far. BeReal, which declined the press, has around 12.3 million downloads worldwide, according to app intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The company also reports that Locket has seen around 18.7 million installs worldwide to date, while LiveIn has reached just over 8 million installs. (Sensor Tower also sees 4.6 million downloads for Poparazzi, which is largely in line with the startup’s claims, as these estimates aren’t an exact science.)
Although Poparazzi seems like an overnight viral sensation, it actually took 3 years to get here, says the co-founder and CEO Alex Ma. He, along with his brother, co-founder Austen Ma, went through several pivots to get to Poparazzi, he told TechCrunch.
“Poparazzi was maybe the 11th or 12th app we created,” says Alex. Among these was the audio social network TYLa kind of “clubhouse for friends.” But, says Alex, 9 months into TTYL the team realized things weren’t working out and they made the decision to shut it down.
The co-founders realized that most social apps fail and decided the best thing to do was to keep building and experimenting until a single success. At other times, they tested a live texting app called Typo and many other social experiments. But when they built Poparazzi, they knew from day one that it was something special. The app exploded, mostly among high school students, who were testing the app through TestFlight.
The idea of the app was, in fact, to turn one of Instagram’s main features – photo tagging – into a standalone experience. But in his case, tagging the photos wasn’t an afterthought; it was full concentration.
On Poparazzi, users can create social profiles for photo sharing purposes, but only your friends are allowed to post photos to them. It makes your friends your own “paparazzi”, in a way – that’s how the app got its name.
“It started almost as a novel, a stupid idea – like, what if you could make Instagram but not let people post pictures of themselves?” said Alex. “But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we were fundamentally changing the engine of what drives social today. And that was the big bet.
To his credit, Poparazzi perfectly executed a series of growth hacks to generate buzz for his app which generated downloads at launch. The app was launched on May 24, 2021 and quickly rose to number one on the App Store.
Like many apps now, it cleverly leveraged TikTok’s hype cycle to drive pre-orders on the App Store. This helped ensure that the app would hit the Top Charts as soon as it became publicly available, given how the App Store ranks apps based on a combination of downloads and speed, between other factors. Poparazzi also implemented a smart onboarding screen that uses haptics to buzz and vibrate your phone while playing its intro video, which helped drive word-of-mouth growth as as users. took on Twitter to post about the unique experience.
But the app also circumvented some user privacy best practices by requiring full access to users’ address books to begin with. This allowed him to instantly match users to their friends based on stored phone numbers and quickly create a social graph.
However, he ignored the fact that many people, especially women, store the phone numbers of abusers, stalkers and exes in their phone’s contacts, so they can use the phone’s built-in tools to block. the person’s calls and text messages. Because Poparazzi automatically matched people by phone number, attackers could gain immediate access to the user profiles of people they were trying to harass or hurt.
Alex says Poparazzi has since taken steps to address this issue, but explains the thinking behind the original decision.
“It’s really hard to compete with Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram for the social graph,” he says. “So the starting point for building a social app is usually the address book, because that’s where we can get information.” Plus, he adds, “I think the value of the app is close to zero without that initial friends graph.”
The app has also rolled out other new features over the past year, including the ability to block and report users, and it’s invested in machine learning-based content moderation to detect things like nudity or hate speech. It added the ability to download from Camera Roll; provided support for video, messaging, comments and captions; and introduces in-app challenges that encourage participation – like “blow a friend eating ice cream”, “blow a friend at a mall” or “go on a road trip”.
It now works to allow users to set their profiles as private and is planning an Android version. Longer term, it can be monetized through events or merchandise, not ads – but that’s still largely to be determined.
Before today’s update, the outline of Poparazzi’s round A was already known.
In May 2021, Newcomer learned that Benchmark partner Sarah Tavel led Poparazzi’s “about $20 million” Series A, beating Andreessen Horowitz for the deal. Alex says the round was actually a $15 million Series A and confirmed that Tavel has joined its board.
This is in addition to the company’s $2 million seed round that closed in late 2018, prior to Poparazzi’s development. This round was led by Floodgate and included other investors like SV Angel, Shrug Capital and various angels. (Disclosure: Unbeknownst to us until now, former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Bonatsos was one of them.) Floodgate’s Ann Miura-Ko joined the board with this fundraiser.
The funding gives Poparazzi, now a team of 15, a 2-plus-year track, Alex says.
And while some of the competition may be ahead of it for now, the startup believes in its potential largely because its premise is unique. Unlike all other social apps on the market, this is not for performative social media.
“We’re very different in the sense that it’s not about you,” Alex points out. “We put the focus on the people you are physically with and the people in your life, rather than yourself.”