Photo-sharing app BeReal is exploring adding in-app payments for additional features to avoid Instagram-like advertising, as the French start-up grapples with technical issues caused by the massive increase in its popularity this summer among Gen Z users.
BeReal has become hugely popular with teens and college students in the US as well as Europe, with its focus on capturing an authentic moment at a specific time without editing or filters that are commonplace on Instagram rivals. , TikTok and Snapchat.
The app has grown from 10,000 daily active users just over a year ago to over 15 minutes today, exceeding internal targets. Insiders expect it to hit tens of millions by the end of the year.
“Tons of apps can find users, but few can keep them. [is] fascinating how they [can] retain users. . . world-class,” said Jean de La Rochebrochard, board member of BeReal and partner of Kima Ventures and New Wave, investment firms co-founded by French billionaire Xavier Niel.
The company raised $30 million in Series A funding in June, led by Andreessen Horowitz and Accel. Its valuation was not disclosed, but multiple sources told the Financial Times it was around $600 million.
The rapid rise of the free app has already attracted copycat features from TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, advancing discussions about BeReal’s long-term business model.
BeReal and its executives declined to comment on this story, which is based on interviews with several people close to the company.
App executives are said to be keen to avoid the pitfalls of big US rivals such as Facebook and Snapchat, keeping a small team focused on improving the product, rather than raising huge sums from venture capitalists to pursue their global expansion.
However, investors are urging BeReal to introduce new features that can help it avoid becoming a “one-hit wonder” like other trendy social apps, such as Houseparty or Clubhouse. These discussions also included early thinking on how best to monetize the platform without ruining the user experience.
BeReal’s basic product will remain free to access, but it weighs in with optional paid extras. The approach is likely to resemble Discord, the social platform used by gamers and crypto enthusiasts, which charges a monthly subscription starting at $2.99 for bonus content such as digital stickers.
No paid features are expected to launch until the second half of next year, these people said. Although some at BeReal consider the ads to be intrusive, advertising has not been ruled out entirely.
But skyrocketing growth has made monetization a lower priority for BeReal than strengthening its technical infrastructure. Its capital reserves and small team mean there is no immediate need to start generating income.
The company, founded in 2020 by Alexis Barreyat, 26, has around 40 employees working at its headquarters in the trendy Marais district of Paris.
As a former camera editor for influencers, Barreyat saw firsthand that curated social media content could harm the mental health of young people. The launch of his app coincided with a growing awareness of the issue among a new generation of users.
The app sends a notification to each user at a given time of day, with a two-minute window to take a snapshot using the phone’s front and back cameras.
But the very design that made BeReal a success led to widespread issues, temporarily preventing people from uploading photos or viewing friends’ posts. Since millions of users are trying to access the platform at the same time, the so-called data rate or concurrency at that time is comparable to some of the largest Internet platforms in the world.
Barreyat, who does not have a high school diploma, attended the coding school of Niel, 42, in France. His first pitch to Niel’s headhunter, La Rochebrochard, in March 2020 when BeReal had only 500 users, failed.
But a year later, after Niel’s son said he loved the app, La Rochebrochard called Barreyat back. BeReal’s user base had grown to 30,000 by then. After two days of due diligence, Niel’s team invested $1.2 million to acquire a 10% stake in the company.
Despite its aversion to in-app advertising, in-person marketing campaigns on US college campuses have been key to BeReal’s success.
Its Campus Ambassador program pays select students about $250 per month, plus about $7 in commission for each new user acquired. BeReal merchandise is given away at fraternity and sorority parties or other events. The strategy is working: the US now accounts for 40% of BeReal downloads, according to data from analysts at Sensor Tower, making it the app’s largest market.
“I like BeReal because it’s so transparent,” said Sharon Choi, 21, an ambassador at Stony Brook University in New York. “On Instagram and TikTok everything is filtered, on BeReal I don’t need to photoshop myself.”
However, some critics worry that BeReal does not have the resources to police harmful content, a problem that has long plagued social media.
BeReal does not have its own full-scale content moderation team, instead relying on automated filtering.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who has spoken out against the tech giant, accusing Meta of prioritizing profit over security, said BeReal’s design could make it difficult for misinformation to enter.
However, sharing ephemeral photos may lead to sharing other types of harmful or offensive content.
“Unlike TikTok, Facebook or Instagram, BeReal doesn’t focus on virality or creating wide reach – which means the small number of bad apples has less ability to have a lot of impact – deterring bad behavior,” Haugen said. “At the same time, it’s never okay to tack on security systems at the end – I hope they have an intentional integrity plan that they build into their platform development.”