BeReal : your friends, for real.
It’s a risky exercise to reflect on decision patterns, we tend to quickly fall into shortcuts and caveats that obviously mislead us.
This being said, I’ve just noticed that having made almost two dozen investments in the mobile social consumer space, two companies clearly stand out, and for some reasons, they are the ones in which we have invested most of our time and money: Zenly and BeReal.
Both products have crossed very rare milestones for mobile social consumer apps, Zenly is still growing at an incredible pace thanks to its founding CEO at its helm, Antoine Martin, and BeReal has gained millions of daily sticky users over the past months, in various hard to crack geographies.
Back in 2015, when we decided to lead Zenly’s Series A while there was a full consensus against it among investors, who would have imagined that not only the company would achieve what no European company in the space has ever done, but that Antoine would receive inbounds from an entire generation of young founders all over the world, inspired by his discreet yet undeniable talent !
Besides some fundamentals principles behind the most successful mobile social consumer apps, we back Founding Product CEOs before all. And when it comes to Antoine at Zenly or Alexis at BeReal, I think we’ve quickly noticed they were deeply rooted to their narrative and incredibly intentional with a stellar growth mindset when it comes to execution. What does it mean ?
As founders, they are deeply rooted to their narrative, and there is nothing else they could with their life…
The story of Antoine Martin is that he was already an entrepreneur, organising parties for young Parisians. People would get together, calling each others all the time to figure out where they were and what they were doing. When Foursquare came along, he couldn’t stop buzzing around that transposition of social gathering online and it’s only in 2015 that he embraced his obsession to crack a way for closed ones to get together through a map in the most enjoyable way.
As for Alexis Barreyat, the CEO of BeReal, he was shooting mountain bikes performances with GoPro. While he was in the moment, he was surprised to see so many influencers busy staging their life with multiples shots, stories, trying out dozens of filters while completely missing the show. It was even making some of them and their audience miserable. What if he could reconnect people to real moments and not staged versions of them. When he started BeReal early 2019, there was absolutely nothing else he could do !
Antoine and Alexis weren’t just curious or exploring ideas, they were obsessed with their respective aspirations. both of them iterated for more than two years before it started to take off… Throughout almost no growth, the discouragements of many and a lot of advices that were at the opposite of what they were doing but felt so true to them.
You would tell Antoine : Zenly is just this blue dot on a map ?! It’s not just a blue dot, it’s the most reliable and reassuring one, it’s live, it’s precise, and it doesn’t drain your battery, and for that you trust Zenly. From there on we reconnect people together…
You would tell Alexis : BeReal is one picture a day at a random time, seriously ? It’s not just a random picture, it’s an invitation to revisit spontaneity, to bring back reciprocity with the rest of your community. We all post at the same time or so, and we all see each other’s pictures as we post ours. It’s about reconnecting around simple moments quickly captured…
As entrepreneurs, they are incredibly intentional with their choices of execution while keeping an incredible growth mindset.
I remember back in 2015, I was giving all sorts of ideas to the Zenly team about the product, what I thought mattered… Now I realise how patient they’ve been listening to my non sense comments. I didn’t know back at the time what it meant to create the fine mechanics between your narrative, the core primitive of your product and the enablers that would sublimate it. I find absolutely unique, brilliant, subtle how both of them manage to take certain paths of execution that we would never dare or imagine and that look so obvious afterwards.
And it’s not because they are stubborn, lucky, brilliant or a mix of all that, it’s because they have this ability to question everything, listen to everyone, digest, refine and come up with brilliant yet simple things that stay true to their narrative.
And it’s not only forward, it’s also backward. Not long ago, I have heard Antoine tell me that he had made the wrong assumptions on something. I have had discussions with Alexis during which he was adamant about not developing a certain feature and yet after a couple of months started to explore ways to build them the BeReal way.
Back in 2015, you could share a temporary position on Zenly with people outside the application. At some point, Antoine decided to kill that feature. We could have argued it was a way for people to learn about Zenly, but in reality, it was just a misleading feature that was raising more questions than attention. Zenly is for close friends, period.
Both Antoine and Alexis are of course obsessed with their mission and it takes a lot of their mental bandwidth at the expense of other things sometimes. Yet they have the most honest and caring principles you could hope from a founder and it spreads to the people they work with and those who support them.
You can’t imagine how it feels to support those kind of entrepreneurs early in their journey and to become the witness of their achievements.
Zenly : more time together.