Ayman Hariri is a Lebanese billionaire who is most well-known for being the co-founder of Vero, a social network free of data mining and advertisements. He was also the former CEO of Saudi Oger, one of the largest construction companies in Saudi Arabia. He was fully divested from the company in July 2014. He has had a huge interest in technology ever since he was a child, and he’s always looking to solve problems with technology. He values respect and consideration for others, and he believes that is what makes a business successful. His strong passion, combined with his highly respected values, has allowed him to become one of the richest people in the world.
Ayman Rafic Hariri was born on May 16, 1978. He is the second-youngest son of business magnate and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. He has two siblings, Fahd and Hind, and two half-siblings, Bahaa and Saad. Ayman Hariri grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and he moved to Paris, France at age 12 to attend school. While in France, Hariri would go to work meetings with his father, who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. However, Hariri’s passion wasn’t for construction, but rather technology. He would take apart and build PCs in his spare time, which he felt his parents didn’t understand, especially his father. He wanted to forge his own path and not feel bound to a path that was chosen for him.
Ayman Hariri moved to the United States to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While in college, he was an intern and programmer at Intelsat, a satellite services provider. He originally began as a business major, but after receiving approval from his parents, he switched to computer science. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1999.
First Projects and Major Tragedy
In 2001, Ayman Hariri co-founded a software platform called Epok with his friend from junior high school, Scott Birnbaum. Epok was mostly intended for enterprises and dealt with data privacy and identity management. Unfortunately, this project was abandoned in 2005 due to a family tragedy. Hariri’s father, Rafic, was assassinated by a suicide bomber on February 14, 2005, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Following this, Ayman returned home to Saudi Arabia to help run his father’s construction company until July 2014. Hariri oversaw the development of King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), the first mixed-gender university campus in Saudi Arabia. The company was also responsible for the construction of Princess Noura University, the largest women’s university in the world, and the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Hariri left Saudi Oger in 2013 to pursue other projects, and he sold his stake in the company to his brother, Saad. Saudi Oger closed completely in July of 2017.
The Creation of Vero and Investments in Startups
Hariri invested the money he had into Vero, a social media platform free of advertisements and data mining. He and Birnbaum, who had worked together previously on Epok, co-founded the company. Vero allows users to share music, videos, movies, and photos with whoever they want. This was Hariri’s idea. He noticed that other apps let you share either privately or publicly, and he wanted Vero users to be able to make that choice for themselves. Hariri wanted Vero to closely resemble real-world social experiences compared to other social networking services such as Facebook.
The Vero app became available for download in 2015. It was a big success, and in 2018, the app’s servers were struggling to keep pace with the amount of traffic. In 2018, the number of users went from roughly 150,000 users to over 4 million. Vero’s biggest customers include photographers, musicians, cosplayers, and artists.
The Rise of Vero
In 2018, the social media app Vero became one of the most downloaded apps on the App Store. The user count was originally hovering around 150,000 users, but only one week later, the number of users jumped to over 4 million. Vero isn’t a typical social media site; it’s free of data mining, advertisements, and algorithms. Vero attempts to offer a social networking service that closely resembles in-person experiences, and it has succeeded in doing so.
The Founder of Vero
Ayman Hariri grew up with a fascination for technology, often building and disassembling PCs in his spare time to learn about them.
Hariri started a data privacy company in 2001 with his junior high school friend, Scott Birnbaum. In 2005, He created Vero in 2015 alongside Birnbaum, when he noticed he could offer something that other social networks weren’t doing.
What Vero Does Differently
Vero does not use advertisements, and users’ privacy is maintained. Hariri wanted a social media experience where users could decide who would see what they post, which is the opposite of what Facebook and Instagram were offering at the time. Users can share videos, music, movies, and photos with whoever they choose. The name “Vero” was chosen for the company because it means “truth” in Italian.
Hariri noticed his friends on other social media sites were acting differently than they did in real life. He wanted to create a social network that emulated how people behave in the real world, which is through varying degrees of intimacy. Based on how close you are with someone, you can share anything on Vero with either everyone or a select few. Vero’s primary mission is to make their social network truly feel social.
Hariri has ensured that respect and consideration remain key factors in Vero’s appeal. Vero respects all users’ privacy and is more deliberate when it comes to solving problems or developing features.
Vero is currently registered in New York, but all staff work remotely across the world.
Vero Becomes Popular
Many cosplayers, artists, musicians, and photographers quickly took to Vero due to its unique pinch and zoom functionality. Although it didn’t start with as many users as it has today, a major event helped Vero’s popularity surge.
In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica data scandal occurred. In the scandal, users’ information from their Facebook and Instagram accounts was used for political advertising purposes without their consent. Vero took advantage of this and launched an advertising campaign to attract the disgruntled Facebook and Instagram users. This plan proved effective, and millions made the switch to Vero. Vero became the most downloaded app in 18 countries during the week. The rise in popularity was unexpected, and the servers were briefly struggling to maintain the influx of new users.
Hariri’s friend Zack Snyder took an interest in Vero. This also gave the company a boost, as his fans registered for the app and followed his account.
Hariri self-financed Vero through his wealth, and the first one million users had access to the full app for free, with plans to move to a subscription model afterwards. The app also generates revenue through an affiliate program from purchases made through the app.
In December of 2020, Vero 2.0 was launched. It was an update that improved the UI and added new features such as video and voice calls, as well as game and app posts. In October of 2021, Vero launched a desktop app with various posting options to choose from.
At the 2021 Webby Awards, Vero was named an honoree for Best Visual Design in the Aesthetic category.
Vero continues to work on new tools and features, including discoverability capabilities and features that allow creators to build more sustainable careers. Vero is also looking into the potential integration of Web3 technology into the app.
Hariri invests in many startup companies through Red Sea Ventures, including Nest, a smart thermostat now owned by Google. He had a 42% stake in his family’s holding company, GroupeMed, but sold it in 2017 for $535 million.
Hariri’s Mentor and Values
Despite some disagreements early on, Ayman Hariri views his father as his biggest mentor. He continues to be inspired by his values and character. Although he might not have initially understood Ayman’s passion for technology, his father encouraged him to follow his dreams, as that’s where he felt his biggest success would be. Hariri considers himself lucky to have learned business skills from his father, and his approach of staying honest and consistent with all people builds trust. Hariri believes in the people he works with and remains optimistic when working on a project. This business philosophy came from his father, and Hariri continues to live by it today with great success.
The fact that Hariri values respect and consideration for people is a key part of Vero’s success. He respects people’s privacy and wants to be deliberate with his projects to ensure that users stick around longer. He believes this helps to build stronger, more meaningful relationships in the long term. He continues to learn from any mistakes and problems that arise, and always endeavors to improve users’ experiences and maintain strong relationships.
Ayman Hariri Today
Hariri currently lives in Paris, France, and is married with three children. His hobbies include superheroes and comic books, which he collects in his spare time. He has named his comic book collection “The Impossible Collection,” which he put on display at the 2016 premiere of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in London. He is friends with American film director Zack Snyder, who directed Justice League. Hariri is disinterested in politics, given the problems that often arise in that field. However, his brother Saad served as Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia from 2016 to 2020. Hariri continues to work at Vero, and recently put out a desktop version of the app. As of September 2022, his net worth is estimated to be $1.4 billion.
Photo: “ENX_9597” by Web Summit is licensed under CC BY 2.0