Ello, the invite-only social network, isn’t concerned about becoming the biggest social network out there: Its founder has drawn a line in the sand for advertisers, promising that Ello will always remain an “ad-free network.”
Ello is firmly against the idea of selling your information to advertisers, so in order to make money, Ello’s founder Paul Budnitz says users will be able to purchase small, specific features that will help people build their own version of Ello that’s customised to their taste.
“Ello is made to be simple, exactly what you need to have fun and be great social network,” Budnitz told Business Insider. “It makes Ello really easy to use, and at the same time, it’s also the basis for the business model. When a network is very simple, people want specific features, and they’re willing to pay for those features.”
So while the core Ello experience will “always remain free,” according to Budnitz, people will be able to expand Ello’s capabilities, spending a few dollars for that new killer feature — whatever it is.
“Say you’re a musician or a band, and you want to control multiple accounts from a single login,” said Budnitz. “We can charge $US2 for that. It’s not for everyone.”
Budnitz says he’s seen thousands of emails from users suggesting features that they’d be willing to pay for, and Budnitz says there’s already plenty in the works.
“Let’s say that for a few bucks, you can buy an emoji pack designed by a popular street artist,” says Budnitz. “Because of how we’ve built Ello, it naturally lends itself perfectly to that.”
Other hotly suggested features include the ability to browse Ello with inverted colours, turning the screen black and overlaying it with white text. Interestingly enough, the feature saw over 500 requests, mainly from Ello users in Europe and Japan.
And while others have debated how feasible Ello’s ad-free business model will work out, Budnitz isn’t worried about facing any pressure to sell out or incorporate ads at a later time. The issue was recently brought up after it was revealed that Ello had already raised seed funding from venture capital firm FreshTracks Capital, causing some to doubt Ello’s ability to remain ad-free if its funding source becomes anxious for added revenue.
“If [FreshTracks] were the type of people who were doing that, it wouldn’t matter because the founders have such an overwhelming share of Ello,” Budnitz says. “The venture capitalist can get upset, but it wouldn’t matter because they have no control.
“And Ello is so deeply based, we put a flag in the stand with a manifesto, I can’t imagine how that would change and people would stick around.”
“An advertising based social network is by its nature, it actually has to do things, because all those things are the things that make it money,” continues Budnitz. “If we started doing that, everyone would say ‘f— this’ and leave — excuse my language.”
At the end of the day, Budnitz says keeping Ello sustainable will be a relatively simple feat, given that Ello’s business model is inherently different than Facebook’s, and that means the costs are different, too.
“There are seven of us running Ello now, with some extra programmers helping us out. It is not very hard to run at this scale, and Ello’s getting pretty big,” said Budnitz. “And data is really cheap! I think if you don’t have to have an office building full of people figuring out how to manipulate people into giving you more data, it’s really not that hard to run a network with a ton of people on it.”
If you’re interested in trying out Ello for yourself, you can request an invite right here.