It’s time to be real: how the French “anti-Instagram” BeReal took off and how long it will last

The new social network BeReal, which allows you to publish photos only once a day at a certain time and without editing, is rapidly gaining popularity. Among its investors are such giants of the venture market as Andreessen Horowitz, Accel and Yuri Milner’s DST Global fund, and millions of users download the application, despite limited functionality and failures. How does the French “anti-Instagram” attract a young audience and will it not repeat the fate of Clubhouse and other startups that grew rapidly and then just as quickly lost popularity?

The description of the French spontaneous photo app BeReal in the AppStore comes with an ominous warning stating, among other things, that BeReal is “real life without filters” and also that it “will not make you famous”, and that those who want to become an influencer are better off “stay on TikTok or Instagram” (owned by Meta, which is recognized as extremist in Russia and banned).

However, this did not stop numerous, mostly young, users. On July 18, BeReal took first place in downloads among free iOS apps in the App Store and kept the lead for almost a week. Sensor Tower estimates that the app has 20 million installs to date. BeReal is similar in functionality to other social networks with a focus on images, but has gained a lot of popularity among zoomers and millennials, urging them to “be real” and “be yourself”, contrary to how other social networks create an unrealistic picture of people’s lives.

BeReal’s path to this triumphant success was not so fast. According to TechCrunch, it was founded in December 2019 by two former GoPro employees from France, Alexis Barreat and Kevin Perrault.

The idea of ​​the application is that each user receives a push notification with the words Time to BeReal (“It’s time to be real”) at a certain time (which he does not know in advance, and which changes every day), after which he must withdraw within two minutes and post your photo. The camera simultaneously takes a selfie and a photo on the main camera – they are published as a single frame, reminiscent of a FaceTime screen: a large view from the rear camera is shown, and a selfie in a small window in the corner. In addition, the user does not see his face when taking a photo – it is displayed only in the finished picture, which cannot be edited.

If you post a photo after two minutes, the photos are marked as “late” – no other sanctions will follow, even if you post a photo after a few hours. The posts of your friends can only be viewed if you publish something yourself – this mechanism is updated every day. If you don’t post your photo after receiving the BeReal alert, you won’t be able to see your friends’ photos. The feed resets to zero every day, so it won’t scroll endlessly, as happens in other social networks with images.

This is a rather modest set of features, but it seems to resonate with a certain audience. According to app market research company Apptopia, 65% of app downloads were made in 2022, and monthly audience growth is currently 315%. Among the countries where the application is downloaded most often, France is in the lead (20.5% of all downloads), followed by the United States (19.7%). As TechCrunch points out, these bursts of growth usually indicate that there was some serious marketing and advertising money invested in that growth—organic growth tends to be smoother without such spikes. Of course, this is just a hypothesis of the author of TechCrunch, but it just so happened that the startup had money for promotion. BeReal itself attributes its success to word of mouth.

Spontaneity and control


In June 2021, the Andreessen Horowitz and Accel funds invested about $30 million in the startup. However, BeReal began to gain popularity only this year, when videos about it began to go viral on American TikTok.

BeReal is “an open and fun place where people can share their lives with friends,” the company said in a statement: “We want people to feel good about themselves and their lives. We need an alternative to addictive social media that forces us to compare ourselves to others and show our lives in order to gain influence.”

The French app comes amid a growing movement among young people to return to social media naturalness and ease, in which zoomers post random and unedited photos of their lives.

BeReal, in fact, serves exactly this need by “forcing” users to share their real life. Since it’s hard to find a subject worthy of artistic shooting, set the light or find the perfect angle in two minutes, people often share photos of their pets or zoom meetings in the app. In France, BeReal’s posts have been quite risqué, with some posting funeral photos, others revealing shower shots. At the moment, the platform does not block users for such content.

However, some experts believe that user interest in BeReal will soon begin to fade due to novelty, so developers need to make an effort to build on success – expand the feature set and fix bugs in the application, while users are still ready to put up with frequent crashes.

Application crashes often occur in the early stages of popularity due to too many users. However, Danila Karasev, an android developer, tells Forbes that BeReal still has a lot of work to do: “The app’s interface is not responsive – it can’t even boast of automatically switching between dark and light theme, not to mention the fact that the names of people in contacts pop up behind fields or are layered on top of each other. In addition, BeReal claims to have an innovative dual camera system, but this feature is still intermittent, says Karasev: “A second camera is a great move if the provider supports a simultaneous session from two cameras. Here, the user does not see what is happening on the selfie camera – it is very inconvenient to take a picture without looking. In addition, according to Bloomberg, the application often crashes when many users try to upload their photos at the same time – as a result, many do not have time to meet the allotted two minutes, and their honestly taken photos are accompanied by the shameful stigma of “latecomers.”

Critical crashes in the application make themselves felt. According to data analysis platform Apptopia, negative reviews of BeReal for performance and errors increased by 254% in the first two weeks of July. In May, reviews mentioning “negative” or “mixed” performance and “bugs” accounted for 56.4% of total reviews. Bloomberg reports that BeReal declined to comment on the subject. True, despite the mistakes, people still continue to publish their daily spontaneous photos. According to cited by Bloomberg, in May, the number of people who had not uninstalled BeReal after a week of use was almost 50% – compared to an average of 37% for other applications. After 30 days, these figures leveled off to levels of 35% and 34%, respectively.

If BeReal fails to expand the functionality and fix bugs, the application may well repeat the fate of Clubhouse, the hit of the year before last, in which users communicated in voice chats. Three months after its meteoric rise during the pandemic, when popular bloggers made money there even by being silent, the app left the top 100 downloaded services in Russia. The company recently announced layoffs, a change in strategy and restructuring.

Pavel Golitsyn, founder of the Golitsyn Capital venture fund, believes that the failure of Clubhouse is due to the fact that the developers refused to expand the functionality of the application, but will the BeReal team want to do this? Moreover, in France, its popularity is already on the decline – it is falling in the ranking of the most downloaded applications. In addition, French users report that as their circle of friends on BeReal expanded, they no longer felt comfortable posting spontaneous, unretouched photos, and anxiety and control over their images returned.

Hype or good investment?


BeReal is not the first application of this type, but it was he who managed to “shoot”. Launched in 2017, the Minutiae app used a similar idea – users had to post a photo at the time they received a push notification, no matter what they were doing at that moment. Minutiae founder Martin Adolphson recently complained in a TechCrunch comment that BeReal developers “borrowed a lot from him”, while calling his idea unique. But, according to TechCrunch, this is not the first time in the history of startups when only one out of a number of seemingly similar applications achieves success.

In May of this year, it became known that BeReal raised $85 million at a $600 million valuation in a round where Yuri Milner’s DST Global fund became the lead investor. This is a serious amount for a company that is not yet generating income, especially in a situation where investors, in anticipation of an economic crisis, have become much more cautious in giving away money. Right now, major players in the venture capital market, such as Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, are warning that the market should prepare for a protracted crisis, and are advising their portfolio startups to make sure that they have enough finance to hold out without additional investment for at least two years. Nevertheless, even in this situation, investors found BeReal worthy of attention.

BeReal is really showing impressive momentum – having gained popularity in France (the country has more than 750,000 of its active users), the application has begun to grow its audience among college-age users in the United States. It hit the top apps in May 2022 as posts about BeReal started going viral on TikTok and Twitter. “I can’t believe we’ve all become so fake that we need social media to force us to be ourselves. This is just ridiculous,” wrote one user.

Arun Lakshmanan, an associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management, told Bloomberg that with capital injections and “little investments” in product and infrastructure, disruptions should be ironed out over time. “But whether BeReal will follow the path of Facebook (owned by Meta, which is recognized as extremist in Russia and banned) or Twitter is an open question,” the expert adds.

Konstantin Kuznetsov, managing partner of Advice Finance, does not seem to think that the idea and business model at the heart of BeReal is a breakthrough, and he considers a sharp jump in interest in the application solely the result of marketing and PR: “Yes, the problem of “Instagram life” really exists, but it is hardly worth solving $ 600 million. It is not at all clear yet how the company plans to keep users on the social network, since compared to competitors they have only one mechanic and it is also the main idea.

TechCrunch also believes that BeReal’s meteoric rise is due to advertising investments, moreover, it cites the testimonies of some students who claim that they were paid $30 for a mention of the application, $50 for a review after downloading. BeReal turned out to answer questions from TechCrunch, stating that “they are not yet ready to communicate with the media.”

Pavel Golitsyn believes that the BeReal concept engages users by the fact that the posting process is gamified according to the “the worse, the better” principle, and people like to feel real. “All the top social networks have Andreessen Horowitz (A16z fund) among their investors. Their participation in the project, as well as the Accel Fund, is a special sign of the project’s prospects in the investment world,” adds Golitsyn. However, the expert emphasizes that any venture investment is a risk: “BeReal has good prospects, but there is a risk of competition and retention of the audience.” In general, Golitsyn recommends BeReal for investment if the venture investor’s area of ​​interest includes social networks.

Konstantin Kuznetsov is more cautious in this matter and recommends taking a closer look at the risks: “In addition to the growth in the number of downloads, it is important to monitor the amount of time spent inside the application, as well as the frequency of opening. The download data may just be a temporary spike in interest, and nothing more.”

“BeReal won’t make you famous” or it will


The question arises of monetizing content and making a profit for developers, since there are no ads in the application. Olga Bobrovskaya, marketing director of the Gem4me messenger, believes that BeReal may have difficulties with this: “The main goal of any social network is for people to spend as much time as possible there. And now there is only a short one-time contact with the application during the day, even taking into account the fact that the user will not only post his photo, but also look at friends’ photos. This can make it difficult for the creators of the application to reap the benefits, unless it starts collecting user data, as it did with GetContact in its time.

While BeReal’s warning says the app won’t make you popular, many experts believe the developers are lying. For example, the French magazine Le Journal du Community Manager sees opportunities to play the authenticity card for companies and celebrities who can gain popularity by showing off their daily lives.

Karina Tagirova, founder of the digital agency InBrand Agency, agrees with this position: “In any new and very popular social network, you can quickly develop your personal brand, and then transfer the acquired fame to other platforms.” She compares this strategy to being popular on TikTok — those who made it there in the beginning are now some of the richest influencers in the world. “BeReal has the potential to monetize due to the simplicity of the content – the entrance for creators is absolutely free. Now it’s easier and cheaper to become a celebrity here than in any other social network,” Tagirova is sure. She also sees business opportunities: “With the help of such natural photos, a business can natively advertise products, as it was at the beginning of the development of TikTok.”