Zenly co-founder returns with new social app company, Amo

Last year, Snap shut down Zenly, a popular social mapping app it acquired for over $200 million in 2017, despite the fact that Zenly still had 40 million active users and growing. Users were understandably upset. But now, Zenly co-founder Antoine Martin says he’s returning to the social app market with the launch of a new company called Amo. The former Zenly CEO is working with ex-Zenly managing director Michael Goldenstein and others on the startup, whose goal is to fix the problems with today’s social networks by focusing on connecting friends in the real world, not connecting the whole world.  

Details about the new product remain shrouded for the time being, but both Martin and Goldenstein began teasing Amo through social media posts on Friday. 

In a LinkedIn post, Goldenstein described the problem Amo was looking to solve in more detail.

“Today’s social products have become overly complex and commoditized super apps that no longer serve the best interests of those who use them, but rather the advertisers that feed their top line” he explained. “TikTok is eating the world and only making things worse as companies focus their efforts on getting their screen time back instead of focusing on why people use their products in the first place. Meanwhile, doom scrolling TikTok and its equivalents isn’t making anyone feel good,” he wrote.

In addition, he said today’s social tech makers were bloated as their employees fought over “pixel and their own metrics in order to get their next promotion.”

This situation has led to the development of a new set of social apps that are generating traction, however. Goldenstein cited apps like BeReal, Locket Widget and Zenly as proof that people are seeking to try products that are focused on “real relationships.”

He’s not wrong with this analysis of the market. As TechCrunch also reported last year, homescreen social apps that put widgets on the smartphone’s home screen, like Locket and BeReal, were blowing up. Apple also anointed BeReal as its “App of the Year” in 2022 after its dramatic growth and investors jumped to back the company with a $60 million Series B.

While these apps were among the first to capture the consumer demand for new, more authentic social networking experiences, there have been signals pointing toward this shift for years. As younger users craved a way to keep up with their real-world friends, outside of their carefully manufactured Instagram presence, they began to create private Instagram accounts, or finstas, for more casual posting. BeReal essentially productized this experience but with the added gimmick of a notification that urges users to post at a certain time every day.

It’s not yet clear what exactly Amo has in store, but it seems to be along these same lines of real-world social networking as opposed to places where users have to “compete with brands and celebrities,” as Goldenstein describes it.

Martin, in an announcement on Twitter, expressed a combination of disappointment over Zenly’s fate and excitement for his new product. He even tagged Snap CEO Evan Spiegel in a remark about Zenly’s closure, saying “I’m sure you’ll come to regret that decision.” (The Zenly co-founder had left Snap last year, after launching Zenly’s redesign.)

While Martin didn’t describe exactly what Amo was up to either, he promised the company would be more experimental.

“We are finally free, excited and will try a lot of things. You can expect us to take risks, build even weirder features, generate emotions and stronger friendships and hopefully find some success along the way,” Martin tweeteed. “We’ll be doing our best to serve you above all else, and hope to be on your springboard in 2023.”

The comment about the springboard — a reference to the app that manages the iPhone’s Home Screen — could be a hint that Amo may also include a Home Screen widget of some kind, similar to BeReal or Locket.

A TestFlight version of the Amo app will arrive soon, Martin also noted, and interested users can follow the @amoamoamo Twitter account to stay tuned for future news. A waitlist for Amo is available on the company’s website as well, and requires a phone number and name to sign up.