Ello, a sleek and stylish social media site that recently launched, has seen explosive growth in the past few weeks, according to the Vermont venture capital firm that provided a significant amount of funding for the start-up.
Lee Bouyea of Fresh Tracks Capital in Shelburne told New England Cable News 30,000 people or more an hour have been signing up for the site using invitation codes that are meant to control Ello's expansion during its beta phase.
"The growth has just been amazing," Bouyea said.
Drag performer Major Face said when media giant Facebook wanted members of the drag community to use their real names and not their stage names on their personal pages, the self-described chameleon comedian started looking for alternatives to Facebook.
"I don't think a website that is social media should have a right to tell you how to represent yourself," Major Face told NECN. "It really boils down to a question of identity, and I really think people should be free to express whatever identity they feel is within them."
There are no naming rules with Ello, which Major Face said has excited members of the drag community about the site.
"There's real evidence that people want this and they're fed up with existing social media alternatives," Bouyea said. "Over time, we can build a nice scalable business."
What really sets Ello apart is a pledge to never blast users with ads, and to not share their data with others. Instead, Bouyea said Ello will make money by selling users upgrades to their pages, like fancy backgrounds, for a few dollars. The simplest text and photo posting functions are free, Bouyea noted.
Bouyea insisted his firm is not looking for fast cash, so it doesn't want to see Ello compromise its plan and start selling ads or personal info to generate money for payouts to investors. Instead, Bouyeau said the company and its investors alike hope to build a sustainable business long-term.
"If we're successful in doing that, this will become a very valuable property, and we'll have many exit options in front of us," Bouyea said.
Bouyea said his firm expects to stick with Ello for six to ten years to foster steady and positive growth. He explained Fresh Tracks and other angel investors together provided $435,000 in funding earlier this year.
"If Ello satisfies a need for a group of people, it's going to do fine," said Elaine Young, a business professor at Burlington's Champlain College who focuses on digital marketing and social media.
Young told NECN that Ello still has a lot of kinks to work out, including improving the experience for smart phone users. But that is to be expected with a company that is in such business infancy, she said. "Let's kick the tires," Young said. "The other social networks that we're more familiar with today, from LinkedIn to Facebook, have a lot more sophisticated options, but they've also been around a lot longer."
Young said Ello's monetization model makes it a standout in a crowded social media world.
"The part that isn't sexy is the part that makes it sexy-- all that stuff on the back end; behind the scenes," Young said, describing Ello’s ad-free and privacy policies.
Asked if the market needs another social media site, Young responded, "I think it depends on yourself as an individual. It does have some really interesting potential."
Major Face expects to spend a few dollars here and there to customize an Ello page, the performer told NECN. That is exactly the kind of consumer decision the startup social media business will need to see more from the marketplace of if it's going to work long-term.
One of Ello's co-founders is Paul Budnitz, an entrepreneur who has launched more than ten businesses, including Kidrobot, an art toy and apparel company. Budnitz splits his time between Vermont and New York City, according to his website. He was unavailable for interviews Tuesday, an Ello public relations representative firm told NECN, because of the volume of inquiries from international media about the company's launch.