“Demand for more authentic online experiences will continue to grow”: Interview with Yubo’s co-founder & CEO, Sacha Lazimi

Gen Z and Gen Alpha are spending more time online than ever before, but at what cost to their mental health? Research shows that heavily curated social media pages are creating a toxic environment that are driving feelings of inadequacy. In response to this trend, French startup Yubo has created an online social space for Gen Z which takes the focus away from growing followers, and instead onto making real friendships. Imagine a kind of TikTok without influencers and likes, and instead a primary focus on authentic interaction.

Since 2015, Yubo has grown into an active community of 40 million users in 40 countries worldwide. In 2020 alone, the app experienced a 550% increase in time spent on live streams. Headquartered in Paris, Yubo boasts a fast-growing team of 80+, and they are currently hiring!

We caught up with one of Yubo’s co-founders, Sacha Lazimi to learn more about Yubo and what makes it unique, how he scaled the business so fast, and also his vision for the future of social media. Let’s dive in!

Sacha, thanks for taking the time to catch up with us. To start with, how did you launch Yubo? What sparked your desire to start it?

Yubo was created because we wanted to improve the way people were interacting with each other online. Around 10 years ago, we thought technology offered people the chance to connect in a better way – but the issue wasn’t being addressed by the sector. In October 2015, we created a very simple app to make friends on Snapchat. Within a year, we reached 5 million users. From there we developed what is now Yubo. With Yubo, we want to empower young people to socialize and create friendships in the digital world, the same way they would in real life.

What are Yubo’s mission and vision? What is your ‘why’?

Yubo’s mission is to create a space online where young people are empowered to socialize and create friendships in a safe environment. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are hungry for authentic online interactions that focus on each other — away from the pressures that traditional social platforms can pose e.g. influencers, followers and likes. Yubo is a space where anyone can belong. We socially inspire and enable new generations to find out about the world and themselves.

Yubo was founded in 2015. What do you consider your most significant milestone?

Since our launch in 2015, we have grown exceptionally, climbing to 40 million users in about 40 countries worldwide. Growth is a key goal for us and hitting the 40-million user mark has been a key milestone. However, this growth wouldn’t have been possible without funding. Our recent funding rounds, including completing a large Series C funding round of $47.5 million (around 39.3 million), which closed in the last quarter of 2020, taking us to just over $60 million raised (around 49.6 million), has also been a key achievement for the business. It has enabled us to reach new milestones as we develop our technology, as well as give us the confidence and financial backing to support our ambitions in becoming a world-leading social platform.

What is the secret behind Yubo’s speed growth (550% increase in 2020)? What are some of the biggest challenges of such fast company growth?

Live streaming is the future of social media and has undoubtedly been a huge driver behind our growth. As Gen Z, the digital native generation looks for new experiences online whilst being forced to stay at home during lockdowns – and live streaming has boomed. It’s important to note though, Yubo’s vision for live streaming was born well before the pandemic. It is our model which allows users to meet people with similar interests through live streams which has driven growth.

Yubo’s primary goal is to scale users and grow as much as possible. As we continue through 2021 and beyond, we’re very aware that, when you have a fast-growing platform, it’s critical to have the team to support that growth, so hiring the right people at the right time is vital. Additionally, as we grow, a key priority is keeping our users safe. We want to continue making Yubo the safest place for users to meet each other, which is why we have integrated tech such as AI to monitor interactions between users and identify inappropriate photos, videos, and messages being shared amongst underage and vulnerable users.

You launched your first digital application at the age of 18. Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.

As mentioned, the idea for Yubo came over ten years ago, so we have dedicated a large amount of time developing products aimed at improving the way people interact online. Before Yubo, we founded two different companies, the first being a geolocated group chat platform where people could communicate with each other anonymously and the second being a platform where you could meet one person per day, either for friendship or networking. Yubo is the collation of all our previous work, as we learned what users wanted and what worked online. As highlighted earlier, when we created Yubo, we started off with wanting to address a problem, and this is a completely different approach to how we launched our first two products, as they stemmed from an idea rather than trying to address a real-world problem. This approach has proved successful and been a key learning for me over the past 10 years.

“Community not clout”. Tell us about Yubo’s community. What are the users like? How did you manage to build and sustain it?

Yubo has a positive and welcoming community, with diverse users who come from all around the world. We are proud of our community. Our users are non-judgmental and focus on having meaningful conversations on topics they care about whilst enjoying themselves. We work to maintain this through prioritizing safety as well as educating users on digital literacy. We take the responsibility to protect our community very seriously and by having a minimum age limit of 13, ground rules and innovative safety tools, such as age recognition and real-time safety alerts, we aim to help reduce the risk to young people, improve their digital awareness and ultimately give them the best possible experience on the app.

What makes Yubo unique? How does it stand out from its competitors – including the omnipresent TikTok?

Apart from focusing on building friendships instead of followships, and prioritizing authentic real-time interactions over curated posts, what also helps us stand out from the crowd is our ‘freemium’ model. It relies on users buying premium features, which means we do not rely on making money from advertising, and we don’t have any ads on our platform at all. This model means we will never sell our users’ data to generate revenue and users don’t come to our platform to make money.

What is your long-time vision for Yubo?

To continue to experience exceptional growth, we plan to multiply our workforce by 10 – we already started doing it as we hired more than 20 new members of the team since January 2021. We are also planning on opening offices in every key region, in particular strengthening our presence in the US and continuing to grow our UK team. Overall, our long-term goal is to continue creating a place where young people can relax, have a nice time, discover the world, but also discover themselves.

We also plan to continue to develop the app further and add more functionalities to the platform, including more interactive games. We already have games available on our platform, such as “would you rather” or “let them guess”, which users can play as ice-breakers, however, continuing to develop this side of the app further is a priority for us.

How do you see the future of social media?

It’s no secret that social media has exploded over the past year, as people look to socialise and interact during lockdowns. The pandemic has resulted in consumers becoming more reliant than ever on digital platforms for entertainment, information, and social connection. This has accelerated pre-existing industry trends such as demand for live streaming. Over the past year, we experienced a 550% increase in time spent on live streams, with UK users aged 21 – 24 spending over a full day a month on live streams – more than the average UK user spends on TikTok a month. We are seeing younger generations, in particular, interested in live streaming for unique experiences online, where people can interact and engage in real and genuine conversations in real-time. However, it’s not just live streaming that is the future of social media. We believe that users have now had enough passive experiences online, and demand for more authentic experiences will continue to increase, especially as GenZ no longer distinguishes between friends made online and offline.

We also believe our ‘freemium’ business model will soon be replicated by other platforms. Users have access to a free account, but they can buy premium features. We think this model is the future of any social platform if you want to monetise today, because if you monetise through ads then you compete with the big players such as Facebook and Instagram, who have a lot of users.