Hello Ello (Peace out, Facebook!)

ello
Ello doesn't require your picture or your name to sign up.

Say hello to Ello, the ad-free social network capitalizing on the perception that it's the "anti-Facebook."

Earlier this month, the social media giant made headlines for suspending the accounts of several gay and transgender entertainers. The rationale? The accounts weren't in the holders' "real" names.

"The more they know about you, the more money they make," said Ello co-founder Paul Budnitz regarding Facebook. "I, quite frankly, don't care."

The platform, which is still in beta, launched just over a month ago with roughly 90 people and is still invite-only. This week, the site has seen an incredible surge in the amount of invite requests. He didn't specify the total number, but said that requests and approvals together often totaled 40,000 an hour.

Budnitz said they didn't expect the site to grow so quickly and are still developing its features. (He acknowledged this could mean a little bit of downtime).

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According to Budnitz, Ello has "really been embraced by the LBGT community," as well as artists and performers.

Ello wants its users to feel more like people and less like data points. Users are free to be whoever they want so long as they abide by basic rules, like no bestiality or impersonation of public figures, according to Budnitz.

To join, all you need is an invite from a friend and an email address.

"We're not geo-locating, we're stripping IP addresses, we don't ask your name, your gender or sexual orientation. All I care about is that you obey the rules of Ello," said Budnitz, who is one of its seven founders.

About a year ago, they started the platform as a private social network for friends of friends to share their artwork and communicate. Eventually, they had 1,000 friends of friends who wanted in to the network, so they decided to open up the circle.

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They received a $435,000 seed investment from FreshTracks Capital, a Vermont-based VC firm. (Budnitz also lives in Vermont, but other founders are located in Colorado.)

But how does a non-ad supported platform survive once the funding runs dry?

"Isn't it just so sad? Rather than cheering on a new model that actually makes things better, people have to say, 'You can't change things,'" said Budnitz. "Our business model is really simple, and proven. It's like an app store."

By that, Budnitz means they'll upsell users on special features to customize their Ello experience -- and he's confident that he'll be able to monetize the platform this way.

"We literally have thousands of people writing to us with feature suggestions, saying: these are the things I'd pay for."

The top request so far? People wanting to control a professional and personal profile with one log-in. Budnitz says they're likely to roll that out in the future and charge a one-time fee of $2.

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