It’s been a long road for Dispo.
The photo-sharing app launched in 2020 and was a hot commodity right out of the gate. Boosted by the star status of co-founder David Dobrik, Dispo announced $20 million in fresh funding just months after finalizing its seed round.
Then, everything went south. Dobrik was forced to depart the company in disgrace after a member of his Vlog Squad was accused of sexual assault. Investors fled and the app was left to figure out what its Dobrik-less approach would look like. It closed a Series A round in June 2020, but it still had to acquire enough users to regain its momentum.
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Then, a funny thing happened: One of Dispo’s rivals handed it a golden opportunity. In July of this year, Instagram drew intense backlash when it started prioritizing short-from videos and planned to switch to a TikTok-style feed. Celebs like Kylie Jenner expressed their frustration and asked why Instagram couldn’t revert to the photo-sharing app they fell in love with.
But the photo-centric experience of old-school Instagram does exist — just not on Instagram. Dispo, as its name implies, functions like a disposable camera. Its photos take time to “develop” and are posted the day after they are taken. The app’s motto is “good vibes only,” and it doesn’t use an algorithm to recommend content to its users. Its design hearkens back to the olden days of the social media industry, before it became a race for impressions.
Dispo’s CEO, Daniel Liss, highlighted his company’s status as an Instagram alternative in a Twitter video he posted on July 28. He donned a yellow sweater and thick glasses to imitate the outfit worn by Instagram Head Adam Mosseri when he responded to the criticism his company received. In a slow, halting tone that resembled Mosseri’s, Liss said that “we don’t even offer video.” He stressed that Dispo is fully focused on sharing photos and showing its users a good time. “Our priorities as a company are fun and mental health.”
a message from our ceo @Dlisscious pic.twitter.com/ZGXjnvQTVS
— dispo (@DispoHQ) July 27, 2022
If Liss’ Mosseri mockery feels a bit mean to you, keep in mind that Meta fired the first broadside in this rivalry. Facebook hit Dispo with a subpoena in April as it tried to prove to the FTC that it isn’t a monopoly.
Plus, as Liss explained to Digiday, Dispo’s anti-Instagram approach isn’t just about showing love for photos. As I noted in my coverage of Instagram’s imbroglio, the Meta-owned app is caught in between two categories. It can’t quite decide whether it wants to be an entertainment destination or a social media service.
Dispo doesn’t have that problem. It is squarely social-first, but it can also engender positive feelings through that focus. “One of the key theoretical questions, architectural questions, right now is if social media is entertainment-focused or is it about building connections with people,” Liss told Digiday. “A photograph, an album of photographs, captures a moment in time. People have emotional connections to photographs.”
It’s tough to foster those connections, however, without a dedicated community. Per Digiday, Dispo’s user acquisition has fluctuated. Its monthly downloads peaked at 540,000 in May 2022, but that number fell to 120,000 two months later. In total, the app has eight million downloads and one million monthly active users, according to Liss.
Dispo must continue growing, but its current strategy has the potential to balloon its user base. Think about this: Since Kylie Jenner is frustrated with Instagram’s lack of photos, what would happen if she gave Dispo a full-throated endorsement? Jenner has enough clout to tank stock market prices with a single tweet, so Liss and co. would be wise to keep up with her.