For the past four days, social app Hive Social has been sitting pretty near the top of the list of most-popular free apps in the entire App store — above TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and, yes, Twitter. Elon Musk’s tumultuous Twitter takeover has prompted hundreds of thousands users to flee the app into the warm, waiting arms of alternatives like Hive Social, which has seen growth of more than 750,000 users since Thursday, Nov. 17.
Hive is helmed by 24-year-old CEO Raluca Pop, who also goes by Kassandra when people have difficulty pronouncing her Romanian name. She and two teammates — marketer Pablo and developer Josh (their last names kept off the record for privacy) — have been working furiously over the last four days to keep up with demand.
But when Mashable reaches Pop late in the evening on Nov. 21, she sounds like a vacationing optimist: calm, cheerful, and grateful. If she’s stressed or nervous about the growth of her app, it doesn’t show. There’s an eagerness in the way she signs off our call by saying, “I’ll most likely be up again all night.”
We chatted with Pop about Hive’s humble beginnings, it’s rapid growth, and what it feels like to be on Musk’s radar.
Self-funded, self-built, and home to 1 million users
In June 2019, Pop began to build an app using coding skills she had taught herself. Though she had no technical background (she graduated with a psychology degree), Pop launched the first version of Hive in October 2019. She believed in it so much that she soon took out two personal loans to hire a freelance developer and pay for server space. Just one other person, an angel investor who personally enjoyed the app, pitched in $25,000 investment to cover expenses.
As reported by Teen Vogue, the app’s first influx of mostly Gen Z users came in early February 2021. Pop recalls that One Direction stan account 1DPsychic (which appears to no longer be very active) shared a screenshot of Hive Social on Twitter. Fans poured in, especially K-pop fans. “All of a sudden, we had this massive influx… it really pushed the boundaries of the servers,” she says. “It was just another wild ride like right now, although right now we’re way better prepared.”
Last Thursday, Nov. 17, was “just a normal day” says Pop. That is, until Hive started trending on Twitter. “I sat in the same spot on my bed just with my phone, looking at all the comments and responding to everybody,” she marvels. “And just seeing our number go up on trending that day, in the Philippines and Thailand too. That’s when the K-pop fans came, that was the first big wave.”
Last week, just as they did in 2021, K-pop fans embraced Hive Social as a new outlet for expression. The first to arrive were Carats, fans of K-pop group Seventeen, who were directed to the app by a fellow fan’s tweet that now has more than 129,000 likes. Word spread from there: a post about Hive from a fan of the group Treasure received 11,000 likes. Next came the Star Wars fandom. Then the gamers arrived.
Pop estimates that more than 80,000 people created accounts on the app between Thursday evening and Friday afternoon. “Our servers did crash. We were working frantically on Friday to get them back up.”
Three days later, on Monday, Nov. 21, the app tweeted that it had reached 1 million users. The timing was perfect: Pop’s team had released the first Android version of the app less than a week prior. And the numbers keep growing: on Tuesday, the Hive Twitter account noted that 250,000 users had joined overnight.
Raising $250,000 in 72 hours
Hive Social’s rise in popularity hasn’t just grown its user base but its funding, too. More than 800 people have invested more than $300,000 into the app since Thursday through crowdfunding site WeFunder.
Pop is stunned. She says she’s been approached by venture capitalists to pitch Hive to investors many times, but no one has ever taken the leap. An abysmal 2 percent of all VC funding went to women-led businesses in 2021, and a fraction of that goes to Black and Hispanic women founders. “We have to work a million times harder to be taken seriously,” Pop says. “You and me could go to pitch Hive tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t even raise the amount of VC funding that a guy could [by] just walk[ing] in, pre-revenue pre-product. I’ve seen the difference in how we’re treated. I call it how I see it.”
Credit: WeFunder, Hive
Pop credits writer Clarkisha Kent for seeing Hive Social’s value first, and advocating for it to others. “She’s been a huge supporter of Hive, sharing our posts, commenting and liking, and trying to tell people about it,” says Pop. When Kent asked Pop if there was any other way to support the app, Pop remembered that a WeFunder page she had set up a year ago was still online.
“We didn’t have anything in the account Thursday morning,” Pop says, “I sent [the link] to [Kent], and I didn’t think anything of it.” After years of VC rejection, Pop wasn’t convinced it would make a difference. “Who knows if people really want to take a chance to actually put their own money in? And then they did. And it was just wild. We went from $0 to $245,000.”
“We are really grateful to everyone who’s contributed… It’s so awesome,” says Pop. “You get to actually read people’s comments along with their investment,” and it’s all thanks to Kent’s initial belief in the app. “She wanted to see the app thrive because… for women in tech, it’s really, really hard to be taken seriously,” Pop says, “I really appreciate her help. She’s done so much for us.”
Why people love Hive
Pop says users tell her that Hive Social is “much more intuitive” to use than alternatives, but Pop thinks the app’s competitive advantage is “the care that [our team has] put into the community… I think we built a different culture around the app.”
To start, “we did make some pretty vocal statements that [former President Donald] Trump and [Andrew] Tate are banned from the platform. There’s no place for white supremacists on the app.” And the team values engaging with the community directly and being transparent about how small but mighty they are.
Pop is quite active on the company’s Twitter account, updating followers on the status of the app and its crashes, replying to questions, and retweeting user feedback and content. Pablo runs the Hive Brazil Twitter account, reaching out to Latin American users who often are forgotten in the race for relevance in North America. For Pop, outreach on Twitter is crucial to making users feel heard so that the team can make the app better. The trick is “being personal… so you don’t sound like a robot. We try to have fun with it. And honestly, we do because it’s our passion.”
Those who fled Twitter to flock to Hive Social seem to revel the return to a platform rooted in aesthetics. Tweets show that people love the customization of visual elements, like changing the color of your profile, as well as the ability to add songs. And those features remind millennial users of the mid-aughts delights of MySpace or the thrills of 2010s Tumblr. The app also incorporates an optional personal Q&A function that was popularized on platforms like Tumblr and CuriousCat.
Over the next month, the team plans to push out weekly development updates to the app to accommodate feedback. “A lot of people are also dissatisfied with feedback that they give other apps, that it’s not really taken into consideration,” Pop says. “So we do our best to listen. And obviously, we can’t incorporate every single suggestion. But we try our best to accommodate everyone.”
Their main focus for future updates is amping up accessibility. Alt-text, a standard accessibility feature, is at the top of their list. Pop and Josh will be also be adding new text type and sizing options for a handful of users who have said they have trouble reading in the app. And one user has suggested replacing swiping with tapping so people with limited hand movement can better use certain features, which Pop says is an option they’ll add soon. “It doesn’t really matter to us if it’s a small group of people” asking for a feature, she says. “We would rather have the option to accommodate them if needed.”
“Elon is watching”
What’s next for Hive Social, now that it has the internet’s attention and $300,000 dollars to support its growth? Pop plans to quit her full-time nonprofit job to focus on Hive 24/7. But she is cautious about growing her team and its ambitions too quickly. “We don’t want to expand ourselves too much… we want to use [the funds] wisely.”
Even if this wave of users becomes a trickle, the team has support: It was recently accepted into the Google for Startups Cloud Program, which provides access to technical training, business support, and up to $200,000 of cloud cost coverage. And when it comes to long-term monetization, Pop points to the app’s two functioning revenue streams: “minimally invasive,” post-like ads that Pop says users don’t seem to mind and adding additional songs to your profile, starting at $.99.
But when asked about future plans around revenue, Pop demurs: “I don’t want to give out too much of that, just because I know Elon is watching.” She suspects that the Twitter CEO is keeping an eye on Hive Social after Twitter users noticed that the app’s Twitter profile and replies to its posts may have been suppressed. After our conversation, Musk replies to a tweet mentioning Hive.
Pop’s not phased by the “newfound pressure.” She’s been preparing for this moment for a long time. “I think people are concerned [that] it’s just two people [running the app], but it’s been two people for two years. We are used to functioning this way. All three of us being passionate about it makes it feel a little a little easier.”
Does Pop plan to take any time off soon? “I had been meaning to explore the West Hollywood area,” she laughs. “My plans were thwarted this past weekend, but in the best way.”