It looks like a streamlined version of Instagram, the Meta-owned app with over a billion monthly active users. But with a very different business model and far fewer people aware of its existence, Supernova is a feel-good app slowly picking up steam.
Launched in 2021, the startup was founded by Dominic O’Meara, a former account supervisor at British advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi who went on to start his own agencies, first in Amsterdam and later, in 2004, in London.
These days, O’Meara’s focus is on a new challenge: his ambitious, purpose-led social network.
“Our aim is to ascend to a 5% share of the global market and give £2B a year to charities, and we are raising the investment now to scale the fantastic results delivered so far,” says O’Meara. The app, available on Google Play and via the Apple Store, pledges to give direct from its advertising revenue to global charities, with the money distributed according to members’ preferences across a pool of subjects.”
So far, human rights causes have received the largest amount of donations (22%), split between three NGOs: Oxfam, UNICEF and Save the Children, a British NGO founded in 1919. Areas such as climate change, animal welfare, mental health and emergency causes have also received part of the total raised to date, with the app users determining which causes get the most money.
“The reaction of the public has been overwhelmingly positive, and increasingly so among younger people, who are starting to embrace it too. We have started to bring Supernova to them through student events like one we held in Edinburgh recently,” O’Meara says. According to the entrepreneur, Supernova’s usage has more than trebled in the last 12 months, and the growth has been entirely organic. “We haven’t paid for this adoption level and we are very proud of that. What you see is real enthusiasm and user support for what we are doing.” Currently, the UK and USA are the key markets for the platform.
To get that 5% share of the global social media market, Supernova is banking on kindness to fill a void left by major social media platforms, which have historically thrived on conflict and clickbait.
“Folks don’t join Supernova to create a toxic environment. They leave other networks to escape a toxic environment. By virtue of our core proposition, we avoid on entry many of the key problems other networks have created for themselves. They simply have not asked, motivated, encouraged or rewarded their communities to be – above all else – positive, kind, and respectful to one another. They haven’t led by clear example and so their communities have been left to figure out behavioural codes for themselves and to some extent have been taken over by a toxic, ‘noisy’ minority,” says O’Meara, who believes Supernova “represents the silent majority that wants social media to be a positive force in the world.”
That positive outcome is the result of a high amount of moderation involving AI, users and computer science grads and undergrads hired to keep political comments or side-taking of any kind off the site – Twitter users certainly would feel out of place with the overload of content featuring flowers, sunsets and cute animals on Supernova.
“We involve our community, who are moderators in our Groups feature, too. One in every 100 group of members must be a moderator, and although we also moderate Groups this helps share the task.”
The herculean work seems to be paying off, though.
“With tens of millions of content impressions so far served, the number of infringements of our Charter, Community Standards or Terms and Conditions are effectively 0%. Any and all are removed instantly. That’s a high bar but it’s one we are determined to maintain as we believe it’s essential for the wellbeing of the world’s 5 billion social media users,” says O’Meara.
I tested the Supernova app, on and off, for five weeks.
At first, the app is very similar to other image-led social media platforms such as Vero and Instagram where users can share photographs and videos along with comments and messaging.
Just like the other platforms, users can also follow or be followed, set an account to private, explore topics and block unwanted users.
And because the app is relatively new, the number of ads appearing in between content is still very low when compared to major players. But Supernova has already partnered with Dutch multinational Philips and Japanese sportswear brand ASICS.
However, the lingering question, while scrolling through posts featuring positive quotes and photos of vintage music bands, paradisiac landscapes and baby hippos happily munching snacks in a swimming pool, is: can a place based on good deeds and modelled as an echo-chamber, where current affairs are sifted out via heavy moderation, get enough traction to lure big brands to join the feel-good movement?
With people stepping away from major social media platforms, in part due to a decline in organic reach and reduced engagement, and partly because after months of seeing the world through the lenses of social media between 2020 and 2021, many of us now want a grasp of unfiltered, hashtag-free reality, it is hard to predict Supernova’s future. But if its success rests on its founder’s optimism alone, the social media platform will get there.
“From where we are today, making Supernova happen is actually pretty straightforward. I knew it was the right time to launch Supernova the moment I thought of it,” says O’Meara, who came up with the app while running cross country around Surrey Hills, England. “I know it has a huge future ahead.”