The secret messaging app getting millions of downloads

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SOMA Messenger is gaining popularity around the world for free and secure communication.
SOMA Messenger is gaining popularity around the world for free and secure communication.
Photo: Instanza Inc.

Harvard classmates Lei Guo and Oliver Hayen created what could have been just another messaging app. They knew they had something unique, as every app development team claims, so they put it in the hands of 2,000 people and hit launch.

Within 30 days, their app SOMA Messenger had 10 million users and has been growing since. They’d love to brag about who is using it, except they can’t because of security measures built into the app that prevents even them from knowing SOMA’s users.

“We haven’t done any kind of marketing,” Hayen told Cult of Mac, which struck me as funny considering he is the chief marketing officer. “Our biggest push has been by word of mouth and its growing so fast.”

SOMA’s official U.S. launch was this week and they are hoping for the kind of traction the app got in other parts of the world, including the Middle East and Africa. Available for iOS and Android, iPhone users can download it here.

Video calls are clear with servers positions around the world to provide a stable connection.
Video calls are clear with servers positioned around the world to provide a stable connection.
Photo: Instanza Inc.

SOMA stands for Simple Optimized Messaging App. Unique to SOMA is its network of servers the company has set up around the world, which creates high-quality voice and video calls with no buffering. Other messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Snapchat, use servers in one location, which Guo says can create an unstable connection, especially in countries that do not have a reliable internet infrastructure.

“The other apps just don’t offer what we do,” Guo said. “We placed our servers all over the world. It’s the only app made for global communication in a mobile environment.”

SOMA allows for group chats up to 500 people as well as group video and voice calls for as many as four.

End-to-end encryption keep communications private and group chats can include up to 500 users.
End-to-end encryption keep communications private and group chats can include up to 500 users.
Photo: Instanza Inc.

Messaging is completely private because SOMA provides end-to-end encryption, which is why Guo and Hayen really don’t know much about their users. They wanted to design a user experience that worked with millennials and as well as technological neophytes.

“Although we don’t believe (the encryption) is the main reason people like SOMA, privacy is fundamental to our users,” Hayen said. “The trust we’ve developed is paramount.”

Guo and Hayen, who formed the company Instanza Inc., and moved it to San Francisco, are by no means newcomers to developing communications apps. Part of the inaugural class of Harvard’s Innovation Lab, Guo and Hayen developed Coco, a popular app that provides free voice calls and text messaging all over the world.

From Coco, Guo and Hayen invited 2,000 users to try SOMA Messenger. It launched in July and the Coco users made Hayen’s marketing job relatively easier.