The secret messaging app getting millions of downloads


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.

24 responses to “The secret messaging app getting millions of downloads”

  1. Michael says:

    downloaded soma and tried a group video with my friends, works really well and pic quality is awesome. thanks soma, great product

  2. Daniel Gomes says:

    I would be highly suspicious of his secure this is. I had a look on the Play Store and this app wants access to your contacts, Accounts, location, SMS and a few others.

    Why did it need access to my contacts and precise location? And to the various accounts I’ve logged in with on my phone?

    And before your say it’s just like that on Android, don’t, because I guarantee you it’s the same on iOS but they just don’t tell you. We all read recently that thousands of apps have been sending people’s data to the cloud unbeknown to the user, on both iOS and Android.

    Thirdly, it’s impossible for this to be secure if it’s free. Someone has to pay for those servers scattered around the world and the high bandwidth data links to ensure HD calling.

    You can be sure if you’re not paying for it directly you’re paying for it with your data. This app is probably funded by the NSA….

    • joshua webb says:

      Any kind of messaging app usually wants access to your contacts or would you prefer to have an entirely separate contact list for just for this messaging app. It’s merely consolidating all of the contact info into your contacts. GPS is more than likely used for help in determining what best servers to use.
      I tried the app and all it asked me was access to contacts and push notifications, no GPS.

  3. Adrian Lee says:

    It is better than all other messaging apps. Great quality of voice and video calls. Reliable and easy to use. Totally recommended! Lets switch to SOMA!

  4. Isabel says:

    Awesome video quality and audio. Far better than others apps..

  5. spiffychick12 says:

    Awesome sauce, congrats guys! Works well, love the group video. Keep up the good work!

  6. perryrants says:

    yeah. another tool for terrorists to exploit. too bad

    •  Bryant Williams says:

      So true..

    • Thinkitthrough says:

      So one-dimensional…

    • Matt Johnson says:

      you are apparently a government sheep that believes everything they feed down your throat. Go ahead, cheer for the downfall of encryption. Then see how many times your bank account gets hacked each day as it will be easy pickings for criminals. Learn to think on your own rather than regurgitate mainstream, government dictated media. And I bet you are the same person that says so naively “I don’t have anything to hide, I don’t care about the surveillance.”

  7. Jameel says:

    This app is brilliant, really fast with video calls, I wonder what we gonna get from these messaging apps competing against each others? Keep it coming!

  8. User says:

    So what’s wrong with iMessage and FaceTime? Or even Skype or Viber? No thanks

  9. Drew says:

    Can’t believe I never heard of this app. Need to try it out. Group video and calling in an secure environment sounds good to me. I don’t think the other calling apps offer group video and I don’t want my data exposed with apps like FB. Everyone knows they steal your data.

  10. MattS says:

    Brilliant, another “I’m totally not responsible/don’t have the moral fibre” set of individuals that place a secure end-to-end communications app right in the hands of really bad excuses for human beings (ISIS).

    • Youdontthink says:

      So the world should now conform to what bad people can and cannot use tools for.

      • MattS says:

        Not hardly… but blindly providing tools that can be instrumental in coordinating mass executions is wrong on many levels and responsible people should have the moral fibre to not be a tool in that endeavor.

      • MattS says:

        Some have the correct moral fibre to do the right thing while others do not and then hide behind poor logic attempts to justify what they did wrong. Unfortunately there are way too many individuals who were not properly brought up by their parents and as a result the rest of us have to deal with issues like this and the devastating results (latest France event) that can happen because of flawed thinking.

      • Matt Johnson says:

        Geez…I am glad you are not in office. Your short sighted view on this is ridiculous. Encryption and encrypted apps have much more use than the scare tactic “terrorists” use it BS. Ever think about oppressed countries that censor their citizens and prosecute those that communicate for help or to report human rights violations???? But really, who cares about them. You need to regurgitate the BS the government is shoving down your throat. Speaking of moral fibre, you have none if you don’t care about the people that their lives depend on encryption to communicate safely and survive. There are two sides to the story, take the time to grow up and look at both sides.

      • MattS says:

        While the issue I mentioned is about current events and the tools these sorry excuses for human beings are using to murder innocent folk, there is of course more than one side to the equation. Even more than just your example. Each have valid arguments and from mine, is that at this juncture providing yet another tool that can foster the efforts of these bastards seems misguided & inappropriate. Timing is everything, and this wasn’t it.

      • Plan Shopper says:

        That what Canada does.