Exactly two years ago, on Valentine’s Day 2015, I hosted a dinner party that sparked an idea to build an app that changed my life and has been hailed as “perhaps the surest bet yet to peace in the Middle East.” (The Citizen)
In fair Manhattan, where we lay our scene
It all began when I initiated a conversation about app ideas that could unite the world. As we started brainstorming, my friend Mohammed mentioned that he’s Palestinian-American and recently started dating someone from Tel Aviv. For obvious reasons, this is an unconventional relationship. He surmised there currently weren’t any existing apps to connect people in such a way.
I thought Mohammed touched on a very interesting and relevant point. How about an app for world peace?
The following day, I began working on Verona.
While I was building with a grand vision of “world peace” in mind, I kept my expectations modest and started small. Interface-wise, user familiarity is key, so I integrated a swipe functionality à la Tinder. To stay true to the idea that Mohammed had put forth, I decided to start by pairing Israelis and Palestinians.
Launch and iterate, goes the saying.
To deploy or not to deploy; that is the question
Having launched over 100 apps in my life, I’m well aware of the challenges of growing one’s initial user base: acquiring users never comes easy. Frankly, I thought I might only obtain a few hundred users at most, and only by way of a marketing campaign.
I was so convinced that nobody would download the app that I released the beta on the live store without an official launch. Contrary to my predisposition, organic users started rolling in. Dozens. Then hundreds. Then thousands — all users who had heard about Verona through word-of-mouth. I was honestly shocked and unprepared for such hockey stick growth, which continued for almost a year.
Although I had a hunch there might be a market for an app like Verona, I maintained healthy skepticism. Given the current trends in social media where people seem complacent locked in their echo chambers and social bubbles, I wasn’t sure whether an idea like Verona would resonate.
But numbers don’t lie.
With the soft release, I had validated my intuition that there exists a massive audience interested in connecting with others who are seemingly different from them.
Even in the age of Facebook, opposites do attract.
Boldness be my friend: Our mission
With Verona, our goal is to provide a bridge to connect people across social and political divides. Some say there is no harder problem to solve than the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is why I’m glad we started there. We had successfully created an avenue that in practice allowed hundreds of thousands of peaceful interactions to occur between parties of both sides.
It then made sense to expand to further divides. We broadened our pairings to include opposing parties in Ireland, Argentina, and even America — matching Republicans and Democrats during the months leading up to the 2016 Clinton-Trump Presidential Election. The latter provided interesting insight into the sociological topography of Modern Day USA, as we saw users pouring into the app during a time when America felt most divided.
This all occurred in the span of one year, from 2015 to 2016. I’d like to spotlight some highlights from the journey.
1. Proof-of-concept via user behavior
Instinctively, it would seem that users coming from opposing parties stemming from generations-old systemic conflict would harbor animosity toward one another and thus be disinclined to connect. Our data show otherwise. My proudest moment to date is when I discovered users swipe “Like” 80% of the time.
2. Zero cases of hostility
Unsurprisingly, the question I field the most is always something along the lines of “Don’t people just argue with each other?” The answer is no. We have zero reported cases of negativity or hostility. I attribute this to two possible reasons: 1) Verona comprises a self-selected group of individuals who, simply put, want world peace or 2) the private one-on-one chats we offer provide little interest to trolls, who generally feed off the reactions and attention of an audience.
3. Real, lasting relationships
While we learned from our data that copious amounts of peaceful Verona chats occurred in-app, the cherry on top was discovering that users were forming lasting, real-world relationships offline as a direct result. We even have reports of users crossing the heavily guarded Israeli border to meet their matched counterparts.
Fast forward to two years later: the present. We’ve accomplished what some thought was impossible. We built a scalable solution to combat the ever-increasing issue of global intolerance and xenophobia. We’re humbled to have received some of the most prestigious awards in Tech, and have been featured by almost every major media outlet. To top it off, we’ve garnered praise from respected organizations like the US Institute for Peace.
Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow
For the reasons above, and more, my decision to close this chapter of Verona has hardly been an easy one to make. But I’m far from finished in this space. Time and energy are finite resources, so I’m electing to shift my manpower to broader ventures. Over the last year, I’ve had several projects in development that I think could contribute even greater positive social impact.
My personal mission is to make the world a better place, and I hope — and, personally believe — that Verona has moved the proverbial needle a bit in the right direction. Above all, I hope it’s impact will continue to reverberate positively throughout the world.
I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks
Verona could not have come to fruition without the help of many talented friends who eagerly extended their time, energy, and guidance, and it would be remiss of me not to express my gratitude here.
To our users, I owe you the greatest debt of gratitude for allowing me the privilege to create a digital pathway that empowered you to make an impact. It may not have felt significant at the time, but for every swipe, you contributed to the combating of global intolerance, xenophobia, and resentment. Collectively, you united as a group and swiped millions of times, and it is you who proved not only that peace is possible, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. — Albert Einstein