At 47, Vermont native Paul Budnitz boasts quite the résumé. For starters, he owns a luxury bicycle shop in Burlington, Vt., as well as a company named Kidrobot, which makes toys, clothing and related accessories. On top of that, he’s an author, photographer and filmmaker.
But now, this busy entrepreneur can add social network co-founder and CEO to his growing list of titles.
About a year ago, he set out to create Ello, a social network that's been dubbed “the anti-Facebook.” It’s invite-only, ad-free and, according to some, the next big thing. And while Budnitz says Ello's user base has been steadily growing over the last year, a mention in the Daily Dot last week quickly sent it on a viral blitz.
“My grandfather was a small-town doctor and he used to say that I was missing a gene that told me that some giant risk I am about to take with my life is both stupid and dangerous,” Budnitz writes on his website.
But he begs to differ. “Everything beautiful that we create in life requires a leap of faith,” he explains.
(Excuse us while we go get that printed on a coffee mug.)
Another big sell to Ello is the fact that it vows to never sell user data to third parties. Hmmm … that sure sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s why tens of thousands of users per hour are now flooding the site to request an invite.
"A social network is a place to be in contact with each other and talk to friends,” Budnitz explained to Bloomberg Businessweek. "If it becomes full of ads, it becomes clunky and cluttered and a little violating. That’s what people are responding to and why they are coming over to Ello."
But while many of them are signing up over their disenchantment with Facebook, others are merely showing up to see what all the fuss is about, and ride the next big social wave.
"I use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat," Ello user Charity Walden told NPR. "I think it's really cool to be there at the beginning and see how it's developed."
But some new users aren't so sure Ello is really all it's cracked up to be. After just one week on the social network, Jimmy Chan told NPR he'd grown bored of the site; mostly because there's not a whole lot going on yet.
"Some of my friends are jumping in to say 'You're all still here?' as if it's Monday morning, and people are still in their living room from a Sunday night party," he says.