“You are crazy to be doing another social network!”

is the first thing people say to Ali Zewail when he mentions Chaino. Chaino is a social network that “uses the power of online to support your real social life”. With over 40 000 registered users and growing organically at 45% a month, it sounds promising!

Ali and his team have done a lot of user research. It showed that people are consistently unhappy with existing social networks – they join and interact but their social life is not really supported. For example, on Facebook there’s been a 21% drop in original posts year-on-year, while 60% of users don’t share any personal news through the platform in any week. Users report increased feelings of jealousy, dissatisfaction with their life and envy after watching the all-perfect lives of their Facebook friends, those that still share personal info. Some feel they lost control over their online presence. Considering that the social networking market size is already 2 billion people despite it being only 15 yrs old, it may well be worth a try to build another platform.

Chaino team decided to turn user concerns into their market opportunity.

Chaino focuses on two major areas of innovation right now. First of all, an easy-to-use user privacy system gives users (or members as Ali prefers to call them) control over how they are seen by others, even allowing for different profile photos for different groups of friends – your boss & colleagues see a friendly portrait and your university friends can enjoy a crazy face from the party last night. The second innovation revolves around using the power of online to support offline social activities. Sister app Zingoo will help you set up family dinner, activity with friends and share photos of the gathering with everyone. Zingoo will also order photos from all guests by the time photo was made. But first and foremost, you own your content; if you delete, it disappears forever.

The idea for Chaino came about when Ali was working for Intel, leading a research project on sociability in the Middle East and Africa, i.e. how social activity could be supported with new hardware based on Intel microprocessors. “I realised that existing social products were moving social interactions online and I wanted like to use technology to make social life better”.

Prior to that, Ali had volunteered in a suicide prevention hotline & help center. It was an emotionally taxing job but very important to him: “We got many calls during a shift but one was very special and I was lucky to take it. It was a young woman, calling not for the first time but for the last. She said she was feeling better now thanks to us and she won’t call again. To me it was a very powerful moment – we can make people’s lives better with better social connections and support”.

How did you make a step from this realisation to a product?

“We’ve conducted ethnographic research to understand how humans interact, what’s important to them, and then we brainstormed the ideas. Together with my cofounder we’ve started back in 2012 in the US. We interviewed students, launched our first company and failed – it didn’t grow fast enough, even though we reached 8 000 users. We learnt a lot about UX, how to run a startup leaner and be more responsive to client feedback. In March 2015 we’ve started Chaino, designing it to mimic the way people interact offline”.

Even though Chaino is still very young, it is already available in 3 languages, and soon you’ll be able to use it in German. If you’d like to meet Chaino team, join us for a trip to RiseUp Summit in Cairo!

Ali Zewail is a co-founder of Chaino,  a new social networking program. Chaino was named as one of the 20 Most Promising Egyptian startups by Forbes Middle East. 

Interview and text by Alex Kovbasko, Community Manager Europe.