Anonymous Q&A app NGL climbed to the top of the App Store by fooling its users with questions it believes were sent in by their friends and charging useless hints as to who supposedly wrote those posts. But many of the questions users get are not from real people; they’re generated automatically — an idea that NGL’s biggest competitor, the maker of the Sendit apps, is now alleging that the maker of NGL stole among other confidential business information, according to a new lawsuit.
In a complaint filed on July 1, 2022 in the California Superior Court, Sendit’s creator, Iconic Hearts Holdings, Inc. (formerly known as FullSenders), that NGL obtained its trade secrets “inappropriately” as a result of a breach of duty by the defendant of the suit, Raj Vir, an Instagram software engineer, who had also worked on Sendit.
For those not keeping up with teen app trends, both Sendit and NGL lead Anonymous Q&A apps, a subset of social apps currently popular with a younger audience. The apps have been at the top of the app store charts for months, as anonymous apps usually do — before imploding through harassment, lawsuits, or getting banned by the app stores themselves.
As of today, NGL is the number 5 (non-game) free app in the US App Store. Since its launch late last year, the company has generated more than $2.4 million in revenue, according to third-party estimates. Sendit’s apps are currently ranked No. 12 in Social Networking (Sendit) and No. 57 in Social Networking (Sendit – Q&A on Instagram), earning more than $11 million per data from Sensor Tower.
Both Sendit and NGL allow users to post links to their social accounts, such as Instagram or Snapchat Stories, which friends can click to send the poster anonymous questions. (Think: “Who are you in love with?” and other teen gossip.)
The recipient, in turn, receives the questions in the app’s inbox and can then post their answer to their social accounts for everyone to read. The apps monetize this activity by giving their users “hints” about the person asking the questions so they can find out who asked what.
While NGL only focuses on anonymous Q&As, Sendit offers two variants of its service. The original app is aimed at Snapchat users and offers a variety of games in addition to the anonymous Q&A feature. The newer app, meanwhile, brings anonymous Q&As to Instagram. It was launched after Snapchat introduced a stricter policy earlier this year that banned anonymous apps from using their developer tools. (Sendit got an extension to comply with that policy, Snapchat told us.)
However, the apps are problematic as they have been shown to use deceptive tactics to trick their young users into thinking they were getting engagement from friends when they weren’t.
Both apps are also incredibly similar, including in their visual design, how they work, their business model, and other aspects.
It turns out that maybe that wasn’t an accident.
Iconic Hearts’ recently filed lawsuit (see below) states that the company hired Vir to develop Sendit’s mobile apps in September 2018. Vir continued to consult with the company after that, it says. In May 2021, Iconic Hearts began discussions with Vir about offering a full-time job or allowing him to continue as a contractor. But instead of taking the job, Vir took the company’s ideas and insights and used them to build his own version of Sendit’s app, the complaint explains.
“Vir was integral to founding, building and launching ‘NGL – Anonymous Q&A’, an app that is nearly identical to and competes directly with the Sendit apps,” the application reads. It also details how Vir used his friendship with Iconic Hearts founder Hunter Rice and his role as Sendit developer and consultant to learn about the company and its apps. (Apparently Rice and Vir weren’t just business colleagues, they were friends — former high school classmates who bonded after college because of their shared interest in technology, the notes.)
During the time Vir worked on Sendit’s apps, he had access to insider information, such as which features drove the most user engagement and other future development plans, the lawsuit said. He had also signed a developer agreement, prohibiting him from using this information for any purpose other than his work with the Sendit apps, it says.
Rice believes Vir was never serious about the job offer at Iconic Hearts, the complaint continues, but instead used his ongoing access to build NGL, a copy of Sendit that launched on the App Store in late 2021 and already quickly became the App Store’s. No. 1 app in June 2022.
The submission explains how Vir had access to detailed app data and key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics designed to help the app succeed. Because of his relationship with Sendit, Vir requested and got access to all kinds of business data and metrics, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, which prompts performed best, how they were ordered to create virality, call-to-action button placement, financial performance , MRR (monthly recurring revenue), churn rate, LTV (lifetime value), statistics related to average response rates, number of shares, viral coefficients and much more.
One of these business details was Sendit’s use of fake questions. The company had previously denied using bots when londonbusinessblog.com asked.
Many users of Sendit and NGL’s apps already suspected that some of the questions they received weren’t actually from their friends, but were generated automatically. The app stores are full of user reviews claiming that these apps are fooling them and then ripping them off by charging for useless hints — like the ones that only share a user’s city or the type of phone they have.
londonbusinessblog.com also recently tested both NGL and Sendit’s anonymous Q&A system by generating a link for questions but then not showing it to anyone, and yet we still received half a dozen so-called “questions from friends” in our inboxes.
This feature is described in the new lawsuit as one of many aspects of Sendit’s apps that NGL supposedly stole. The complaint reads:
Iconic Hearts had also developed a unique system, “Engagement Messages,” which sends content to an inbox after user interactions had been inactive for a period of time. “Engagement Message” reactivates a user to use the app. This generates more “shares” on the app, more density within a user’s trend network (i.e. more people sharing more often), contributing to an app’s saturation, the most critical measure of success and growth. It took Iconic Hearts years of trial-and-error, testing and iteration of its product to optimize its own Engagement Messages System and various parts of it, such as the optimal time frame after which an Engagement Message should be sent, how the Engagement Message is pushed, the design of the Engagement Message and the content of the Engagement Message.
This section essentially confirms users’ suspicions about the fake questions. It now also puts a burden on the app stores to take action, we should think, as neither company reveals to its users that these “engagement messages” aren’t sent by their friends, as the app’s description would tell them. make believe.
Surprisingly, Iconic Hearts knew nothing of Vir’s betrayal until recently. Even in June 2022, Vir kept his involvement with NGL hidden, the indictment said. The lawsuit alleges that Vir finally admitted his involvement with Rice on June 21, 2022, saying, “Okay, I’ll clear the air. I lied to you the whole time. I build NGL,” and then, “Congratulations on being the lead product at NGL.”
Jacks, if it’s true.
Neither party has responded to our requests for comment at this time.
To what extent Iconic Hearts will be able to legally prove its claims remains to be seen. The charges seek damages and injunctive relief. The lawsuit also names dozens of unknown suspects who may be working or collaborating with NGL, which Iconic Hearts hopes the court will reveal and name.