I called my younger brother for the first time in a while recently. Last time I saw him we cycled around Governors Island, laughing so hard we struggled to breathe. We raced each other — he peddled as slowly as he could while I pumped away on a broken bike stuck in its lowest gear.
One month later, social media platform Hey You texted us and said we should ask each other how we’re really doing.
Then it disappeared.
It texted us another prompt the next week at the same day and time, then vanished again.
That’s ultimately the pitch behind Hey You, a new social network from David Butler, former MKG creative, Katharine Sison, graphic designer at Other Half Brewing Company and Ross Hill, software engineer at Dropbox.
Two users sign up with their first names, phone numbers and a day and time they want to call each other. The network texts a reminder or two throughout the week and then lets both parties know when it’s time to make the call.
Hey You also offers discussion prompts made in partnership with the Foundation for Social Connection, an organization focused on addressing isolation and loneliness. They’re designed to move conversations past superficial topics, Sison said.
“This is how you get deeper with someone,” she said. “Having it written down and laid out for you is super helpful in catching yourself in those moments where you’re stuck talking about the weather. It liberates you out of your autopilot.”
But because Hey You’s value proposition is its limited user interaction, it’s a challenging offer for advertisers, and in turn, difficult to turn into a profitable business.
Butler said that the idea was originally intended to help users make connections and raise funds for the Foundation for Social Connection. After four weeks of calls, Hey You directs users to the foundation’s website to suggest a donation.
“There’s no monetization,” Butler said.
He added that likely won’t change, as including third-party advertisers would feel like a breach of trust given how open and vulnerable Hey You asks users to be.
The network’s founders cover its cost at a loss, and MKG is funding video editing and PR. Butler and Sison, who met while working at the agency, said it offered some financial support to the independent project.
Butler said that the team is considering a paid tier that gives users access to specific prompts tailored to the kind of relationship they’re trying to improve — parents and children, siblings, friends and significant others.
Users can only sign up with one other person at a time. They get four prompts across four weeks, and can then sign up with someone else.
The founding trio didn’t design Hey You to compete with other social media platforms, neither for attention nor for ad dollars, Butler said. Instead, it’s meant to co-exist with other networks that call for peoples’ attention every day of the week.
With Instagram and Twitter fighting for my focus everyday, there was an ease with which I could engage and disengage with Hey You. The text reminders put the person I needed to call to the front of my mind, but the platform itself stayed unobtrusive and minimal.
But other apps don’t play by Hey You’s rules. They offer a never-ending avenue to peek into other peoples’ lives and the world at large. They’re also able to grow massive ad businesses at the expense of their users’ attention.
I’ve gotten used to the way social media platforms demand their prioritization, and it’s easy to ignore Hey You in comparison. Texts reminding me that it’s time for my call came with a suddenness that made them hard to act on. With everything else going on, it was easy to push back a call or reschedule for another time.
Butler recognized that Hey You’s audience is more niche than other social networks, and that it’ll be easier to ignore for some users — as well as for advertisers.
“I think it is for a select group that are unhappy with their relationships,” he said. “It is meant to serve a very specific person.”
When I finally called my brother, the app did push us to move beyond conversations about work and the weather. Instead, we got into relationships, larger career goals and existential fears about the passing of time.
Part of Hey You’s appeal is its simplicity and unobtrusiveness, but the team does see ways to grow the platform.
Butler said he could see using AI to provide real-time coaching during calls.
“We have a whole bunch of stuff sketched out, places we want to take it,” he said.