A new social video app called Nocam has a radical idea to make social networking more authentic — it’s turning off the camera so you can’t see how you look while filming. The idea is to make capturing a moment feel natural while reducing the friction that comes with seeing a preview of your own image, which can often leave users hesitant to post or scrambling to add edits and filters to touch up their appearance.
“You know what you’re pointing at — why do you need to see this preview?,” asks Nocam’s co-founder and CEO Justin Spraggins. “The second you’re looking at what you’re about to capture, you get stuffy about it,” he says. “You’re now framing it — it doesn’t feel like it really is. You’re now performing in whatever way to create content.”
The idea for Nocam evolved from the startup (Snack Break)’s earlier efforts with mobile social networking.
Originally, the team launched a short-form video app called Popcorn, which aimed to make work communications more fun by letting users record short messages, or “pops,” that could be shared in lieu of longer emails, texts, or Slacks. But in addition to facing steep competition from larger rivals like Loom, the team realized they weren’t well-equipped to target the enterprise market.
Spraggins’ background is in the consumer world, having previously worked on apps Looksee and Unmute and most recently, he co-founded 9 Count, makers of Wink and others.
“We failed fast and were like, this just doesn’t feel like us,” Spraggins explains of the pivot away from Popcorn.
Because the team had stayed lean, they were able to use their existing fundraising to experiment with other app concepts. Last fall, for example, they were testing a photo widget app similar to Locket which had also removed the camera. But after initial tests and a small-scale rollout that reached only around 10,000 active users, the team shifted their focus to video instead.
To use Nocam, users first authenticate with their phone number and allow the app to access their address book to find friends, similar to other social apps. You’ll then receive your first prompt to record a video. The whole concept in Nocam is around being prompted to record — but initially, the prompts will be system-driven. As you add more friends, you can receive prompts from them as well.
So, for example, Nocam might prompt you to do a certain dance as a challenge, spin in a circle, or just post what you’re up to right now. The prompts will include a random audio clip, and, when you start recording, the camera is blurred out. Clips are only a maximum of 8 seconds in length to keep filming quick. Users can also add a caption and then press post to share it with their network — it’s not a direct message back to the friend that shared it with you.
After you publish the video, you can see which friend prompted you to record or if it was a system-generated prompt. Friends can comment on videos that are posted and users can export their recordings to post on other social networks if they choose.
Like BeReal, Nocam will send challenges at least once per day, but you can also get challenges from friends at any time. But while the app allows you to flip the camera, it doesn’t record from both cameras at once, as BeReal does.
Still, the app has a very BeReal-like look and feel, even offering a calendar of your Nocam memories to look back through.
“We think it’s very much like BeReal meets TikTok,” Spraggins says, noting how it combines both the system trigger found in BeReal with TikTok challenges, but in a more friend-centered app. While that may feel a bit derivative, it’s worth noting that BeReal has been losing steam — recent data from Sensor Tower indicate that BeReal’s monthly downloads have been slipping. In addition, daily usage has dropped 61% from its peak, down to 6 million users in March versus 15 million in October, Apptopia data found.
That may signal that simply posting random photos of daily life is reaching its expiration point. Nocam’s differentiator to focus on video challenges could attract a similar demographic to BeReal while giving them something to actually do.
The app has been heavily marketing itself on TikTok and Instagram, where it aims to appeal to a younger demographic. Though originally pitched to Gen Z college students, the goofy nature of its challenges appears to have attracted a slightly younger, high schooler crowd, where users may have the desire to connect with friends, but are often not actually with them out in the real world, as they are in college.
Because of its 13+ rating, the app offers the ability for users to report others if they make inappropriate challenges or post terms-violating content. If a user is reported for their challenge, they’re banned from making their own challenges in the app. In addition, their violating content would be taken down, and the user who reported them will never see that person’s content again (and vice versa, in a double block).
The startup is a team of three co-founders — including also CTO Ben Hochberg, previously a lead developer at 9 Count, and Gen Zer Sarah Tran, currently attending The Wharton School at UPenn. The company earlier raised pre-seed funding of $400,000 from General Catalyst and Dream Machine to test its different app concepts. After today’s official Nocam launch, it plans to raise a seed round.
Nocam is iOS-only for now and is a free download. The company doesn’t currently have a revenue model so there are no subscription fees or in-app purchases for the time being.