Ben Pasternak, the 18-year-old serial Australian technology entrepreneur who dropped out of high school at 15 and now lives in New York, celebrated the recent acquisition of the popular video chat app he co-founded by taking a trip to India “to get inspiration for the next project”.
Monkey, which raised $US2 million in venture capital before being sold and amassed close to 3 million users who made over 1 billion calls, was purchased late last year by rival app HOLLA, which has offices in Beijing and Los Angeles.
Billed as being “like [online chat website] Chatroulette, without the pervs”, Monkey is designed to connect young people randomly with those who match their interests, allowing them to video chat one another.
If either party wishes to extend the call beyond the first 15 seconds, they must click the “time” button. If only one party chooses to extend the call, it ends and both parties move on to the next person. But if both click the time button, the call continues, and they can then add each other as friends. Interests, known as “trees”, include “LGBTQ”, “Single” “Rap Battle”, “Singing” and “Roast” among many others.
“The aim was never to sell,” Pasternak, formerly of Vaucluse in eastern Sydney, tells Fairfax Media, “it is to build products that massively contribute to creating a positive collective consciousness.”
But Pasternak, named one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential Teens of 2016, says he and US co-founder, Isaiah Turner, decided to offload the app to HOLLA because they wanted to invest time in a new project and believed the company was the best home for Monkey.
Allen Loh, vice president of global expansions and strategies at HOLLA, says Pasternak contacted HOLLA chief executive Eric Tao in November with a proposal for the sale of the Money app assets and Tao flew to New York the following morning to meet the Monkey team.
“Eric, Ben, and Isaiah met in New York to not only discuss the details of the acquisition but also about the prospective future of the mobile app industry as a whole,” Loh says.
Loh says Monkey has “a tremendous amount of popularity” among US teens, which was the user demographic that HOLLA has “always been extremely interested in”.
“Ben and Isaiah [were] able to tap into a market that HOLLA was lagging behind [in], and we saw this as a great opportunity for us to participate in,” Loh says, adding that both parties agreed not to disclose the amount of the deal.
Pasternak first rose to prominence in 2014 after the addictive smartphone game he co-created with a friend when he was 15, Impossible Rush, rose to the top of the iTunes App Store charts.
Like other popular games such as Flappy Bird or Tetris, Impossible Rush is a minimalist affair: the player simply taps a wheel to match colours against balls which fall faster and faster. The app was acquired by a friend for $US200.
Pasternak then went on to co-found Impossible Dial. It peaked at 31 on the US iTunes App Store and later sold for $85,000. The proceeds were split with co-founder Tamir Triguboff, the grand-nephew of Australia’s second-richest person, Harry Triguboff.
Pasternak’s next big challenge was taking on eBay with Flogg, a social networking app for young people to buy and sell things. US venture capital firm Binary Capital agreed to lead a round of funding in Flogg and was joined by other investors including Greylock Partners, John Maloney (the former president of Tumblr, which was acquired by Yahoo), and Paul Bricault (an angel investor).
After the success of Monkey, started in 2016 with the same investors, Flogg was put on pause.
“There wasn’t a clear vision,” Pasternak told Mashable in January. “[Monkey] blew up unexpectedly, so the most logical thing to do is focus my time on it right now.”
Pasternak now lives in a 27th-floor, $US4200 ($5379) a month apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan in New York, according to the New Yorker. He drinks meal replacement Soylent, rides a hoverboard, and has inspirational quotes taped to the walls.
As to who Pasternak looks up to for inspiration?
“I have a lot of admiration for Elon Musk,” Pasternak says. “He has sacrificed his own life to build companies that will positively transform humanity.”