From a Brisbane share house to the world: After two years of working in secrecy, Aussie startup set to launch globally

Amity Team

A Brisbane startup that has been building the next social network in secret in a share house is set to reveal its creation to the world.

The Amity app wants its users to “rediscover communication” through a live social network where they can share photos, locations, messages and video, founder and CEO Johnny Cheng says.

“Amity is about letting people experience a new level of live human interaction,” Cheng tells StartupSmart.

“We bring together and combine all the core functionality that people are used to and use day to day, then we’re introducing a number of new levels that add to that communication experience.”

Cheng and fellow co-founders Nick Pestov, Kieran Harper and Jackson Cheng have been living and working together in a share house to build the app.

“Four of us entered the house and today we’re a team of eight engineers and designers,” Cheng says.

“The decision [to move in together] was made quickly when we had this vision for what we wanted to create and the impact we wanted to make on the world.

“There were two options: one, we either drop everything and go all in on this or we stop right now.”

With an aim to create something that will capture the world’s imagination from day one, Cheng says he and his team have been working around the clock in top secret – except for Amity’s team of eight, no one else has seen the app.

“No one on the team told anyone about it this whole time,” he says.

The next social network

Cheng says Amity will be the first interactive messaging app that works in live mode, with users being able to interact more freely with live touch and emojis, and the ability to request and save things like location, photos and video in one place.

“The way we currently interact digitally is nowhere close to what we experience in real life,” he says.

The app launches globally later this month and will be available on Android and Apple devices.

“To walk on any street, any city, any country and see people using Amity with a smile on their face – that’s our definition of success,” Cheng says.

Cheng says he’s also hoping to show the next generation of entrepreneurs what’s possible if they have the courage to think differently and work outside the square.

“It doesn’t matter were you are or what resources you have, we are living in a time when you can make a positive impact in the world,” he says.

“We believe in order to move humanity forward, we must create things that inspire.”

Inside the Amity share house

Inside the Amity share house, the team dedicate every hour to the startup.

“It’s seven days a week, 24 hours a day, if we’re here, we’re working,” Cheng says.

“It’s quite incredible.”

In addition to hard work and dedication, Cheng says the team celebrates the small wins along the way including new ideas, creativity and courageous decisions.

“We entered the house knowing that it would be dedication, hard work, sacrifice,” he says.

“Everyday we start full of energy.”

While there are no set work hours, Cheng says the onus is on every member to take responsibility and play a direct role in growing the company.

“We’re all in this together – everyone is a partner,” he says.

With each member expected to deliver nothing less than absolute commitment to the cause, getting into the Amity startup house is a highly selective process, he says.

“We really needed people who shared the same values as us,” Cheng says.

“We needed people who all wanted to be part of this mission to create something that could capture people’s imagination, who wanted to be part of creating something that could make an impact on the world.”

To help them build a team that matches this philosophy, Cheng asks three questions.

The first relates to the ability to identify new opportunities and ideas: “Can you see what others can’t see?”

“That’s about vision and creativity,” he says.

The second question looks at the ability to execute: “Do you have the courage to make decisions?”

“It takes courage to actually follow through with that idea and decisions,” Cheng says.

The final question takes this further: “Are you willing to outwork everybody?”

“It takes tremendous tenacity and dedication to make this happen,” he says.

“Without all these three things, an adventure like this would not be possible.”

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Dinushi Dias is a journalist at StartupSmart and multimedia content producer. When she’s out of the office, she works on social projects with her We Love It Productions family and buddying filmmakers.
  • Jared Codling

    Link to Amity website:

    • Ernest

      Looks like a rip off fb messenger (ref the like buttons), periscope/meerkat love floating buttons and Instagram filters and overall feel of fb. So why would I use this over fb messenger where all my connections are located?

  • Ernest

    2 years in stealth is called burning investors money building something they aren’t sure customers need. I failed to see anywhere in the article (a) how they differ from fb/messenger (fb is real time too) and (b) how they solved the network effect (biggest barrier to social startups).

    • WAZA

      I have to agree with you Ernest to some extent at least! I think to be fair to the the team at Amity App we don’t have any real information to form a proper opinion at this stage. It would interesting to know what the market validation results produced? What is their point of difference? What problem are the trying to solve that users just can’t live without? And thats just scratching the surface. The social platform space is extremely crowded and almost impossible to convince users why they should switch from something that already works! I wish the team at Amity App nothing but the best for the future. I really hope they can solve a major problem in this space that no one else has or I feel they will have an extremely hard challenge ahead. In my opinion their is really only one problem they need to solve and if they don’t it will just became another social app, like many others have tried to do and failed.

  • Maddox Heatley

    I’m with Ernest here.
    2 years building without any validation from users. This is the BIGGEST mistake a startup could ever make. How do I know? We did the same thing. And seriously.. another social network? PUHLEEEEEEZE!!

  • David

    Its real life silicon valley house haha! What do they mean live messaging? Anything like what google wave tried to do 8 years ago?