Some more consolidation afoot in the worlds of mobile marketing and mobile payments: Payvia, one of the many startups working in the area of carrier-based mobile billing, is buying Mogreet, a mobile marketing company that delivers campaigns via text, video and picture messaging services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed — although we have contacted the company to ask. Payvia says that the whole of the Mogreet team will be coming over, including Mogreet founder and CEO James Citron, who will become Payvia’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Update: Payvia tells me it is profitable company, with $400 million in sales last year, and that it will look at other acquisitions in the future “as we expand our focus onto emerging markets,” says a spokesperson. Today 80% of Payvia’s business is in the U.S. but it wants to expand that to build on the carrier connections that it has in 40 countries (among those, it powers carrier billing for Skype in the U.S.). Together the two companies will have 150 employees. [Original article continues.]
The move is an interesting one, in that it signals how Payvia, to differentiate itself from the pack, is creating applications itself that utilize its payment services.
“Our mobile payments offer resonates strongly with the market because it is built on our proprietary carrier connected technology that gives us a unique ability to understand consumer mobile usage,” said Darcy Wedd, CEO, payvia, in a statement. “Our clients have told us they also need a simpler way to link targeted mobile transactions to their marketing campaigns. By integrating Mogreet’s solutions on our platform we answer that need. As the only company to solve a known disconnect between traditional mobile commerce and engagement solutions, Payvia is well positioned to increase mobile’s share of the $252 billion* e-commerce market.”
Payvia says that it has the largest direct carrier connected messaging and mobile payments platform in the U.S., covering 120 million unique mobile users and processing billions of mobile messages every year. The company says it has paid out to merchants and developers worldwide more than $2 billion in global mobile commerce revenues. (There are other carrier billing platforms that will claim they are bigger, but the qualification here seems to be around the messaging platform that Payvia does this through.)
The trick with carrier billing services is that they give publishers, developers, and in this case brands and marketers, ways of offering goods and services to consumers on mobile devices, letting them complete purchases by charging those goods/services directly to their mobile bills. Services like these mean more seamless payments because they do not require users to enter credit card details, which can be painful to do on handsets and in some markets are a dead end because of the low penetration of payment cards. Other carrier billing companies like Bango claim that as a result carrier billing services are a more lucrative channel overall for getting users to pay for things on mobiles.
Last year, Payvia hit the news when it won a deal to power mobile/SMS-based donations for the Obama re-election campaign: a more classic example of how many mobile payments companies generate revenues, as the backend provider for services created by others, and also a sign of how Payvia was already formulating services that basically let users make transactions from within messages.
What the Mogreet acquisition will give Payvia is the ability to apply this to a wider variety of messages, and also a client base. Current customers of Mogreet’s include Cox Media Group, Emmis Communications and Gamefly.
The acquisition also signals a potentially new phase in the development of mobile marketing campaigns. While Mogreet’s services up to now have been more focused on encouraging people to click through to mobile web sites, or to enter short codes to receive further information, this potentially could mean that now marketers could create campaigns that encourage purchases from within the message.
Payvia is backed by Silver Lake Sumeru, Montgomery & Co., and Trinity Ventures (amount undisclosed), while Mogreet has raised some $14 million from DJF Frontier, Black Diamond and others.
More to come.
It’s still practically a newborn but Indian mobile messaging app Hike is already channelling almost a billion messages a month between its five million registered users. Those numbers sound insignificant when you stack them up against the big beasts of the messaging space – WhatsApp claims 200 million+ monthly active users, and some 600 billion in and outbound messages – but Hike’s growth is impressive when you consider it’s only just over four months old. WhatsApp, of course, has been around for almost four years.
Mobile messaging is hot property right now, with tech giants like Facebook and most recently Google bent on owning the messaging space. The reason for all this interest in cross-platform chit-chat is that mobile messaging looks poised to steal social networking’s crown jewels: aka the cool factor, and thus the user engagement (Hike incorporates social status updates and emoji-based moods into its messaging app, to hang on the social chain). But the idea that there can be one ultimate mobile messaging winner — or one player as dominant as Facebook in the full-fat social networking space — seems unlikely. And that’s what Hike is banking on to disrupt WhatsApp and keep Facebook Messenger and its ilk from crashing its just-getting-started party.
There’s no doubt that local market realities intercede much more on mobile than on the traditional social networking playground of the desktop, especially in emerging markets where device, network and carrier variations influence how people communicate based on how they can afford to communicate. Those complexities provide an opportunity for local app makers to triumph over goliath outsiders if they build fixes for the local market, argues Hike.
“Given how competitive this market is we do feel that in about 3 or 5 years from now you will have somewhere between three to five players globally that own parts of the messaging space in the world. You’re already seeing it right now, you have Line in Japan, you have Kakao in Korea, you have WeChat in China, you have WhatsApp in South America and Europe, you have of course Facebook message or iMessage dominating in U.S. and WhatsApp growing there too. In India of course WhatsApp is the dominant player but we’ve come on to be a very strong number two in just four months,” says Hike creator Kavin Mittal.
“We can see that with communication if you solve local problems in the market there is room for a local player to win the market completely.”
Hike is one of the latest contenders to jump into the mobile messaging space, albeit with a few neat tricks up its sleeve that it’s confident will allow it to grab significant share in its chosen markets — namely India, and other similar emerging markets in place like Indonesia, the Middle East and Africa. Some 60% of Hike’s registered users are in India, 40% globally led by the Middle East and Germany (despite its emerging markets focus, Germany was actually the first market to spike an interest in Hike — which its creator puts down to it having 128bit encryption over Wi-Fi and Germans looking for a “much more secure solution to WhatsApp”).
On the neat tricks front, Hike has baked a patent-pending SMS conversion tool into its app to take advantage of fragmentation in the Indian market caused by low distribution of data-capable smartphones. So this is not just about incorporating SMS messages into a unified app — as Google plans to with its Hangouts app – but about making sure a data message can still reach someone who doesn’t have data, via the SMS channel.
Mittal explains that in India, even where people own smartphones they may not have data enabled, or may sporadically turn data off to save money. SMS is therefore still a key comms channel that needed to be brought into the loop. This fragmentation was the problem the app’s creators were setting out to solve with Hike. They have also done this in as low cost a way as possible by building a system that ensures it does not send cross-network SMSes (which incur a termination fee in India) but routes same network to same network.
“The idea behind Hike… is it works free globally. Hike is available on iPhone, Windows, Android S40, S60, very soon BlackBerry now as well. But in case you don’t have a phone than can install Hike, or let’s say you have a phone but you don’t have data, I can still message you from Hike for free. We convert the IP message into an SMS and it’s free for me as a Hike user, to which you can reply back to – and the reply comes back straight to my inbox making messaging very seamless. So I have one app for all my friends,” Mittal tells TechCrunch.
Another future trick — due to launch on June 10 — is something that will allow users who have turned off their data to still be notified that they have a message waiting for them, presumably so they know to turn data back on. “At this point in the market there’s no way to notify you when you have a message waiting on one of these applications. So we’re launching something on June 10th that’s going to solve this problem, so no matter where you are – no matter if you’re online or offline – you’ll be able to communicate via Hike with your friend all the time,” he adds.
Hike is funding the conversion cost of sending the SMSes itself — in the Indian market, with a view to extending it to other emerging markets with similar dynamics — so that is one of its largest sunk costs at the moment, according to Mittal. But its monetisation strategy is based on building off that base in another way. The shift Hike’s creators are ultimately calculating on is the movement of consumer spending in its target emerging markets away from carrier ‘value add services’ — paid for infotainment SMSes and so on — to data-based content and entertainment.
That’s where Hike sees its future profits, by fleshing out its messaging offering to supplement the bread and butter of social comms with “content that’s very relevant to the local market” – much as the Line messaging app is already doing with entertainment content such as stickers and games.
“India is a country of 20 countries. There’s so much diversity, cultural differences, dialects, languages that one has to cater to and given that this is a big entertainment market there is no doubt we’re going to go down the route of enriching messaging around content,” he says. “If you look at why you message it’s around a piece of content, topic, video, something new you’ve found, something funny. And India it’s much more prevalent than other markets so we’re definitely going down that route, there’s no doubt about it.”
Hike is also looking to work with carriers to share some of the SMS conversion cost, with the benefit for carriers being that Hike is acting as an IP pusher, turning mobile owners into data drivers — and data is ultimately where carriers in these emerging will be making their future revenues from too.
“Given the traction we’ve had in the Indian market we’ve seen a lot of interest from the operators who want to work closely with Hike and figure out how to expand and grow the traction with Hike because what we’re doing for the operators is we’re introducing a lot of people to data,” says Mittal. “What one can also do over SMS is send photos, videos and so forth, so if I’m on Hike and do SMS I can send you a picture and you get a link on SMS so you can open it on a browser, so we’re striking deals in the Indian market and the emerging markets like Middle East and Africa where the cost is not only bourn by us but by the operator too.”
Hike is starting out with more resources than most startups, being created by BSB, a 50:50 Bharti Softbank joint venture, that acts as a “quasi-strategic incubator”, as Mittal puts it. Bharti Softbank invested $7 million into Hike about a month ago — a measure of how much traction the app had managed to achieve in a few short months. BSB projects get their first round funded by the parent companies if they achieve enough traction.
Going forward, Hike will likely look outside for funding, says Mittal — assuming it can keep on growing, and reach its goal of at least 10 million registered users (“our internal critical number”), which it views as the baseline required before starting to think seriously about monetisation.
“By the end of the year we’ll be in a positon to raise money from the external market. The reason we’re doing that is the VC market in India has less of an appetite for taking massive risk. Because one of the first questions to ask is ‘hey guys why are you building another messaging app?’ And we were pretty certain that if we did what we did we’d get the traction and so far we’ve proved it,” says Mittal. “We’re in a point where we have the $7 million but we will look outside, even possibly the West Coast for funding.”
Mittal won’t put a figure on Hike’s active user base but says it’s “amongst the highest we’ve seen in the industry and definitely way above 50%”. ”We feel there is a room for a local player to dominate markets like India, Africa and China and so forth, and take care of the local needs, and that is something we’re working on. That’s the big philosophy we have at BSB,” he adds.
India’s technology-adoption stratification poses a huge challenge when you’re trying to build an app that lets people talk to whoever they want. A challenge that, ultimately, gives the local kid a toehold over global mobile messaging players, argues Hike.
“The market kind of splits India into three sort of broad demographics, the top part really mimics the U.S. population — 30, 40 million people – they’re really switched on, they know about the Internet, they have smartphones and so on and so forth; there are about 150 million people that are experimenting with the Internet, but they have a lot of churn there because the Internet is still not a utility for these guys; and then you have a billion people at the bottom of the pyramid that have no clue whatsoever the Internet even is,” says Mittal.
“As you go further down in India, how do you tackle the one billion people? No one knows but we’re in India here, so we’re the guys to figure it out.”
Today, Google announced that its Android operating system has reached 900M activations. This is a 500M increase from last year’s announcement. At one point, Google said that it was experiencing 1M Android activations a day.
These activations have brought in 48M app installs for developers who have launched on Google Play, which is why the I/O conference exists. As we noted yesterday, Google is making its move to try and sway developers to select their OS first, rather than its competitor Apple.
Android and Chrome boss, Sundar Pichai, took the stage and discussed how far Google has come with Android:
Android started with a simple goal to bring open standards to the world. Today, it is the most popular mobile operating system in the world.
The company was quick to point out that there are 7B people in the world, so they have a long ways to go as far as installations.
As Google gets more distribution through different types of devices, be it smartphones, tablets, video game systems or Glass, the open nature of the platform is clearly working. Getting into emerging markets will also be easier for Google, as its operating system can be placed onto lower-end devices and doesn’t require new yearly phone launches to start the distribution cycle again.
Google’s stock is currently at an all-time high of $909.02 as the company shares its news.
Cisco today announced the results of its study into consumer’s thoughts about connected and driverless cars. While a large part of the study focused on the role of technology in the car shopping experience (unsurprisingly, nobody likes car dealerships), the study also looked into drivers’ attitudes about driverless cars. Surprisingly, 57% of all of the respondents said that they would trust driverless cars to drive them around, but there are some clear differences between different markets.
Acceptance for driverless cars seems to be especially strong in emerging markets. In Brazil, for example, 95% of respondents said they would trust a driverless car, in India 86% would do so and in China, 70% of drivers would be willing up to give control.
In the U.S., however only 60% said they would trust these cars, and 57% of Russians (who may have good reason to think that they need to have full manual control over their cars) said they would consider these automated vehicles. Germans – who still love their manual transmissions – are far more skeptical (37% would trust them). Japan, a country that seems relatively at ease with robots, comes in dead last with 28%.
All of these numbers, by the way, are lower when the researchers asked if drivers would let their kids ride in these vehicles. Still, this clearly shows that there is a market for driverless cars if they ever become available commercially.
With regard to trusting technology, the study also found that 74% of drivers would be fine with their car tracking their driving habits if they could save on insurance and maintenance cost. About 65% of them would also share their height, weight, driving habits and entertainment preferences with the car manufacturers in return for a more custom driving experience.
Bypassing Car Salesmen With Technology
When it comes to buying cars, most people would also be perfectly comfortable doing so without dealing with sales people directly. Half of the respondents in the study said they would prefer an interactive kiosk at the dealership when they have the option to each a live person (in case they really, really, have to talk to somebody). More than half (55%) said they would be happy to use virtual technology, including video chats, to go through the complete purchasing process. Again, consumers in emerging markets are generally more comfortable with this idea than car shoppers in the U.S. or Germany.
Interestingly, shoppers in developing markets like Brazil, India, Russia and China seem to be more comfortable with these technologies. U.S. shoppers usually end up somewhere in the middle when it comes to these stats and German and Japanese shoppers are the least willing to use virtual technologies to buy their cars.
Cisco’s researchers also used this study to stress that a connected car has to offer more than just a router in the vehicle. Cars themselves have been more or less commoditized, so the area where manufacturers (and startups) have a real chance to differentiate themselves is in services, be that helping drivers find parking spots or creating better (and more automated) service networks.
BlackBerry has just announced the BlackBerry Q5 smartphone, the latest BB10 handset to come out of the Waterloo-based firm. Like the Q10, the Q5 has a QWERTY keyboard and comes in a host of colors, including red, black, white and pink.
“I know it’s going to be a big hit,” said Thorsten Heins, as he made the announcement.
According to the CEO, the Q5 will be aimed at emerging markets, as BlackBerry sees an opportunity to infiltrate markets in which most people might not have a computer or laptop, but where they do need a smartphone.
In today’s press event, Heins let slip that the Q5 would launch within BlackBerry’s global carrier network starting in the summer, but he failed to mention pricing.
Not much is known about specs, but we can tell you that it has a 3.1-inch touchscreen to go along with that Qwerty keyboard.
It also comes pre-loaded with the latest version of BB10, which brings with it features like Time Shift and Story Maker, ensuring users get a good photo each time they use their camera. BB10 also has BBM Video, letting users video chat and even share their screen, which comes in handy for enterprise users.
But perhaps most important, BB10 offers the BlackBerry Hub, which lets you get instant access to all your notifications, email, etc. without ever leaving an application window.
Here’s what Thorsten Heins said about it in a prepared statement:
BlackBerry is excited to bring the new BlackBerry Q5 smartphone to our customers in selected markets around world. The BlackBerry Q5 gives you the best of everything with its cutting-edge BlackBerry 10 functionality and a physical QWERTY keyboard. It is for youthful fans that are passionate, confident and bold, and it makes it easy for them to have fun, create, share and stay connected.
Even back when the company went by Research In Motion, BlackBerry has always been focused on developing markets. The company’s 70-80 million subscribers are mostly in regions like the Middle East, India, Europe, and Africa. That said, the Q5 will be available in July in select markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America.