A couple of months ago IDG Ventures Boston led an $11 million series A round of funding for a Canadian company called Mobivox, which lets registered members make cheap or free phone calls around the world. The Montreal-based company is essentially letting members call to a number of countrieres free of charge and to other countries at around 2 cents.
IDG was joined by IDG Ventures China and IDG Ventures Vietnam. Previous investors include Brightspark Ventures of Toronto and Skypoint Capital Corp. of Ottawa. More information about all investors involved can be found below.
Earlier last year Mobivox launched the beta of its new mobile-to-Skype service. Registered Mobivox users with Skype accounts can call local access numbers to be connected via a virtual operator to their Skype contacts, for free. The service works with landlines and mobile phones, and it requires no download to your phone or PC. To use the service, just give Mobivox your telephone numbers and Skype account info.
Mobivox’s business model makes revenue from international calls. Users buy into a credit system that lets them purchase chunks of up to $100 international mobile-to-landline credit at a time, without having to buy it from Skype directly. There are no charges for using the service beyond any minutes you use up on your mobile or domestic-calling plan, and since Mobivox gives you a local number, you’re likely to avoid any long-distance charges on landlines.
Mobivox, reviewed by different testers and bloggers, was said to be a little kludgy to set up originally, probably cause its still in Alpha, but the easy part about it is it can use voice commands over a regular local phone call, so one just dials and says “my contact” and “Skype” and the service will connect you to an available Skype user — or one’s other contacts’ mobile and landline numbers. It automatically syncs with your Skype contacts after the sync is triggered by calling in to see if your Skype contacts were online or not.
The most frustrating part of trying to access Skype mobile solutions over some of the other services is downloading the client on the often select number of handsets available. It’s getting better as the startups add more handsets, but it’s still limited. Well, Mobivox also says they will have a mobile client available starting in April (2007), so we guess they’ll be jumping on that bandwagon too, for users that want a mobile interface.
Other users have checked out a number of VoIP mobile SPs and claimed they have finally found one that really knows what the users want. For example, one doesn’t want to open another account and purchase credits to use a facilitator for your existing Skype account and contacts. You don’t want to go through another operator no matter how intelligent it may be, you just want to go to your mobile and call your Skype contacts as you would a normal contact in your phone book and if you are WiFi connected, great, because that’s the way we want to go and stop being exploited by high mobile cost carriers.
The same user, we have read online about, advocated by that time that the only company he was aware of does this and that is fring.com.
Another one is asking: am I missing something about why I need a 3rd party? So I just installed Skype for Windows Smart Phones on my T-mobile Dash and it works flawlessly! Some other sources, however, explained the smart phones are in usage of no more than 1% of the mobile users worldwide.
Stéphane Marceau | President and CEO
Stéphane Marceau brings over 12 years of global experience to Mobivox in building and marketing IP communications to consumer markets. As Vice-President with Bell Canada, he built several new business lines, including the residential VoIP operating unit. Stéphane served as VP and head of many different Bell groups – consumer strategy, e-commerce, online SME markets and corporate development – and led several acquisitions and partnerships. Prior to his time at Bell Canada, he advised many of the largest wireless and telecom companies in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada on Internet strategy and technology opportunities. Stéphane is also on the board of several web 2.0 start-ups in Montreal. He holds a Master’s degree in Management of Technology from the University of Waterloo, which he obtained in 1994 after earning a BA in Finance from the Université du Québec à Montréal in 1992.
Eric Reiher | Founder and CTO
Eric Reiher has spent the last 15 years contributing his vision to several leading-edge Research and Development projects. Since 2002, he has devoted himself to the development of MOBIVOX core technology. Prior to that, Eric acquired in-depth telecom and automatic speech recognition experience at Locus Dialogue, a fast-growing high-tech company that was ultimately acquired by Scansoft. Eric started his career at the Centre de Recherche Informatique de Montréal (CRIM), where he rapidly became a project leader and led various projects to completion, including an advanced image analysis mandate. He holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the Université de Montréal, which he obtained in 1990 after earning a BA in Computer Science, with a minor in mathematics, from the Université de Sherbrooke in 1988.
Mark MacLeod | Chief Financial Officer
Mark MacLeod brings 16 years of management and corporate finance experience to MOBIVOX, including over 8 years with technology start-ups. Most recently, Mark was Vice President, Finance for networked storage vendor Terrascale Technologies Inc. which was acquired by Rackable Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: RACK) in September 2006. Mark was previously Chief Financial Officer at IP networking vendor Hexago Inc. Prior to Hexago, he led Finance and Corporate Development for electronic signature software vendor Silanis Technology Inc., the market leader in its space. Mark is a seasoned operator and transaction specialist with broad experience in cross border financings, acquisitions and strategic alliances. He is a Chartered Accountant and holds an MBA in Corporate Strategy & Organizational Behavior from McGill University.
Nitzan Shaer | Chief Operating Officer
Nitzan Shaer brings to MOBIVOX more than 14 years of global business experience in the mobile and consumer software space. As Head of the Mobile Product Group at Skype, Nitzan led the development and marketing efforts focused on making Skype available on mobile phones. Prior to his tenure at Skype, Nitzan served as Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, where he managed the development of three emerging businesses in the company’s Mobile and Embedded Division. Previously, Nitzan also managed Business Development and Marketing in Europe at Brightcom Technologies, a company focused on the development of Bluetooth applications. Nitzan served as a Captain in the Israel Air Force, and graduated first in his class from the Air Force Academy. Most recently, as Entrepreneur In Residence at IDG Ventures Boston, Nitzan focused on identifying new investment opportunities in the telecommunications and consumer Internet industries. Nitzan graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and Management from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. He lives in Boston with his wife and son and enjoys mountain climbing in his spare time.
Maxime Julien | Senior Vice President, Research & Development
Maxime brings over 17 years of senior management and engineering excellence to Mobivox. Most recently, Maxime was COO for Electronic Arts’ Montreal Studios where he was responsible for all aspects of studio operations and grew the team from 75 to over 300 people within 12 months. In addition, he participated in development of the most advanced game development framework of the industry. Prior to EA, Maxime led operations for Ubisoft where he reorganized and revitalized 6 operating groups covering over 300 team members, introducing best practices for software development and product delivery. Maxime also held several executive and leadership roles in the management of high-tech enterprises and blue-chip companies such as Ericsson, Motorola, Teleglobe and CAE. Maxime holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering (B.Eng.) from Laval University.
The company was founded in 2005 and has raised funds before its series A, which is known to be $3 million from both Brightspark Ventures and Skypoint Capital. All investors with brief information about them are included below.
IDG Ventures Boston
IDG Ventures Boston is an independent partnership that enables entrepreneurs to grow innovative, global companies. With $280 million under management, the firm is focused on investing in early stage information technology and life sciences companies and is led by a team with more than half a century of combined experience in venture capital. IDG Ventures Boston is affiliated with the IDG Ventures network of funds, a global $2+ billion network of independently managed funds spanning Asia and North America.
Brightspark is a leading early-stage software venture capital fund. Brightspark works closely with entrepreneurs to develop and build market-leading software companies. Brightspark’s innovative investment approach focuses on working closely with early-stage companies through their development and growth phase. Brightspark’s team brings years of investment and technology expertise in creating and operating software companies in the areas of application and infrastructure software, enterprise software and communications software. Brightspark’s investments range from “concept”-stage companies, led by domain experts looking to commercialize an idea or technology, to working with experienced entrepreneurs looking to scale their existing businesses. With offices in Toronto and Montreal, Brightspark is backed by leading institutional investors who share its approach to early-stage software investing.
Skypoint Capital forms and manages venture capital funds that stimulate and leverage the ever-changing telecommunications and information technology sector. The investment team begins by investing time with the entrepreneur long before committing capital. After investing, the team brings its vast operating experience and passion for growing businesses to portfolio companies. The members of the Skypoint Capital investment team have participated in more than 80 technology start-ups in the Ottawa and Montreal regions.
IDG Venture China
IDG Venture Investment China is a premier venture capital firm in China focused on helping early to growth stage companies become significant players in the IT, consumer, media and life sciences industries. The firm has demonstrated success with over 30 IPO’s and successful M&A transactions and a portfolio that includes Baidu, CTrip, Sohu, Tencents, HomeInns, and KingDee. With a 14 year history of investing in China and $1.3B under management, IDG Venture Investment China is proud to have won the trust of entrepreneurs, investors, business communities and government organizations alike.
IDG Ventures Vietnam
Established in 2004, IDG Ventures Vietnam (IDGVV) is the first and leading technology venture capital fund in Vietnam. With $100M under management, the fund invests in market leading companies in the technology, media, and telecommunications sectors in Vietnam as well as select parts of Southeast Asia. As part of the network of IDG Ventures funds worldwide, IDGVV has been at the forefront in the development of the venture capital industry in the region as well as promoting technology entrepreneurship. In addition to Mobivox, some of its current investments include VinaGame, Punch Entertainment, Clip.vn, VinaPay, and SanOTC.com.
The market is extremely overcrowded and Mobivox is facing staggering competition in the mobile VoIP space. The competition seems to guarantee cheaper phone calls for the rest of us as well as more used minutes for the cell phone companies. Companies include from Google and Tellme’s free 411 services to an army of small to mid level companies. Tellme, by the way, was recently bought by Microsoft. Other players include EQO that used to have a similar PC-style Skype version, IdeaSIP (which supports video), Gizmo Project (which has a very cool client), Fring.com, Stanaphone, Sunrocket (2nd largest to Vonage), globedialer.com, which has taken an even easier route by simply letting people call internationally via the PSTN network and Barablu, which is yet another company dealing with Skype but is based in Europe. iSkoot seems like its becoming Skype’s chosen mobile solution and among other startups with Skype mobile solutions, like Mobivox itself, they are all trying to figure out the differentiators and spread the market shares among themselves. iSkoot, by contrast, is based in Massachusetts and has more than $13.2 million in financing and is backed by Charles River Ventures, Khosla Ventures, ZG Ventures, and Jesselson Capital Corp.