Sramana: Okay. Let’s talk about what is the premise with which you started TextMe, Christophe?
Christophe: In 2010, we were looking at new opportunities and that was the time when some other mobile communication apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Tango were in the market and I felt there was still a strong opportunity to do something very different and better. It was to build a universal communication app.
By universal communication app, I mean an app that would allow you to talk to anyone in the world, to not only the people who have your apps, but anybody who has a phone number. In any way you want, with voice call, with text, with video call and from anywhere you want, speaking from your telephone, from your iPad, from your Tablet and all this for free. That was something that was not doable using WhatsApp, because with WhatsApp you can only do text and with someone who has WhatsApp. If you have Tango you can do video call, but only with people who have Tango. Our concept was to bring a universal free communication app for the market and that’s what we did in early 2011.
Sramana: Okay. You said free communication app, yes?
Christophe: Yeah, totally free. That’s one of the key points of the app.
Sramana: Does that mean that your primary monetization is through advertising?
Christophe: Absolutely, through monetizing and virtual currency schemes, whereby a user can earn credits for free, just by completing offers. For example, by looking at video advertisements, they earn free credits that they can use and call any number in the world.
Sramana: Okay, great. That’s clear. Let’s talk about how you brought this product to market. How did you get users? What’s been your primary user generation strategy and how did the user metric ramp?
Christophe: I would step back a little bit and describe how we start a company like this and build a product like this because it’s a very complex and technical product. The first thing was to get a team together. I have an engineering background, but I don’t know how to do everything in building a product like this. So the first thing I did with my co-founder Frédéric Benqué, was getting an engineering team as soon as possible. I met with two engineers Edouard and Grégory who were already developing a communication app at that time which was back in 2009.
Sramana: How did you find these people?
Christophe: I found them looking at the app store and looking at the nice apps that were available at that time and…
Sramana: You were going through the app store looking at what were the good communication apps, which would tell you who are the engineers behind those who knew how to build communications apps?
Christophe: Exactly. These two persons were actually living in Paris at that time. I provided them with my programs and said well “Let’s start a company in San Francisco. It’s going to be much more fun than living in Paris and let’s make it big in the U.S.” The idea behind forming the team was that you would have highly experienced engineers who had already built very good apps and pair them with highly experienced entrepreneurs. My partner and I had the skills in terms of telecommunications, so we could take their expertise and our telecom expertise to build a good product. And with the entrepreneurial skills, plus the financial skills that my other partners have, we could build a great business.
Sramana: It sounds like you not only went to look for experienced engineers who had telecom skills; you went to look for those who were French?
Christophe: The fact that they were French is a pure coincidence. They could have been any nationalities. It’s honestly a pure coincidence.
Sramana: What is it about their apps that was not working which caused them to abandon their app and join this new team?
Christophe: They were actually developing this project as an aside, in their spare time. Our vision was much broader and I think that is what they liked in our proposal.
Sramana: Okay. But you were proposing to these two to move them to San Francisco?
Christophe: Yeah. To build a team like this, we needed co-founders who have entrepreneurial skills. The fact that these two guys would quit their jobs, quit their house and move to San Francisco to start a new business was really proof that these super star developers have the entrepreneurial spirit.