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This article was published on July 3, 2008

Nimbuzz raises $15 million for their accessibility mission

Nimbuzz raises $15 million for their accessibility mission
Ernst-Jan Pfauth
Story by

Ernst-Jan Pfauth

Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He a Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He also served as The Next Web’s blog’s first blogger and Editor in Chief, back in 2008. At De Correspondent, Ernst-Jan serves as publisher, fostering the expansion of the platform.

Remember my ‘Wow!’ post about Nimbuzz last May? The Dutch mobile VoIP and IM start-up then launched a VoIP app that was compatible with more than 500 handsets which allowed free calling in 50 countries. I received a couple of comments on this lyric post, mostly from people who wondered why they should say other mobile VoIP clients like Fring and Truphone goodbye, and start using Nimbuzz. I figured that yesterday’s announcement about their second round of funding – $15 million from a round led by Naspers/MIH and Mangrove (known from Skype) – was a good excuse to dive a little deeper in that.

With 500k seed capital, a series A of $10 million in 2007, now another $15 million, 70 employees, and offices opening in Argentina and Brazil, there must be something special about Nimbuzz. Of course you could say they’re the prime example of a new bubble, but that would be a little too simple and cynical. So I’ve contacted Tobias Kemper from Nimbuzz to figure out what they offer that 129 other mobile VoIP start-ups don’t. Turns out it’s a rather technical story.

Kemper: “Fring is focused on 3G and Wifi, Truphone is trying to be more of an operator and isn’t free. And – as no one has understood this yet – we do buddy calling, we’re connecting existing communities. Fring also has buddy calling but nowhere near the seamless experience that we can offer, since we also work on GPRS and EDGE. Again, Fring does work on Edge, but not without credits such as SkypeOut.” Right.., so to sum it up: Nimbuzz has a broader reach as they support more mobile generations.

That’s a good thing, as Kemper told me they’re not just focusing on techies and early adopters – even though these groups are the only ones who know what mobile VoIP is about. Hence their effort to support to reach that number of 500 compatible handsets. Kemper: “We even work in more countries than Truphone with our dial in solution and had it since inception, whereas Truphone only came out with it last month and it seemed to be all the rage.”

As an expansion of their accessibility promise, Nimbuzz will soon launch a “Communicator” widget (terrible name, Kemper agrees) that allows visitors of your site and social profile or readers of your emails to connect to your phone, even if they’re not on Nimbuzz.

So to answer the questions of commenters like Travis and Bram, if you’re happy with Fring and Truphone, stay there. Though you might want to switch when Nimbuzz becomes more popular. I think they will, as they sincerely seem to focus on people who don’t own an iPhone or fancy Nokia phone. Yet we have to remember that the group with less-developed phones might not be interested in this whole mobile VoIP thing, as it’s hard to grasp. Also, the accessibility-mission has a major downside, with makes Nimbuzz – ironically enough – less accessible: the size of their app is around 1 MB – which is way too large. So that aspect needs some work.

Nimbuzz is currently expanding to Latin America and Africa, following the footprint of their investor Naspers/MIH – who already owns a stake in Mxit, a popular South African GPRS and 3G-based IM service. According to Kemper, Nimbuzz is “actively talking with operators and social networks to intergrate our solution and offer our features.” Sounds like they’ve no problems finding destinations for that 15 million.