Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.
We’ve talked a lot about mobile messaging apps and services, particularly WhatsApp and its numerous Asian rivals, but a new entrant is joining with momentum and a different approach after social discovery-themed startup Talkbits landed $2 million in Series A funding from Russian VC firm Runa Capital.
WhatsApp and other services have grown popular by offering users a convenient and cost effective way to message friends from their smartphone, without resorting to SMS, while the likes of Japan’s Line (60 million users) and China’s WeChat (200 million users) allow free calling and voice messages. Russia-based Talkbits is approaching the opportunity from a different angle in that it is enabling users to use voice and messages to discover and communicate with those that are geographically around them, in addition to more regular private and group messaging.
Users can record and post push-to-talk, walkie-talkie-like messages which are geotagged and used to help promote social discovery among its users and those in their locale.
The app is not set to launch until sometime “later this year”, the company says, but it is one of a new breed of startups from Russia that is eyeing the global smartphone market, much like its mobile messaging rivals from Asia and beyond.
Talkbits is gaining plenty of momentum in Russia already, where it has been named a top 10 Russian web startup of 2012, and it is led by Olga Steidl, a well known figure in the Russian and European startup scene.
Steidl had previously been VP of marketing at mobile develop SPB but she joined Russian powerhouse Yandex when it acquired the firm in November last year. Steidl subsequently departed, following her desire to be back working among a startup, and that led her to start Talkbits.
The app is coming to Android and iOS soon and it remains in closed beta, however the startup is showcasing its service for the first time at the Dublin Web Summit this week.
Some elements of the social discovery are already present in WeChat — which allows users to find others that are located nearby, or a more random ‘message in a bottle’ approach — but the emphasis on social discovery differentiates Talkbits from other apps, which instead focus on communication between already acquainted friends.
It will be interesting to see how the app fares when it is released this year. Line and WeChat are among those that have seen phenomenal growth this year, and if Talkbits can position and market itself well, it could tap into the potential of mobile messaging apps.
Image via Flickr / Geomangio
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