Thursday 25 December 2014

Irish start-ups are cashing in on the messaging revolution

Published 06/03/2014 | 02:30

Kevin Abosch of Kwikdesk

What has Facebook's world-record $19bn (€13.8bn) acquisition of Whatsapp got to do with Ireland? More than you might think. The mega-deal is a bellwether for the value of online messaging systems at the moment. And some of Ireland's cleverest start-ups are already benefiting.

In the last eight weeks, two Irish start-ups have landed substantial funding deals to help expand their messaging services. And Intercom (€17m 'Series B' funding round) and Cleverbug (€4m round) are now set to be joined by four-month-old Kwikdesk, which is finalising a €15m round of 'Series A' funding from venture capitalists who see real potential in its technology.

In other words, the online messaging boom has delivered as much funding to Irish start-ups in eight weeks as it normally would take them to generate in six months (or more).

"The day after the Facebook deal, I got a lot more calls," said Kevin Abosch, one of three co-founders of Kwikdesk. "Telecom companies are clearly interested in systems like this."

Mr Abosch is understating it. From the vantage point of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, where all of the world's top mobile operators and manufacturers were under one roof, there is panic.

Revenues and profit margins are sinking as fast as European usage of traditional SMS texting services. In Ireland alone, people are dropping SMS services to the tune of 10pc per year (according to Comreg).

In their place come services such as Whatsapp, Snapchat, iMessage, Viber, Skype, Facebook Messenger and a whole host of others that you probably haven't even heard of. (If you have a 12-year-old, ask them about OoVoo.)

One service alone – Whatsapp – generates as many daily messages (around 18 billion daily) as the world's global SMS operators combined.

All of which begs the question: should you be using any of this in your day-to-day business? After all, lots of business people now use many of these online communications tools in their day-to-day life anyway. But are there services you may not have heard of that are popular?

Here's a brief summary of 10 online messaging systems you might consider adopting.

*  WHATSAPP

Features: Text messages, picture messages, voice messages.

Pros: Very wide usage, easy to sign up to without another social networking profile.

Cons: Integration within Facebook in future might concern some business users.

* VIBER

Features: Voice calls, voice messages, texts, picture messages.

Pros: Includes voice calls.

Cons: Quality of voice calls sometimes poor, calls over data can be pricey when roaming.

* YAMMER

Features: Business-focused ‘social network’ centred around messaging and instant chat.

Pros: Can be deployed and restricted at work; synchronises with Microsoft Office.

Cons: Usage model is typically a paid one.

* SKYPE

Features: Voice and video calls, instant messaging.

Pros: Most-installed user base of any dedicated online communication service; over 600,000 Irish users alone.

Cons: Clunkier interface than some rivals.

* iMESSAGE

Features: Instant messaging, voice message, video, file transfer.

Pros: Very clean user interface, integrated smoothly into Apple phones, Macs and tablets.

Cons: Apple-only system.

* WECHAT

Features: Group instant chatting, text messages, video calls.

Pros: Simple, straightforward user interface with lots of functions.

Cons: Despite its features, rarely used in Europe or the US.

* FACEBOOK MESSENGER

Features: Text and picture messaging.

Pros: Biggest underlying global user base with over two million Irish Facebook users.

Cons: This has limited functionality and a non-business tone to the underlying service.

* GOOGLE HANGOUTS

Features: Group video calls and messaging.

Pros: A free alternative to expensive conference call services.

Cons: Relatively complicated to set up, focuses on services that most people are wary of (video calls).

* SNAPCHAT

Features: Online text messages and photos.

Pros: Best for privacy as messages are set to auto-delete.

Cons: Auto-delete feature makes it impractical for ongoing business communications.

* OOVOO

Features: Voice calls, video calls, voice and video messages, text messages, file exchange.

Pros: Includes a comprehensive array of services.

Cons: While popular with kids, little-used among grown-ups.

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