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What Is Viber’s Start Up Story? How Talmon Marco and Igor Magazinik Founded The Company

What Is Viber?

Viber is a mobile messenger that makes it possible for you to chat, call and send files to all other users of the app, using your Internet connection. It was created by a company called Viber Media (viber.com) and today is one of the most popular applications offering a free voice over IP (VoIP) service to its users. This term may be familiar as Skype and RingCentral offer a similar service, but Viber is a bit different. It is specifically marketed for the mobile platforms and made to be extremely user-friendly. The account creation is easy and rather than manually add friends by their contact information – like Skype– it automatically scans the user’s phone address book to find contacts with Viber accounts. This makes connecting with friends extremely straightforward and virtually painless.

Using Viber, individuals can make calls and send texts over 3G and 4G LTE networks. It’s so optimized for this purpose, that in most of the cases the is no need for the faster wireless connection! The app gives users the freedom to go about their day and send texts or make calls as needed regardless of their location, making use of the app feel very natural. Probably the ease of use is one of the best competitive advantages of the mobile app. Viber is offered on multiple platforms as well: IOS users can send messages to Blackberry users who can send messages to Android users. There are over 650 million users registered today from all over the world. This number hasn’t stopped growing as the company has been constantly improving its application. The story behind this astonishing app is really amazing, and in the rest of this article, I will share with you how exactly the company was started.

How The Idea Behind Viber Was Born And How The Company Was Founded

Talmon Marco

Talmon Marco, one of the founders of Viber – a pic from his Linked In profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/talmonmarco

The company was founded on 2nd December 2010 by Talmon Marco, Igor Magazinik, Ofer Samocha and Sani Maroli, with Marco being the CEO. Here is an interesting fact about how the idea behind the company was born… And the main reason for Viber is … love… Mаrco lived in New York and had a girlfriend (currently his wife) in Hong Kong. As most innocent souls captured in the love trap, they were spending a lot of time talking to each other on the phone. The big distance between them was only ballooning their telephone bills more and this was how Marco started looking for the best way to stay in touch with his honey by mobile phone… This was how the Viber story began.

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Viber was developed as a competitive alternative to other services available such as WhatsApp, Wechat, and Skype. Actually, when it was started, there was a serious competition… But according to Marco, this only helped. Once he said that: “I think competition drives innovation. I doubt we would be where we are today, from a feature set standpoint, if it weren’t for our competition.” Before becoming an entrepreneur, Marco had worked as Chief Information Officer for the Israeli Defense Forces in the 1990s. He was born in Israel but raised in the US. After his army job, he and his friend Igor Magazinik started iMesh, a P2P file sharing service. The project was successful and it played a crucial role because Viber was actually started with the money generated from iMesh.

Igor Magazinik

Igor Magazinik, co-founder – source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/igormagazinik

Although all of the developers are of Israeli nationality, Viber’s headquarters are located in Limassol, Cyprus and has other offices located in Belarus, China, and Israel. Unlike many startups, Viber did not receive any venture capital money. The lean start-up funded itself by way of family and friends, as well as profits from Marco’s other program, iMesh. This was crucial to its success because for the first two years the program was available, it did not generate any revenue. A venture like this would have been hardly financed by a fund, or at least the terms of financing wouldn’t have been very optimal for the founders. However, during these two years, a lot was invested in the app and it had established as one of the top mobile messengers on the market. It was time this huge investment to start bringing some return. Viber was totally free (and still is), nobody paid anything for using it. The founders didn’t want to change this, so they started thinking of some other ways of monetizing it. This was achieved by developing some paid services in addition, such as Viber Out and their graphical “Sticker store”, Viber began to make great profits. On 13th February 2014, Japanese electronic commerce and internet service Rakuten purchased the company for USD$900 million. They have since merged their 200 million users with Viber’s clientele base.

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Early Development of Viber

A screen shot of a chat

A screenshot of a chat

The early development of Viber offered a very promising glimpse into its future. From its birth, the company had a long line of beta users ready to trial the software. The initial IOS version was graciously received with 350 million unique registered downloads. Six months later, Viber pre-released a version of its software for the Android marketplace that was limited to 50,000 users. A full version was released a little after a year later. On 8th May 2012, a version for Blackberry and Windows phones were released, prompting another large surge in downloads and overall membership. On 24th July 2012, Viber announced a huge milestone: with 90 million users, it would be releasing the availability of group messaging as well as a high-definition voice calling feature. A year later, Viber was personally attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army. The company’s support system had been defaced, but according to executives, no sensitive information had been revealed. On the same note, Marco has been quoted saying he is the only one with access to the encryption key and he has never revealed it to anyone, despite certain groups’ pressure to do so.

Viber's logo

Viber’s logo, source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

A company with such great success has many interesting facts about it. Rakuten acquired the company because it believed it was progressing at such a fast rate, it may not have been able to do so in the future. In the acquisition, the founders of Viber made almost 30 times their initial investments. Despite their great overall success, problems were not absent, too. Viber’s initial versions had many security issues. Marco is quoted saying people should be concerned about their privacy. More than 50 percent of their users live in Middle Eastern countries where services such as WhatsApp and Viber are banned. After successfully dealing with security issues and creating a safe end-to-end encryption, Viber has had greater success than in the past. Recently, Viber has been developing its new service called Viber Out which allows its users to call cell phones and landlines and it’s one of the main revenue sources of the company. This service was initially offered to Typhoon Haiyan victims so they could connect with their loved ones, but eventually became offered to any user. It charges per minute based on location, so rates will vary. Users can link a credit card to their account so they do not have to manually reload their credit.

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