If LINE’s recent earnings report is any indication, mobile messaging apps are now a lucrative business, especially with the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. More than simply messaging, chat apps are now platforms for social networking and content distribution. Take the case of LINE, it earns not from the mobile messaging itself, but mostly from the sale of premium items such as stickers and in-game content.
But not all markets have enough smartphone penetration, and there is still a big opportunity waiting to be tapped among feature phone users. Richard Cheung and Arnie Chaudhuri, who were formerly part of the development team that built the Facebook mobile application for feature phones, are aware of this, and have co-founded Chaatz, a new company that aims to build a viable social messaging system for feature phone platforms. Noting, however, that smartphones are the best starting point at this time, Chaatz has launched its mobile messaging app on iTunes App Store, where it is free to download; it will be released on Google Play within the week.
The company, which recently received an “above six figures” angel funding from a small group of entrepreneurs in the mobile and telecom sectors, is now made up of a team of 20 executives and engineers, whose expertise include a combination of skills in different areas: chipsets, platforms, mobile payment systems, gaming and networks.
The main advantage of Chaatz over popular messaging apps today is that it can more effectively separate one’s private life from work and social communications, so one has better control over contacts and conversations. Don’t want to share your mobile number with new acquaintances or strangers? Chaatz can make you a new one in the country of your choice!
In an exclusive interview with e27, Chaudhuri, who now serves as the company’s head of business development, discusses the importance of privacy, focus on feature phones, and being able to separate one’s personal and professional profiles in a chat app. Excerpts:
What made you decide to launch a messaging app amid competition from established players such as Facebook Messenger, LINE, Viber, WhatsApp, and KakaoTalk, among others?
The idea for Chaatz occurred to us after years of working closely as development partners with a range of top mobile technology brands. We were among the top developers for Nokia, and we built its first app store in 2006. We’ve also done a great deal of app development for both, Samsung and LG, and built LG’s app store in 2009. In 2013, we helped build Facebook’s mobile version for feature phones. It was working with Facebook that opened our eyes to the possibility of connecting the five billion feature phone users. But first, we knew we had to start with a smartphone app.
What do you think gives you an edge?
Chaatz is the first social messaging app for iOS and Android smartphones that allows users to create, organise and manage multiple profiles and phone numbers for business, personal and private communications — all on a single device. With Chaatz, you have complete control over all of your mobile interactions and identities. It also provides other features such as simultaneous chats, group chats, emoticons, etc. Furthermore, it is global in nature — it works in your home country, and as you move from country to country.
How about privacy and security? Are these top concerns for your team? What do you do to address privacy in mobile communications?
Of course, privacy and security are our top concerns. For privacy purposes, Chaatz allows users to create and manage multiple profiles and personas or aliases for work, family, personal, and other conversations and purposes. To simplify message management from multiple devices, it enables users to forward messaging from various devices to a single, central device. For added privacy, such as for a child or when making purchases on mobile, it can also provide users with one or more unique Chaatz numbers which are aliases that enables them to redirect messages, so that others are never in contact with their actual mobile number. Chaatz numbers can also be assigned to other non-SIM devices to make those devices smart and ready for social messaging.
Android and iOS are your initial platforms. What is the rationale behind this move?
Along with iOS, Chaatz for Smartphones will be first available to only Android users. In Q3 of 2014, Chaatz will launch Chaatz for Feature Phones — allowing more powerful mobile communications and social networking to be introduced to emerging markets where it doesn’t exist today due to the high cost of smartphones and messaging services.
For instance, last year in the Philippines, feature phones comprised 75 per cent of all primary phones for the age group of 16-64 years, so 75 per cent of mobile users have no way to connect with their US-based friends and family on IM using a messaging network. Chaatz for Feature Phones will be the first solution to bridge the communication gap between the five billion feature phone users and 1.5 billion smartphone users worldwide.
Upon launch of the Chaatz for Feature Phones application, these 6.5 billion mobile subscribers will have a seamless way to connect and stay in touch.
Who is your target audience?
Those who want to organise and/or control their various types of conversations in a private manner. Also, global travelers that have more than one mobile number — we offer them one single social messaging client (Chaatz), without having to re-subscribe with a different SIM card. In addition, we will shortly be the only provider to offer a social messaging service for users of feature phones, most prevalent in developing countries; thus facilitating communication both, inside developing countries, as well as between smartphone and feature phone users in different parts of the world.
What are your goals for the short-term?
Our current focus is to release Chaatz for Smartphones. Beyond that, we are going to work towards our grander vision of connecting the world, for which Chaatz for Feature Phones is absolutely necessary. We aim to release this in Q3 2014.
We are in various stages of discussions with carriers, global chipset providers and multiple local handset brands in some large economies to pre-load Chaatz for Feature Phones as select feature phones do not have an app store. We already have the mandate from some of these local handset brands to launch Chaatz with them. Once we have successfully achieved this, we will focus more on verticals such as gaming and social networking on our messaging platform for the wider user base, be it smartphones or feature phones.