With A Media-Rich Platform To Stand Out From The Messaging Pack, MessageMe Hits 5M Users In 2.5 Months [Interview]

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Last week we reported that MessageMe, one of the latest messaging apps to hit the smartphone market, had picked up a $10 million Series A round of funding, and today, the company is officially confirming the news, along with some more details on how it’s been doing in the 2.5 months since it launched. It now has 5 million users across both iOS and Android — a five-fold increase on the 1 million that downloaded the app in its first 10 days.

MessageMe aims to carve out a name for itself by offering more ways than the rest of the pack — which includes WhatsApp, Line, KakaoTalk, Viber and Facebook (from which MessageMe gained some notoriety when it was restricted from using Facebook’s social graph API to find friends to use the app) — for users to communicate with each other on its messaging platform. In its case, this is done through notifications via text messages, but also pictures, doodles, video, voice, location and music sent from one user to another. Altogether, usage of these has risen three-fold, to 1,500 per second from 500 65 days ago.

From what we understand, although MessageMe is partly founded by people with extensive gaming experience — Arjun Sethi and Justin Rosenthal both worked together at social games company LOLapps (acquired by 6waves in 2011) — it will be messaging, not games, that will be the revenue driver for the company. Also: no plans to add in advertising, nor to charge for the app. Instead, it will build out premium messaging features such as stickers and money transfers.

The latter is shaping up to be a particularly interesting area, with not only Google swaggering into the ring, but as of yesterday Square as well, alongside a number of other companies like Venmo and established names like PayPal and Western Union already dabbling in features like this.

As we reported last week, and as confirmed by the company today, this latest round was led by John Lilly, the former CEO of Mozilla who is now a partner at Greylock; Lilly now joins the board of LittleInc Labs, makers of MessageMe. Other investors in the round include previous backers True Ventures (where MessageMe was first incubated), First Round Capital, Google Ventures, SVAngel, Resolut.vc, Andreessen Horowitz, and Social+Capital Partnership. The company’s angels also include Airbnb’s Brian Pokorny, Hiten Shah, Eric Wu and TinyCo CEO Suleman Ali.

The company is still in an early and small stage: currently there are only 10 people working for TinyInc Labs.

I caught up with co-founder Sethi to speak a little more about the direction of the company:

About those greyed-out tabs on your app. When are you launching stickers and money?
We’ll start rolling out new features in about a month, although we’re already doing some staged rollouts in beta. Stickers will feature our own content, as well as branded content, from companies that we’ll be working with. Money will be done in partnership with someone. A lot of the new features will come first on Android. Although it’s an app that we launched only last week, it’s easier to add and develop new features on Android.

What about Windows Phone and BlackBerry?
We are taking a close look at all the platforms out there, including web, Windwos and BlackBerry. We’ll see where most of the demand is and what users are asking for to decide what the next step will be for MessageMe.

Talk to me a bit about your thoughts on paid messaging services like WhatsApp or those that rely on adds for revenue.
There is no paid version planned. We’re definitely adamant on keeping it free, simple and fast. We’re also not doing any banner ads or third-party data stuff. We want to make sure that everything you do is private and secure. Even with premium services, you will pay or have option to opt out before you see or use it — that will come into play with how we roll out stickers and accessing content.

WhatsApp (200m+ users) has stolen a march on the messaging apps world with its seemingly global appeal, with Facebook Messenger also doing this to a lesser extent. Meanwhile others have a very regional focus. Where do you sit in that spectrum so far?
Outside of the U.S. most of our growth has been in Europe, and the UK specifically. Most of the usage so far is of a younger demographic.

What message apps do you use?
Besides MessageMe, I use WhatsApp because that’s what’s popular in South Africa [where he hails from] and also BBM. Because I worked in Asia, I also use KakaoTalk for friends in Korea and Line for friends in Japan. I think you’ll always have fragmentation, just as you still do in email [that begs the question of interoperability....]. Then again, I’m not your average user, but I use Line as heavily as MessageMe.