Watch out, Viber and WhatsApp! Free SMS!
If you have a smartphone, there’s a good chance that you have Viber or WhatsApp installed. These apps use your already established address book as your social graph and provide free texting or even free VoIP calls among those contacts. Now, there’s a new competitor in that space, a company called yuilop. I first discovered them through Andreas Dittes (@dittes), who visited them on his founder trip to Barcelona.
The app calls itself a free-to-all communications app, which means you can call and text everyone for free. If the other person is also using yuilop, the message is delivered through the app; if not, you can send a regular SMS. Oh, and Facebook is also integrated.
The calls and messages outside of yuilop are limited. They use a virtual currency called “energy”. Users receive energy by actively using the app to communicate with yuilop contacts or through special sponsored offers, and they spend energy by making calls and messages outside.
I can’t help but look at this app from different perspectives; the user perspective, the marketing perspective and the business perspective:
- As a user, I’m happy to save on calls and texting, especially internationally. But more than that, I can see all communications threads within a single app; because (on Android, at least) I can even pull in regular SMS from my mobile number. This is similar to iMessage on iOS, which is fully integrated with SMS but, well, only for iOS devices.
- From the marketing perspective, I think the team has done a brilliant job. Because of the energy system, users are not only motivated to share and spread the word but they are also motivated to use the app whenever possible, even if they could text over another channel (such as WhatsApp). Users can also get a number (currently only available in the +49157 range and you need to provide a German postal address) on which they can receive SMS and earn energy for every message. This is another lock-in effect for yuilop.
- Looking at the business perspective, I’m curious how they will monetize in the long term. They do not only have costs for servers and app development, they also have to pay for regular calls and SMS. Right now they can give away a lot of energy, but when the viral distribution has gone far enough, they may not be able to afford giving energy, so users will have a hard time earning their energy (e.g. by installing apps from an offerwall). Personally I think an option to purchase energy with real money would be great, since even then it would probably be cheaper than my contract’s rates, but yuilop would lose it’s “everything is free” slogan.
I’m curious to see whether yuilop will gain traction in the market. I wish the startup good luck. If you’re interested, you can download yuilop from the AppStore or Google Play and try it yourself! Unfortunately it is not available in every market, the team is slowly rolling out internationally; most notably the United States is not on the list yet.