Hamburg VC Shortcut Ventures just announced its first investment – in Barcelona startup Yuilop, as the leader of a €4.5 million Series A funding round alongside Russian VC Bright Capital and private telco investor Bruno Ducharme.
Dirk Freise, Thorsten Rehling and Martin Ostermayer started Shortcut Ventures (previously known as Fast Lane Ventures – not to be confused with Russian incubator Fastlane Ventures) in February 2012. The trio previously founded mobile entertainment provider Blau.de (sold to Bertelsmann Group in 2002) and wireless service discounter Handy.de (sold to KPN in 2008).
On the startup side, Yuilop, founded late 2010, offers a free-to-all, real-time communications app for smartphones. Users download the app (with Android or iOS) and can then send SMS messages to any number free of charge (mostly through Facebook Messenger). More disruptive still: Yuilop wants to enable free calls to any number in the world, in similar fashion,”very soon”.
Yuilop aims to monetise its user base (including to cover the costs of providing free services) through mobile advertising.
Nauta Capital, which previously provided Yuilop with €1m seed funding, also joins the Series A round.
Yuilop and Shortcut Ventures – the chops to pull it off?
Yuilop is not the only player providing free smartphone-enabled communication. As well as Skype, there’s Viber, Tango, fring, WhatsApp and more – all offering a combination of free text chat, SMS, voice calls and video calls. Viber claims over 50 million registered users; Fring, based out of London and Tel Aviv, claims “tens of millions” of users in over 200 countries, apparently with over a milion new smartphone users per month.
So what’s Yuilop’s point of difference? The scope of its vision, according to Shortcut Ventures CEO Martin Ostermayer – free communication to anyone, anywhere, regardless of device and service. “Unlike other app-based services, Yuilop allows its users to send regular text messages (and soon phone calls) to any device, any number – not just smartphones or other Yuilop users,” he explained.
The decision to invest came quickly. ”After the first few conversations with Yuilop, we were certain we wanted to invest,” Ostermayer said. He’s excited about Yuilop’s potential to reach beyond its own user community and connect with almost every teleco member worldwide. “It will set up exciting challenges for mobile service providers of the first and second generations”.
So far, Yuilop has launched in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and home base Spain. Priorities for expansion are further European markets and “the Americas”.
International competition might be tough but Yuilop’s founders have the chops to know what they’re getting into. Jochen Doppelhammer and co-founder Antonio Brusola, both ex KPN-Spain, helped drive the success of mobile virtual network operator Simyo.
We’ll be keeping an eye on updates – and Ostermayer expects Shortcut Ventures to announce further investments soon.