Q&A: Riku Salminen, CEO of Jongla
By Sean Jackson for Telco-OTT Today | May 22, 2014
Our approach is to stick with messaging and follow the path that we have taken – “keep it simple”.
First up, are you able to provide us with a bit of context? When was Jongla first conceived & when did it launch?
The company was founded in September 2009 and we launched JonglaFree in October 2010. The original idea was to create a free SMS replacement service that was based on open approach where people were able to send messages, text, high-quality photos and long videos, from the JonglaFree app to any of their contacts regardless of what device they have. The business model at the time was based on advertising revenues.
We gained a lot experience and know-how from that trial. The main findings were that our platform strategy was not right. We developed our app to support first Symbian and Java platforms. They were both extremely complex platforms upon which to develop and also they were dying platforms. Nobody at the time could have anticipated the fast growth of iOS and Android. The other reason why we decided not to continue the trial was that our concept was too much business model driven.
At the end of 2010 we could already see the first mobile first designed cross-platform IM apps coming to market. We recognised that there was an opportunity and at the start of 2011 we went back to the drawing boardand started to develop our first Jongla IM prototype apps. In this journey we soon discovered the importance of a talented, motivated and dedicated in-house development team, and sustainable and scalable architecture.
It was a bumpy road in the beginning but we convinced our investors to stick with us and we were able to raise enough money to support our new in-house driven product development strategy and we made a fresh start. In April 2012 we finally had all puzzle pieces in place and we started to develop the Jongla Instant Messenger that we have today, first on Android and iOS. We launched our Beta versions in September 2012 and in December 2012 the first official Jongla 1.0 service saw daylight.
Are you able to provide any usage figures? (Number of users, average number of messages sent?) – are you more popular on certain platforms or in certain markets? (Why?)
This spring has been very good to us. We have hit new records with the number of new users joining Jongla month after another. We believe that our success is based mainly on four key reasons:
1) We made Jongla available on Windows Phone in September 2013 and signed a partnership with Nokia. We have a substantially high number of happy Windows users as a result
2) We totally revamped the UI in December 2013 and re-engineered it optimizing the app to be reliable, fast, intuitively easy-to-use and beautiful
3) We launched the concept of Jongla Usernames, public profiles, easy public profile sharing with all main social networking services and Jongla user search. Now the Jongla community is open to everyone and this is boosting the positive word-of-mouth and viral spread of the service
4) We have been consistent, innovative and unique with our sticker concept. We have designed and developed a great variety of our own characters and created tools for our users to be really creative when expressing themselves with Jongla interactive stickers.
We doubled our user base in just four months between November 2013 and February 2014. During March and April we enjoyed exponential growth and between April and May we’re on track to double our user base again. What makes me really proud is that at the same time we have doubled our monthly active user figures and people are engaging more with Jongla, particularly our stickers.
We are growing fastest right now in South East Asia and in countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia especially. We have lately seen very good uptake in many other countries such as Brazil, Turkey and Italy, just to mention a few.
It is a deeply competitive space, what sets Jongla apart from the crowd?
It is true that we have numerous big competitors. The feedback that we are getting from our users is that they genuinely like the whole user experience of Jongla. Security is a stand-out feature with Jongla. We encrypt all messages and respect our users’ privacy, which is very important today. Our other USPs are our appealing design, powerful stickers, personalization and social features.
We learned, for success, that you need the right platform strategy combined with the right timing. We are pioneers in developing Jongla not only as a smartphone messenger, but also thanks to our HTML5 app it works on any device that has access to Internet. You can use Jongla with multiple devices, which is very handy when you jump between places. For example, you might enjoy chatting using a native app while you are on the move, and then in the office you might prefer to chat using your PC.
Thanks to our HTML5 app we have been able to use this experience and we were one of the first IM services to launch on the new Firefox OS. Affordable Firefox-powered smartphones are gaining more and more popularity and so is helping us to penetrate many new markets, partucularly in Latin America.
I cannot highlight enough how important it is to keep your app light, so that it doesn’t require much data and memory to download. This is vital in fast growing mobile markets like in Thailand, Indonesia and Brazil.
Our approach is to stick with messaging and follow the path that we have taken – “keep it simple”. We can definitely learn a lot from our competitors. Our aim is not to copy but to innovate and avoid a common pitfall of building just another “Swiss army knife” where you have an endless list of features that are totally irrelevant to your users and hard to find and use.
Tell us more about the recent Telenor announcement: Do Telenor customers get a special deal? (Though how do you get better than free?) Is Jongla Telenor’s exclusive partner in OTT?
We recently announced a strategic partnership with Telenor. It takes two to tango, and it is really surprising to see what a great strategic fit we have. We started the partnership from one platform and thanks to our positive learning experiences, we are currently working on building the partnership further.
Our approach is to work with a limited number of partners, instead of working with many. We always aim to work in a more strategic level with our partners, but we don’t work with exclusive terms. It is very important for Jongla that we keep our focus and operator-, device- and platform independent service promise to our customers. While working with operators, we focus on finding and combining the best assets of both parties and we explore the numerous opportunities of how we can together create new innovations and unique value to the customers.
Do you have any close ties with handset manufacturers? If so, how is working with handset OEMs different from working with MNOs?
Yes we have. We are currently working with a many of them and Nokia, now Microsoft Devices, is one of our reference partners. Working with OEMs is very different compared to MNOs. The keyword here is ecosystem. The OEMs that have the whole package from devices to own operating system, app store and customers, is a dream for every app developer.
The idea of partnering seems to be gaining more traction – E Plus/WhatsApp being a prime recent example – is this “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach an admission by carriers that they cannot compete with OTT players?
I think that it took from MNOs a couple of years to first monitor the IM boom and many of them tried defensive strategies in the beginning. What we are really happy to see today is a total change in the attitudes of MNOs towards OTT players. MNOs and OTT players are today creating a lot of partnerships and what is really interesting to see is that we have started to see the first joint venture initiatives between MNOs and OTT players taking place. MNOs and OTT players have so much in common and we need each other. To see that most players out there now are adopting collaboration instead of competition is a signal that we are definitely on the right track.
The Facebook acquisition solidified WhatsApp’s position as the global number one in OTT messaging. How do you take on WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is a great success story and I really respect all that they have done. They managed to gain a position in the very beginning where all other apps where benchmarked against them and it helped them to get a lot of media exposure and users. The fact is that they won the first round and I don’t believe that Facebook is going to make them any stronger that they are today, but it will definitely take the burden out of them of how to make the app profitable.
From the technology, innovation and business point of view we have seen even greater success stories from our Asian competitors and I predict that some of them are going to grow to a point where they are future power houses, enjoying most of the world’s messaging traffic and monetising that traffic through their platform and publishing strategy.
We at Jongla are totally focused on winning the second round, that is making messaging available for the next billion of people connecting to Internet with a personal device.
Joyn is all but dead, do you think RCS will ever get off the ground for carriers?
Joyn is a good example, like MMS, that the operators’ approach to standardise and control is doomed to fail. We at Jongla don’t believe that RCS will ever break through and get innovative OTT players using it. The initiative is already too late now.
What type of impact – if any – do you think WebRCS will have on messaging apps?
We are strong supporters of WebRTC. We believe that it’s going to bring multimedia communication in the mainstream in mobile apps by allowing richer content exchange between apps and their browser counter parts. It will also increase the possibility of seamless transition between different devices, for example between desktop and mobile. In addition to that, the quality of content exchanged will become much higher and that is going to appeal to end-users.
What is next in terms of functionality for Jongla? Do you have plans for adding VoIP?
We are currently finalizing a new feature that is called Official Accounts. The Official Accounts are designed especially for brands, bands and celebrities to interact with their followers and fans through mobile. That is the first step in our plan towards a unified messaging platform. We are also soon releasing Jongla to new platforms and we are currently working on several secret projects.
However, we are happy to reveal first to Telco-OTT Today that yes, Jongla is currently developing a VoIP service and the release is in our short-term plans.