Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

$20 Million Later, Voxer Raises Its First $30 Million in Venture Capital (Video)

Voxer is a walkie-talkie app for iPhone and Android. Seems pretty simple, right? But it took five years and $20 million dollars for the company to get where it is today: With tens of millions of users around the world and more than $30 million in its first-ever round of venture funding, from Institutional Venture Partners, Intel and other investors.

What happened in the interim? Voxer CEO Tom Katis says building a good walkie-talkie app is harder than you think. To work well, Voxer integrates live calls and messaging — two very different models of communication. On one hand, live voice calls are a natural way to talk to someone, but they are plagued by crappy connectivity. On the other hand, written and spoken messages are composed and finished before they are sent as a whole package. They’re not interruptive, but they’re not real conversations.

“You can be light or you can be strong, and we wanted to be both,” Katis said.

Earlier in its development, Voxer spent two years and $7 million building a communication app that focused on live chat, Katis said. But the app failed as soon as 200 people were on the system. After lots of effort spent debugging and rebuilding, it was ultimately scrapped completely.

Then, about a year ago, Voxer released a fully functioning iPhone app with both live calls and messaging. The addition of an Android version in November — and the functionality for users of both mobile operating systems to talk to each other — is what really drove organic growth, Katis said.

Along the way, Katis and his personal friends spent $20 million in total funding Voxer development. (Most of that money came from Katis, who had previous success with his security company, Triple Canopy.)

So what was so hard about building Voxer? Part of it is the app’s patented system design, and another part is the nuts and bolts (the Voxer team uses the trendy Node.js), Katis said.

There’s also some nice subtlety to the Voxer interface that helps conversations flow. For instance, Voxer users can click to listen to a voice recording even before the other person stops talking. And the app automatically speeds up voice memo playback. When the phone’s proximity sensor tells the app a user is moving the phone closer or further from her ear, the volume goes down or up, respectively. It’s neat stuff.

Here’s Katis explaining where he came from and where he’s going:

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