It looks like popular walkie-talkie app Voxer is about to get some competition in the mobile voice chat space. A new app called Zello is growing like crazy, too – in fact, it’s growing faster than Voxer internationally (although it’s behind in the U.S.) and it has reached the #8 spot in the free Android social app list. The app’s position is about to change because of the large amount of publicity Zello is receiving for efficiently handling search and rescue messages during hurricane Harvey. Zello has already saved countless lives as ordinary people communicate like professionals during this time of disaster.
All you need is a smart phone and you are in business. The cross-platform mobile app just reached 1 million unique users per day, is nearing 4 million unique per month and is adding on 100,000 users daily.
But while Zello shares some similarities with Voxer, it’s not a Voxer clone by any means. Instead of approaching voice chat from the more utilitarian standpoint of a mobile push-to-talk type experience as Voxer does, Zello’s focus is on social, voice-enabled communities. Voice Twitter, if you will. Oh, and the app doesn’t spam you either, the company says.
Party line reborn for a digital era? Apparently. While some folks use Zello more walkie-talkie style, there are hundreds of thousands of “channels” in the app, which are communities that you can tune into in order to listen or chat about the subject on hand. Today, 300,000 channels have been created, and around 60,000 are active in any one day. Because of its international footprint, many of these are non-English channels. Zello CEO Bill Moore (who you may remember as the founder of TuneIn radio) says that Spanish is the most popular language, and Portuguese is popular as well.
Moore, who joined Zello’s newly relocated Austin-based team in December of 2016, knows that while the Voxer comparisons are inevitable, the two companies seem to be moving in very different directions. “Voxer is a communication utility…it’s kind of a Swiss Army knife communication tool,” he says. “That’s a tough space.”
Zello, he says, is more of a social radio or voice Twitter. The channels in Zello are more like public forums, “it’s a very different value proposition than just a simple utility. It’s much more social. It’s somewhat similar to why people listen to radio: you’re bored, you want a friend.”
The interesting thing about Zello is that it emerged from a company called LoudTalks, which used to operate in a space that’s more closely tied to what Voxer is doing now. LoudTalks was a TechCrunch 40 participant back in 2007. The older app was focused on building an enterprise push-to-talk experience – and that’s exactly where Voxer is headed now. (Maybe LoudTalks was just too early?) In any event, LoudTalks changed course, and just axed its enterprise features – including the SDK and the two-way radio gateway – which were pulled down from its website this week.
LoudTalks brought on Moore as CEO in December and officially rebranded to Zello in January. The Zello app on iPhone launched in April, joining the Android app, BlackBerry app and PC app already available. So, to be clear, the traction Zello is seeing is cross-platform, not just on iPhone. But given its recent spikes, it’s likely attributable to the iPhone launch.
And so far, so good, as they say. Zello’s one-month retention is 20%. “It’s exceptional for a utility,” says Moore, “and not bad for a social app.” It’s also not bad considering that Zello isn’t too spammy about re-engaging users, according to Moore.
“Voxer is pretty invasive…it pulls your address book in,” Moore says frankly. “You could see [Voxer] has a decent team, but I’m assuming that aggressive viral marketing has helped them get to some numbers. And I’m assuming that it’s also responsible for some of the fade, and that it gets worse.” Ouch. Zello, he says, doesn’t save your address book, you can choose to share it with contacts or not, and it doesn’t notify you as new people join the app. (That last one is a personal pet peeve. I. DO. NOT. CARE.)
But the app landscape is super competitive these days; it’s hard to stay on people’s radar, and harder still to stay on their homescreen. Viral marketing may be aggressive, but it can work. And some people really like Voxer. A lot of people, in fact. Including investors. And fortunately, it’s not a zero-sum game here.
Zello has been angel-funded until now, but is raising a VC round of $5 million in the next 60 days. The app is available for download for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and PC.
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