In the U.S., it's hard to avoid the near-daily headlines tracking the latest exploits of the PayPal mafia. Since eBay snapped up PayPal in 2002, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin and others have not only gone on to launch other companies; they've also invested in Silicon Valley darlings like Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. So it's easy to see why they nab so much ink. But what about the Skype mafia?
Launched out of Estonia's technology capital, Tallinn, in 2003 and acquired by eBay in 2005, Skype's founders have seeded their own share of thriving companies. Through his London-based, technology-focused venture-capital firm Atomico, Skype co-founder Niklas ZennstrÃ¶m has invested in such companies as Rovio, Last.fm, Jawbone, and ZocDoc, among others.
While many of those investments have focused on Europe, it should be noted that technology--like ideas--can spread in an instant. And, as Atomico's website points out, "Great companies can come from anywhere."
In this vein, take a gander at Fleep, which is headquartered in one of Inc.'s 2015 "Global Cities of the Future." Founded by a bevy of former Skypers and backed by one of its founding engineers, Jaan Tallinn, the three-year-old messaging tool is poised to take over the office.
Fleep is platform agnostic, so you can share messages or send files to Fleep users, no matter what device or service you're using. Other messaging tools allow communication only within their platform--for example, What's App transmits messages by way of phone numbers, while G-chat allows communication only with other G-chat users. Fleep also allows users to pin important messages on the pinboard, get read receipts, and see visual previews of files and weblinks.
"We are doing to email and chat what Apple did to players and mobiles," says Fleep co-founder and ex-Skyper Asko Oja."¨"We are combining email communication, inter-team chat, information sharing (wiki), and task management all in one tool. So if you have small business you can use one tool instead of any number of tools you would otherwise need to."
Washington, D.C.-based talent representation agency Octagon started using Fleep among its staff of 10 over a year ago. "It makes my inbox slightly more manageable by giving me the ability to ask and answer quick questions as well as the capacity to send large files," says Meg Cerullo, a manager at the firm. "We discovered that files too large to email could be Fleeped. (Yes, we use it as a verb)."
Fleep isn't the only tool that provides these kinds of services, however. "The entire area has heated up just recently with multiple newcomers," says Tallinn, adding: "I myself am also a small investor in Slack and one can count four to five IM platforms that were launched by Skype alumni alone." Yet as an investor, Tallinn is quick to point out the benefits of Fleep, which he has referred to as Skype instant messenger on steroids. "Fleep's key differentiator is the email interoperability," he says. "Its long-term success depends more on how well it will fare against email services, rather than against other IM clients."
So far so good. As of early May, Fleep had 25,000 users globally, with the user base concentrated in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Russia, and Estonia. And while the company hasn't yet broken $1 million in investment, it is fine-tuning its revenue model. In addition to the free offering that Fleep launched with, the company last summer announced a premium version of the service, which costs â‚¬3 per user. The premium offering allows for unlimited access to messages and files while the freemium model limits message access after 30 days.
Fleep CEO and co-founder Henn Ruukel projects the company's 2015 revenue at less than â‚¬100,000 ($110,000), but he maintains that "our main focus is currently on user growth. If we succeed in this, then revenue becomes a byproduct."
Its perch in Estonia is (perhaps oddly) another selling point, says Allan Martinson, managing partner at venture capital firm Martinson Trigon Venture Partners, which operates within Europe's Baltic region. "The very small size of the country forces the companies to launch on international scale on day one," he says. "Skype and other role models serve as motivating examples and a strong entrepreneurial community helps each other, regardless of location."
Ruukel adds that while location can be important, a good team, product, and focus are what makes a company great. That and a lot of confidence. "What differs us from others?" he asks. "There's no one else working on a product that could be one day bigger than Skype or Facebook."