A Q&A with biNu co-founder and CEO Gour Lentell. The Belrose, Australia–based company was founded in 2008 and raised $2 million in Series A funding in mid-August, led by Tomorrow Ventures.
SUB: Please describe biNu, and the value proposition you offer to mobile phone users around the world.
Lentell: biNu gives anyone on a low end smartphone or feature phone all the power of a smartphone—fast, low on data usage and full functionality. biNu also gives you the ability to share, engage and interact with friends and other biNu users around the world.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Lentell: Primarily the four billion or so people in the world whose only access to the Internet is via a low-end smartphone or feature phone, or who are on slower mobile network connections. We make the mobile web fast and social.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Lentell: No one really. biNu is the only service that lets people share and engage around content on a mobile phone.
SUB: What differentiates biNu from the competition?
Lentell: Our focus on social content on any mobile device. Publishers and content owners are very interested in biNu because it not only opens up a path to millions of people, it enhances their engagement and lets them share and socialize around content, which isn’t possible on other platforms
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Lentell: The company was set up in late 2008 and the first app was launched 18 months ago, and now has over four million active users. The first steps really were to adapt the technology for mobile phones to take the bulk of the processing into the cloud, which makes everything faster and less data-intensive
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for biNu? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Lentell: We’ve worked in technology and Internet for years and have seen the way new markets and new opportunities open when you make it simple, fast and affordable. I grew up in Zimbabwe so have a connection to Africa and the emerging markets and were simply overwhelmed with the scale of the opportunity to change billions of people’s lives.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Lentell: Typing long names on a standard mobile phone keypad is a pain. So we wanted a short name, no more than four characters, that could work in multiple languages and cultures and didn’t have to mean anything in particular. Realizing that most mobile phones have numeric keypads and that numbers are a universal language, we figured looking at an easy to remember numeric sequence to derive a word might be an interesting approach.
We couldn’t use the number ‘1’ key as usually it does not have any letters associated with it. Besides ‘1-2-3-4’, the next most obvious and easy to remember numeric sequence is ‘2-4-6-8’. Looking at the letters typically associated with these keys on a standard phone keypad, we came up with ‘b-i-n-u’.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Lentell: I think for some people the scale of the opportunity is a little overwhelming. You walk around San Francisco or Sydney and it seems like everyone has an iPhone or a Galaxy, while the reality is the vast majority of people in the world simply don’t. They also don’t have computers, wi-fi or 3G networks. So just getting your head around the degree to which biNu is changing people’s lives, and the opportunities that presents, can sometimes be a challenge. Thankfully, guys like Eric Schmidt, David Risher and Paul Bassat have understood and are backing biNu to be a major player.
SUB: You recently raised $2 million in Series A funding. Why was this a good time to raise outside funding, and how do you plan to use the funds?
Lentell: There are a number of ways to monetize our platform but our focus has really been on providing a unique and valuable service to our users, which of course required investment. There has been a lot of interest in biNu since we first launched, both from investors and from organizations who want to work with us to make their content available to biNu members, and this was a good time to raise the capital. The money is being invested in ongoing product development.
SUB: Do you plan to raise additional funding in the near future?
Lentell: I’m sure there will be additional opportunities for investors to get involved in biNu.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Lentell: The opportunities are endless and we have a number of companies who are asking to pay us. But at this stage our primary concern really is on continuing to create an engaging experience for our members.
SUB: What are your goals for biNu over the next year or so?
Lentell: We’d like to see our active user base continue to increase at the same rate.
biNu – www.binu.com