Ross Dargahi is horrible at making predictions about other people’s companies. He once bet me dinner anywhere in the world that Facebook wouldn’t be worth more than $30 million. Out of kindness, I haven’t collected.
So I was a little horrified when he sent me this:
Uh-oh. We’re doomed.
More to the point, Dargahi sent it to me via a meme-generator app on his new messaging company, Mumbo. Fortunately, for Dargahi, his cofounders and his investors, he’s far better at building his own companies than making predictions about others.
Dargahi is part of a core dream team that’s worked together for fifteen years, building Onebox and then Zimbra, both big innovative platforms around messaging. Now Dargahi along with co-founders Anand Bollini and Roland Schemers are launching their third messaging company, Mumbo. Bollini is the CEO, Dargahi the President and Schemers is the CTO.
And another member of the Onebox and Zimbra days, Satish Darmaraj who is now at Redpoint is the sole investor. Having been in the trenches with that team, there was no way Darmaraj was going to miss out on the next act, no matter what it was. He invested $4 million in the company’s series A.
Mumbo is a new messaging platform, and you’re probably thinking in a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Path world that’s the last thing we need. But Mumbo is doing several really interesting things.
The first is the easy-to-build-for platform approach. Mumbo is launching with several fun applications to show the use cases of its platform. One allows you to annotate pictures with stamps and speech bubbles, one is a private location app, one is an easy way to poll your friends and one is a hot-or-not style rating app.
In an exclusive first look at the product, the team walked me through a day in the Mumbo life of a hypothetical college girl who goes shopping, talks smack about the Stanford-Cal game via doctored photos, polls her friends about which dress she should buy and gives her location in the mall so they can meet her, then solicits feedback on whether the bartender is hot-or-not and she should hit on him.
Each of these little apps on their own wouldn’t make an interesting company, but woven together in a very intuitive single messaging window that allow you to loop in friends or speak one-on-one; send content via email to people outside Mumbo; and share with one click over social networks makes the sum of these apps far greater than their parts.
Mumbo allows for developers to easily build little “bots” that pull in functionality from your phone, other apps and the mobile Web. One example is a Fandango bot. In the demo they showed me, Bollini invited a friend to a movie and within the message had a poll over which movies, then which theaters and then which times. Then you click to buy tickets. It’s a far more integrated way to propose, decide on, and buy movie tickets among a group of people than I’ve seen before.
Bots vary from substantial (like one that can pull in Google translate to translate texts into multiple languages) to silly (like a virtual magic eight ball.) Mumbo is hoping to attract a big developer community to help build these bots, much like Zimbra had a community of developers who built out “Zimlets” to extend the email client’s functionality. But with everyone wanting to be a platform these days, getting developer attention will be more of a challenge.
The other smart thing Mumbo is doing is targeting a teen and college-aged demographic. Very techy early adopters are likely to scoff at some of Mumbo’s more silly apps, but they’re perfect for tightly knit groups of friends who want to stay in contact constantly, planning events together and helping make decisions about one another’s wardrobe, dates and lives.
Put another way: I can’t see the 36-year-old busy entrepreneur and mom version of me using Mumbo much, but I could totally see an 18-year-old me loving something like this. The company is doing different contests and real-world promotions on various campuses to get people excited about the platform.
Although no one is doing exactly what Mumbo is doing, messaging is an intensely crowded space. Mumbo has a great product, and has zeroed in on the right demographic. The question will be whether they can capture that special lightening in a bottle to make the network effect take off.
Screen shots of the iPhone product below.