Not everyone has the sheer level of access to information that comes with owning a smartphone, but biNu is working to close that gap. Short of handing everyone in the world iPhones, the company is making it possible for many in the developing world to connect quickly to modern apps through cheaper and older phones.
To make that happen, biNu just closed a $4.3 million Series A financing round from investors including 500 Startups and PanAfrican Investment Co. – which includes former Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons and billionaire philanthropist Ronald Lauder. These newcomers joined Eric Scmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures and several Australian investors, including Paul Bassat.
biNu upgrades the Internet speed of a feature phone – the generation of mobile phones that came out just before smartphones that don’t have all the features to be considered up to par – by handling all the bandwidth issues like processing data in the cloud. This allows an older Nokia phone to mimic connectivity speed to the tune of 3G. The company’s main hubs are in Asia and Africa.
Today the company also announced a rollout of credits, which will allow users to send text messages to non-biNu members. The price of each credit is one cent in United States currency, but will be converted and priced according to local currencies, says Gour Lentell, chief executive and cofounder.
The company plans to use the new funds to continue with its operating efforts in Asia and Africa, which includes working with local developers to create content specific to the region. So far, they’ve worked with one or two, says Lentell, who have developed apps around things like classified ads and sports.
BiNu has had healthy adoption in these areas – 600,000 users in Nigeria and 100,000 in Zimbabwe (where Lentell was when we spoke over the phone). In the US, which isn’t their target market, the company has about 70,000 users. The next step, he says, is expanding to Latin America.
The company’s name came directly from Lentell’s imagination. “I wanted something short,” he said, and a word that sounded linguistically universal. He looked at the configuration of letters and numbers on a phone’s keypad and the word came to him. Fitting, considering his service would be profoundly linked mostly to phones that still carried the physical keypad in lieu of a virtual one.
There’s anecdotal evidence that customers who began connecting to the Web using biNu’s offerings have gone on to eventually use more sophisticated smartphones. The company doesn’t have an iOS app, but it does have an Android one, because that platform has spread quicker and has been more accessible globally – and it just doesn’t make business sense to have an iOS app right now, he said. But he did mention an email he got from a customer in Finland, who upgraded from a feature phone to iPhone. “He said, ‘I still want to use you. Where’s the iPhone app?’” Lentell recalled.
[Source image courtesy topgold]