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Viber open to acquisition in India; Looking to hire more developers: Talmon Marco
Mr. Talmon Marco, Viber's Founder and CEO was born in Israel and has served in the Israeli army. He talks about his plans for Viber and indicates at expanding in India.

Viber plans to shortly start billing customers for its services via telecom carriers in India, as the voice and messaging app looks to work around challenges in monetizing its services in the key South Asian market.


The app allows users to make calls and send messages for free to a fellow Viber subscriber, but they need to pay for connecting to a non-Viber number. For now, users need to make the payment via credit or debit cards, which is a limitation in a country where a big chunk of the population doesn't have even bank accounts. In carrier billing that Viber is planning, the charge will be reflected in the subscriber's telephone bill and he doesn't have to make the payment directly to Viber.


The app, which has crossed 25 million active users in India and 400 million across 193 countries, is also looking at ways to monetise its virtual stickers which users can send along with messages.


"India is among the top three fastest growing markets by numbers (for Viber)," said Mr. Talmon Marco, the 41-year-old founder and chief executive of the app, who loves the song "All Izz Well" from Aamir Khan's blockbuster 3 Idiots.


"The special thing about India is the huge 1 billion population market," he said. Viber sees huge potential in India from increasing smartphone usage.


Smartphone sales in India are surging and are expected to cross 80 million by the end of 2014, up from 44 million last year, according to technology research firm IDC.


"There is opportunity to monetize in India by selling content, for instance games, and other services on top of Viber," Mr. Marco said.


India, in fact, was one of the strategic markets that Viber decided to expand and set up offices in, apart from Brazil, Russia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. The company opened its office in India last December, and has seven people here, including country head Mr. Anubhav Nayyar.


The country is the only one where Viber launched a TV commercial in a bid to boost user base, something, which it is open to try in other markets too, Marco said.


Born in Israel, Marco had served in Israel's army before moving to the US. He founded Viber in 2010 along with four friends, all of whom continue to be with the company even after the app's sale to Japan's ecommerce major Rakuten in February 2014.


Mr. Marco said he developed the app initially to chat with his then girlfriend. "I was in the US and my girlfriend was in Hong Kong. Skype wasn't what it is today and there was no easy way of communicating. So, this idea crossed my mind, and then it all started."


He doesn't have any regrets about selling Viber to Rakuten for $900 million, far lesser than the $19 billion that Mr. Jan Koum sold Whatsapp for to Facebook. "It wasn't about the dollars, it was about what Rakuten wanted and what we wanted. The culture and the vision fit, so we went ahead."


Whatsapp, with around 500 active million users, is now Viber's biggest competitor in most countries.


Viber is looking to be bigger and better with time. The next version of the app, Viber 5, will be launched this quarter and shortly thereafter, the app will offer games as well.


"Our vision is becoming more of a platform and offering everything through an app, with an additional tier of services in the future," Marco said.


It is looking to aggressively recruit developers and is open to an acquisition in India, which could give it new technology or offer more coverage.


On the raging row over Net neutrality and the demand by telecom operators for apps companies to pay for offering services on their network, Mr. Marco said Viber believed in free Internet.


"We believe that the operator should be paid for network usage by the consumer, anything beyond that inclines towards censorship," Marco said. 


Source: Economic Times


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