1 trillion call minutes later and Rakuten Viber is turning 10!
“In the tech world, turning 10 is like turning 100,” muses Rakuten Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua. Launched at the dawn of a burgeoning app economy, Agaoua describes Viber’s beginning as something of a love story.
“Over 10 years ago, a few friends tried to solve a problem: expensive bills for overseas calls — one of the friends was in a long-distance relationship,” he explains. “Together, they realized that the solution lay in the internet.”
With the Viber app, users could make VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls to other smartphones — a notable technical feat for 2010 that solved a common problem faced by globe-trotting smartphone users (lovebirds or otherwise).
“A decade ago, international calling was a painful endeavor in terms of expensive bills and unstable quality; and often the two combined,” Agaoua recalls. “Although VoIP calls were already working for home and office broadband through the pioneer Skype, the service was not really reliable due to slow speeds of mobile networks and the technical limitations of early smartphones.”
News spread fast about this new app that lets you call your friends from anywhere in the world for free — without needing to go home and log in on the computer. Clever UX design and features like phone number registration made finding contacts a breeze, and suddenly, the concept of making international calls from your mobile device had changed forever.
“With its launch, Viber disrupted the telecommunication scene as it leveraged the most advanced VoIP technologies to deliver a service that was both free but also high quality, even at lower speeds which other apps struggled with,” Agaoua relates. “At the time it was, literally, unbelievable.”
Before long, the team added a messaging function, which quickly became a core part of the app’s DNA.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” he jokes. For the early adopters of 2010 — who had until then been stuck using a mixture of regular phone service, SMS, poorly optimized social media websites and email to communicate with one another — the convenience of Viber was impossible to ignore.
From VoIP to an all-encompassing ecosystem
Viber continued to evolve in the decade following, transforming from a simple communications tool to a “full-blown ecosystem for our users’ digital lives.”
“Our success naturally inspired many other tech companies, big and small, to enter the space to compete for the loyalty of smartphone users around the world,” Agaoua explains. “Most have failed to gain traction, while Viber and only a handful of other services have managed to establish ourselves as truly global messaging platforms.”
Today, users can not only video chat, make voice calls and exchange messages, but also make payments and participate in multi-million-member Communities that provide useful and entertaining content.
A major juncture in this transformation came in 2014, when Viber joined the Rakuten Group.
“Being part of the Rakuten family opened vast opportunities to access shared knowledge in fields very much tied to messaging and communication, such as e-commerce, fintech and telecoms,” Agaoua explains.
”We believe we have only scratched the surface when it comes to synergies inside the group, and we love the idea that 10 years after Viber’s disruption of VoIP, Rakuten is massively disrupting the telecom industry with its new mobile service launched in Japan that will soon support international service operators as well.”
Agaoua is excited about what the next decade may bring, with advances in AR, VR, fintech and AI making “communication smarter, safer, more entertaining and even more seamless.” But most of all, he wants to see an industry-wide shift towards cooperation.
“Our most important vision is to keep communication free and accessible through interoperability, which will allow people to exchange instant messages across platforms and competing messaging apps, just as calls connect between different telco companies,” he outlines. “This would ensure freedom of choice is never compromised and would be a great incentive for companies to increase privacy.”
Here’s to 10 more years!
“Viber would not be the same without our incredible users, who not only trust us with their calls, messages and privacy, but also choose to do incredible things with the app.”
Last month, Agaoua’s team launched the Heroes of Viber initiative, highlighting some of the personal stories that Viber has made possible over the decade.
“As part of our birthday celebration, we decided to put the spotlight on everyday people who used Viber to help make their communities better over the years. We chose 14 stories from all over the world and made them into short videos, each focusing on a different local hero.”
Heading into the next decade, Agaoua is most grateful for his team’s passion. “All this is possible because of the dedication of Viber employees who are the heart and soul of the company. For most of you, they are anonymous, but — trust me — they are the best team one can ask for.”