If you’re the average startup in this day and age, you start with some weekend coding, borrow a little money from friends and family, and eat Mr. Noodles with Sriracha sauce to fool yourself into thinking it’s a passable meal. It’s called bootstrapping, and this is where most ideas die before they are ever really formed into a company.
If you get past this stage, and your product is great, things can ratchet up considerably, as venture investors struggle to stay apprised of a startup world that declares winners and losers faster than ever before. One young company, born at the University of Waterloo, is now mentioned in the same breath as some of music’s biggest stars. The managers of both Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are investors in Enflick, a mobile-messaging company that was started in 2009 by computer engineering grads Jon Lerner and Derek Ting.
In October of 2011, Enflick raised just over $1 million in seed from Silicon Valley investment banks Freestyle Capital and Menlo Ventures Talent Fund. The latter brought Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun and Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter onboard.
The investment appears to be paying off; with its products TextNow and the more recent Touch, a multimedia messaging service not dissimilar to BlackBerry Messenger, Enflick’s revenue is rumoured to be nearing $10-million annually.
TextNow came about when Ting and Lerner realized that Apple’s iPod Touch, which was wi-fi enabled, could be jigged with an app to send free texts and make free phone calls. During Christmas of 2009, Ting told The Waterloo Record last year, the app became the tenth most downloaded paid app in the United States. By March of 2011, TextNow sent its billionth message.
TextNow continues to be popular on the iPad because its lets users text for free over 3G, 4G, EDGE, and Wi-Fi connections, and is itself free; the company’s model is to recoup the cost through advertising.
The free texting space has become crowded, but PCMag’s Jeffrey L.Wilson said TextNow manages to distinguish itself.
“There’s no shortage of free iPad texting apps, but textNOW stands out from the pack by letting users included images and emoticon in their messages.” And on the Android platform, the vast majority of the more than 2000 user reviews give the app five stars out of five.
Despite the competition, Enflick has a clear foothold in a space that seems to be growing by order of magnitude each year. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey of 799 U.S. teens ages 12 to 17 years old revealed that the average teen sends receives 60 text messages a day.
The market, however, may actually be driven by the parents of those teens. Recently, Riverview, New Brunswick father Dan McLaughlin took to the media to battle with provider Koodo after his teenage son was billed $400 for 45 minutes of texting.