Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn hails his new startup Fleep as Skype IM on steroids

In addition to monitoring the development of AI, Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn has some form of involvement with approximately 35 technology companies worldwide, but none more so than his new Estonian venture Fleep, which he describes as Skype instant messenger (IM) 'on steroids'.

While many of today's mobile-compatible IM apps require a phone number, Fleep works with email.

You could maybe think of it as a business-savvy version of Whatsapp in that it allows users to IM each other, while also keeping files and pinned notes synced across their devices.

Tallinn, a founding investor, and the five cofounders, which includes three former Skype engineers, launched Fleep in 2013 because they felt that traditional email has run its course.

Jaan Tallinn at the Ham Yard Hotel in London's Soho neighbourhood ©Techworld/Sam Shead

“I really don’t like email as a communication method and there’s a good reason for this,” said Tallinn. “It was invented in the 70s and it was intended for much lower volumes."

He continued: "Fleep is kind of like Skype IM on steroids because it was developed by people who were behind Skype IM in the first place. All the familiar mechanisms have been imported and it works very much like Skype IM, except that it’s much better.”

The email messaging platform includes a lot of the innovations that have come to fruition through other IM apps, said Tallinn, adding that he’s included several of his own ideas.

Other features include the ability to mute high-volume conversations that don’t need to be tracked religiously.

In order to message someone the user needs to enter the recipient’s email address or Fleep username.

“Right now it’s targeted more at the business context because this is where biggest pains are,” said Tallinn, adding that there is currently a small local user base of approximately 5,000 people in Estonia using the platform.

When questioned how much involvement Tallinn actually has in Fleep, the serial entrepreneur, who spends 40 percent of his time outside Estonia, said: “I think I’m giving a fair amount. Because it’s a communication platform it’s very easy for me to be involved in stuff that happens.”

Indeed, IM was one of Tallinn’s biggest passions while working for Skype. “When I was at Skype one of the big parts I was putting effort into was IM. It was a bit of an orphan at Skype because the company was always focused on video and audio,” he admitted.

Tallinn said he became increasingly frustrated because IM was his “baby” and he was “deeply involved” with the initial design.

"Skype IM was the main comms tool within Skype engineering so the engineers themselves always felt this pain if there was something missing,” he said. “When a few really good engineers within Skype left the company and started their own startup that’s focused on IM, I was immediately attracted to it as I had all these pent up ideas.”

Growing the user base

As with all instant messenging apps, Fleep’s biggest challenge now is to grow its user base.

“We absolutely have to get more people using it,” said Tallinn. “I think in terms of features it’s already up there with the big players of the world but in terms of users, no.”

Fleep cofounder and CEO Henn Ruukel, a former engineering director at Skype, told Techworld that he’s hoping to grow the user base by a factor of 100 over the next year, meaning there could be as many as half a million people on the Fleep platform by next April.

And how does he plan to do this? He’s hoping to convince people that Fleep is a viable alternative to email, possibly using a hashtag like #lifeafteremail.

So far the company has raised €1 million, with much of that coming from Tallinn himself. However, in order to support its growth it's looking to raise another funding round this summer.

"There are no silver bullets [to our growth] but we in Fleep have discussed this," said Tallinn. "Fundamentally all you can do is build an awesome product, especially in a segment like ours. All our marketing activities are essential and needed but they are unable to replace the growth that will be generated if existing users actually want to promote it."

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