Talmon Marco’s most successful project is Viber. This is an app for free VoIP calls between smartphones and exchanging text messages. Viber, which competes with WhatsApp, WeChat, and Line, was created by Marco and three of his compatriots (one of them a USSR immigrant) in 2010. At the moment, it is publicly known that Marco’s family own 11.4% of the company shares and 55.2% of the stake belong to the Israeli-American Shabtai family.
Viber Media is registered in Cyprus and Las-Vegas, its research centre with just a few employees is located in Israel. However, the significant part of the business is based in Belarus due to the cheap work force there. In 2012, the economical head of Viber calculated that in Israel a salary of a talented developer would be $130,000 per annum and that for that amount he would easily hire seven specialists from Belarus.
Due to the fact that in the 1990s Marco served in the Israeli Defense Forces, bloggers from the very beginning spread rumours that Viber was made for spying on users. However, Marco has denied this many times saying in his interviews that his business is founded with the money of his friends and family. Supposedly, Marco used the money he had earned on iMesh as a startup capital. According to Marco, he takes people’s right to keep their calls private very seriously, Viber technically cannot eavesdrop on user calls and he never agreed to cooperate with any government.
Due to the fact that Viber is very user-friendly (it’s mobile interface is pretty simple and you don’t have to sign in), it was once called a Skype-killer. Marco once said in an interview to the Next Web portal in 2013 that their goal was to make something, which would be super easy to use, something that elderly people would be able to operate without their grandchildren’s help.
Another Viber’s feature, which makes it stand aside of its peers (including Skype), is a total absence of adverts. Despite this, the company makes excellent profits.
Last spring Marco announced that it was time to think of a monetization strategy for the project. In particular, Viber users can now benefit from paid calls to mobile phones not within the Viber network (at lower fees than the same thing offered by Skype). Another strategy, which once proved quite successful for KakaoTalk, Line and WhatsApp – a sticker store. Viber launched it in November last year and since then users have purchased over 100 mn sticker packs (the figures are relevant as of late January).
In 2015 the company sold to the Japanese electronic commerce giant Rakuten. First, the information that such Asian companies as WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk were prepared to buy Viber for $400,000 mn leaked into the media. This price, which seems high at the first gaze, (the investment into the project would have been $30 mn) was not fine with the eager-for-profit Israeli folks. They took a break and waited until in mid-February a far more generous buyer showed up: the Japanese company Rakuten decided to buy the messaging app for $900 mn. That is 30 times more than the developer’s initial investments. Rakuten hopes that the 300 mn users of Viber will increase to 500 mn. However, as experts believe, Marco was too fast to sell his company: he could have got much more than a billion dollars for his product. Just for comparison – in 2011, Microsoft bought Skype with its 600 mn users for $8.5 billion (that is, for $14 for each customer), whereas the deal with Rakuten assumes a slightly lower price than $3 in terms of the equivalent amount of users.