Fring has once more improved the mobile video calling world by introducing group video calling for Android and iPhone. If you have a WiFi connection (e.g. using a Fonera) or a fast 3G connection, you can make video calls with up to four friends simultaneously for free and see them all on one screen.  This is useful at a social level but also for people who are constantly on the move and need to hold frequent work-related meetings. Lately I am using video more and more at work and it is saving me a lot on air travel. It’s much more personal to have video calls than only hearing each other’s voices, and you avoid annoying things like people getting distracted or even walking out of the room during the conversation (really, that happens).

I’m very happy that my friend Avi Schechter and his team at Fring keep coming up with great innovations.

Onavo just launched today. Onavo is an iPhone app that compresses the data that goes through your iPhone and shrinks your overall data usage. Onavo can compress data of many services/apps (like Facebook, Twitter, Google maps, web, e-mail and many others) to make your data plan last longer. Onavo is especially useful when you’re roaming, since data costs are still excessively high and Fon, while approaching 4 million hotspots, is still lacking in coverage.

If you think that you don’t need this app since you never roam you’d be surprised to find out that most “unlimited data” plans actually have limits. Onavo can also get more speed out of your connection when you are on EDGE by sending less data with more information. Onavo works as a background service, so once you install it you don’t have to worry about it again. Plus Onavo shows you how much data is being used by each app and how much you are saving. Android and iPad apps will come later on.

Here’s an interview with co-founder and CEO Guy Rosen on TechCrunch.

Disclosure: I’m an advisor to Onavo.


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A forest kindergarten in Düsseldorf, Germany

Image via Wikipedia

One of the lesser known facts about democracies is that they tend to skew income against children. In USA for example children are the poorest people in society, children are 26% of the population but 39% of the poor.  And this is true of all democracies.  This has one simple explanation and that is that children can’t vote.  If they could they would certainly vote for what societies seem to lack and that is better care for children.  In Europe for example in most countries, kindergarden is incredibly expensive but universities are mostly free.  No surprise there as university students can vote and kindergarden students can’t. So I propose a simple solution to this and that is to give one additional vote to parents on behalf of their children. Not a one vote per child as that may lead families with a lot of children to have too much influence in the electoral process but each family with children, one or many, should get one extra vote when election comes.  This vote should be exercised by the parents using their best judgement on behalf of their kids. It is my view that if parents got a custodian vote for their children democracy’s outcome would not be so skewed against the young.

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Image via Wikipedia

Just had dinner with my friend Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel Springer one of Germany‘s top media and newspaper groups.  During dinner we spoke about the future of newspapers, a subject very relevant to him since his company still makes most of their revenues and earnings from them.   Indeed Axel Springer has Bild, the largest circulation paper in Europe, it also has the less popular but more informative Die Welt.  In our conversation a trend came up that is worth sharing.

While downloading without paying has caused tremendous revenue erosion for record labels and studios, it is the culture of everything on the internet should be free that is hurting newspapers.  In the case of newspapers it is not that people copy their content online for all to get it for free.  What happens in the print industry is that owners put the content online and the revenues they make on online advertising do not compensate what they lose in print.  But that is because the PC is an instrument that has made people used to not paying. While in print content owners can both sell the newspaper or magazine AND make money from advertising very few are willing to pay for content delivered to their PC.    People have come to expect that everything that happens in a PC other than paying your DSL/Cable/Fiber provider should be free.  But this is a psychological stance.  It is hard to understand why this is the case but what is clear is that with other hardware come different habits.  So the same is not true of smartphones and tablets.  In a way what Apple has done is made people used to paying again both for apps (formerly known as software) and for content through iTunes.  And that is also happening with Android both for smartphones and soon for tablets (Android tablets are still not a real contender for the iPad but Android smartphones are for the iPhone).  So as people migrate from PCs to smartphones and tablets they will not find it offensive to pay, just like they don’t find it offensive to pay in the Sony PS3, or in Microsoft XBOX.  Bottom line is this: if you have content think less of PCs and the web as we know it and more of smartphones, tablets and gaming platforms.  That’s where the money is.  Or may be.  In the meantime Axel Springer is doing a remarkable transformation from offline to online.  This migration should be good inspiration for my friends who run the New York Times, El Pais and other newspapers and magazines.

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Image representing busuu as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I’m happy to announce that I invested in Busuu, the most active language learning community worldwide. Busuu already has over 2 million users and is growing rapidly, adding more than 10,000 new users each day. Busuu also overtook its two older and more heavily funded main competitors, as this chart shows.

How does Busuu work? In addition to providing the resources to enable individual language learning, users can interact with each other and engage in what Busuu calls “community learning”. Take me for example. Despite having a German wife, I still use Busuu to learn German. With the community feature, I can submit text exercises I wrote to be corrected by other users who are German native speakers. Sometimes I also use the instant video chat to practice speaking German (although I admit that I still have a far way to go :)). Being a native Spanish speaker, I could now help other users who are learning Spanish by correcting their exercises or talking to them directly.

The language learning market is huge – about $90 billion worldwide with around 1 billion people alone learning English. Busuu’s monthly revenue is a 6-digit figure and the company is already reporting positive cash flows. In addition to the 7 languages currently offered, Busuu is planning to add at least 4 more this year, including Mandarin and Japanese. They also launched several pilot projects with schools, universities and companies to enter the institutional market. And of course I should also mention the very popular Busuu iPhone app.

The CEO, Bernhard Niesner is a former student of mine at IE. He is Austrian, the company is based in Madrid. It’s amazing what this great team has been able to accomplish so far on their relatively small initial investment. Keeping up this capital efficiency and growth I see Busuu keeping its leadership in the enormous global language learning market. Busuu is the kind of investment I like because it fits my three key criteria for angel investing: a product I love, an entrepreneur I admire and a company I can help grow.

Here are some pictures of Johann, Adrian, Bernhard and me that Nina took at the signing:

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This has been a very good week for Fon. I’m very excited to announce that my lawyer Douglas from Ostrolenk Faber sent me an e-mail telling me that an important patent we filed in 2006, issued on Tuesday.
Simplifying all the legal details, the patent basically boils down to this: it protects the core business model of Fon in the US.

As most of you already know, with Fon “you share WiFi at home and you roam the world for free connecting to like-minded people”. For those of you unfamiliar with our business model, here’s how it works: one user, the Fonero, connects a Fonera WiFi router to his DSL/Cable/Fiber internet source or modem. Thereby he creates a Fon hotspot. If a Fonero wants to connect to another Fonero’s hotspot, he can do so for free in any of our 3.7 million hotspots of the largest and fastest growing WiFi network in the world. If a non-Fonero (at Fon we call this person an “Alien”) is in range of the Fonero’s hotspot and wants to connect to the internet with any WiFi device, he can do so for a moderate access fee.

The good thing about our technology is that it is not tied to the Foneras. Our software can transform almost any standard WiFi router into a Fonera! This makes it easy for most ISPs (like BT) to convert their routers into Foneras and make the Fon community even larger.

What’s special about this patent is that it relies on the community aspect of Fon. It specifically requires at least two users to share their bandwidth through two separate WiFi routers, which seems pretty obvious but is important when it comes down to the legal aspect. This is also what sets Fon apart from other WiFi networks that work without Foneros and offer only paid access to the internet.

In summary, this patent is very good news for us and will give our future business partners in the US even more reasons/confidence to work with us, accelerating our growth. It is also good news for people in the US since the availability of WiFi hotspots will increase dramatically during the next few years. And, of course, this patent means good news for all existing Foneros, who will soon be able to roam more and more parts of the US for free!

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