Could the next wave in mobile messaging be video? 500 Startups’ Unda...

Could the next wave in mobile messaging be video? 500 Startups’ Unda hopes so.

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L to R: Luis Lopez, Oscar Yasser Noriega, Nao Tokui

Mobile video has always been a somewhat perilous space for startups. I was a big fan of Seesmic back in 2008, which at the time proposed a sort of video equivalent of Twitter, with the capability of publishing short videos to a public timeline. Of course that service fizzled. But it looks like times have changed, with Twitter’s own video offering Vine racking up 13 million users in its first four months.

One young startup hopes that there’s room for a mobile video messaging service too, and their app Unda is about to be released on the app store soon. But perhaps more interesting than the challenge that lies ahead of them is the story of how they got to where they are now. The startup was created by two Mexican and Japanese co-founders, a unique international collaboration that has led to Silicon Valley where they are now part of the 500 Startups incubation program.

Oscar Yasser Noriega (from Mexico) and Nao Tokui (from Japan) originally met in Japan a few years ago. Eventually they decided that they wanted to do something together. Oscar had previously worked on a top Latin American video game site, but he liked the process of incubating new ideas within the company. Nao had been the founder of Qosmo, a mobile development company doing apps for big clients. Oscar proposed the idea of doing a video messaging app, but Nao was a little bit hesitant at first. Was there really room for this kind of product, especially as so many video startups had already failed so hard?

Taking the plunge

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Eventually Nao came around to the idea. And when he did, he jumped in head first. He wanted to to meet up with Oscar, who was at that time in Mexico — so he flew straight over, and within two weeks had a prototype going. That was in December. And that’s when they thought that they might really be on to something.

After some interest from investors, the company’s third member and current chief creative officer, Luis Lopez, suggested that they should explore some more options. They took their idea to 500 Startups’ Mexico branch, and venture partner Cesar Salazar liked it a lot. Coincidentally 500 Startup’s founding partner Dave McClure had a talk in Mexico around that time, so they pitched the idea to him as well, and he loved it too. That was on a Wednesday, says Oscar, and they were on Silicon Valley by the following Monday. That was a little later than the most recent batch of startups, but great step forward for the young company.

As for the product itself, I personally have yet to see it. But from what I’ve heard, I’m optimistic. I’m told the UX/UI breaks with tradition, with no text, emoticons, or stickers — just video. They have focused on making the experience a good one even on slow networks. So of course while they plan to push this app in mature Asian mobile markets like Japan or Singapore, they will also target emerging markets in the region, as well as in Latin America — leveraging the advantage of having founders from both regions.

And hopefully unlike the video startup failures we’ve seen in the past, maybe the time is right for a service like Unda. Oscar explains:

Back around 2008 the timing was not right. Phones were fast, but not fast enough for a seamless experience. Networks weren’t so fast either, and there were less phones with front facing cameras. The timing was tricky for services back then. But now there are great examples of mobile video booming – not just things like YouTube and NicoNico Douga, but shorter format services like Vine, which is just six second videos. That’s a great signal that the market is embracing this right now.

So how will the market respond to Unda? It’s hard to say without seeing it first, but my initial impressions are that this is a pretty strong team, so I don’t think anyone should underestimate them. They did after all, make the cut for 500 Startups, a good indication that they’re on to something promising.

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