biNu Raises $2M to Bring Smartphone Functionality to Feature Phones

Sydney-based biNu today announced a $2 million Series A funding round led by Eric Schmidt’s TomorrowVentures, and including private investors in Australia and the U.S. The company launched 18 months ago, and has since added on four million active monthly users for its service, which allows publishers and content creators to create smartphone-like experiences designed for feature phones. Its popularity is especially apparent in emerging markets, where feature phones still represent the vast majority of mobile devices.

biNu employs cloud computing to offload most of the heavy processing requirements of its app, effectively giving users access to functionality like that they’d find in an iPhone for things like Facebook and Twitter access, as well as messaging, Google and Wikipedia search, and more. The model of keeping the software platform itself off the phone and in the cloud means that compatibility isn’t strictly limited by device OS and specifications, making it perfect for serving the roughly four billion or so people who only have access to standard flip and feature phones, at best.

“We set out to build a technology platform that brought an amazing web experience to the billions of people in the world who don’t have advanced smartphones,” biNu co-founder and CEO Gour Lentell said. “We do this through our cloud-based platform that heavily optimizes wireless bandwidth usage so it becomes internet services are both fast and as a by-product very affordable for people who aren’t able to pay for big data plans.”

This new funding will help biNu build out its development team, as well as increase the amount of content sources it can include. That’s key for biNu’s continued appeal, since it’ll have to add sources quickly to satisfy the growing appetite for mobile software.

“Now that we have funding we can continue to respond to our members and more rapidly develop new features and also expand the amount of content we can deliver directly via the app,” Lentell said. “One of the main reasons our users love biNu is for the ability to switch between apps really easily, without needing to shut anything down or lose your place.  And the more we can include in biNu the better the experience.”

biNu’s entire business is built on feature phones, making it natural for critics to suspect that it’s essentially a dead-end business; people may still be using feature phones in the majority of the world, but smartphone adoption is on the rise, after all. But Lentell argues that even once low-end smartphones start making up a bigger percentage of devices, there will still be plenty of need for a service like biNu’s.

“The lower end smartphones that are slowly becoming popular in the developing world still need platforms like biNu to make the web and apps experience faster and also more affordable,” he notes, explaining that most 2G and 3G networks in developing countries are slow when available. “So as people move away from feature phones and onto smartphones, instead of being frustrated by slow networks they simply use biNu which actually means their low end device operates just like an iPhone, and often even faster.”

As a tool for areas under-served and rarely reached by even the most popular internet services, biNu has lots of potential to bring things like YouTube and Facebook to places where it hasn’t been before. That’s a powerful proposition, and one that key web pioneers like Eric Schmidt clearly see the value in.

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