Start-up of the week

A WhatsApp for the business crowd

Jeff Pulver, a VoIP pioneer and serial investor in Israeli start-ups, believes he has found the next big thing in business communications

Jeff Pulver (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Jeff Pulver (Photo credit: Courtesy)

When you have a major exit to show for the hard work you’ve put into a start-up, a lot of entrepreneurs who have ideas for products or services want to be your friend. And if you’ve successfully invested in start-ups and made money, those entrepreneurs really want to be your friend, in the hope that they will be able to convince you to invest in their companies.

So when a tech guru like Jeff Pulver invests in a company, it must really be exceptional. And according to Pulver, Zula, his latest venture, really is.

“We are at a critical time in the evolution of communication,” Pulver told The Times of Israel in an interview. “Business communication has changed, and email, still the principal method of communication in business, hasn’t kept up.”

The business world is ripe for a new communications paradigm, and Pulver, along with co-founder serial entrepreneur Jacob Ner-David (formerly of DeltaThree and Jerusalem Capital) are convinced that Zula is it.

Zula has been compared to WhatsApp, the hugely popular messaging app that lets users communicate with each other in real time. WhatsApp members can send each other text messages, images, and audio media messages; they can share everything on a single platform.

Zula does all that and more. It allows users to make phone calls or group chats within groups, share and collaborate on files, invite users from other social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), run conference calls — anything for which a business user would need to communicate with other team or business members.

As an added bonus, said Pulver, Zula is more private and secure than any other communications app. “We are the only app that does not require a phone number, with all communications done within the group using your Zula credentials,” Pulver said.

You can trust Pulver to know what a successful business communication app needs. The man is a pioneer in commercial voice over IP applications, co-establishing and successfully bringing to an exit Vonage, one of the first VoIP companies. Since then, he has invested in several start-ups, most of them Israeli (not necessarily in VoIP), but Zula is perhaps his most important project since his Vonage days.

“After having worked in the VoIP space for many years, it was clear to me there was still much work to be done on the team communication side,” Pulver said. “Teams are still very dependent on third-party conference calling systems, complicated email threads, and other heavy and inconvenient tools. Zula offers a great experience for teams who are on the go to communicate in the most natural way possible.”

The target audience seems to agree. At the recent TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Zula was selected as “Audience Choice Winners” by the crowd to present onstage from over 70 other start-ups. And Zula has also become the darling of investors. In just a week, Pulver raised $350,000 for the company using the platform provided by Israeli crowdfunding group OurCrowd back in May, when the product wasn’t even released in its current beta version.

“From the response we have seen, I believe Zula has a great chance of being adopted by business,” said Pulver. “As people learn about it and get to see it, they begin to use it, and become more productive. If I didn’t see this as a great opportunity I wouldn’t be doing this.”

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