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The Big Bang that is Tango

You may have recently seen your favorite characters on “The Big Bang Theory” using a simple video calling software to stay in touch with their friends.  If you did, you just saw Tango in action.  Yesterday we had the distinct pleasure to meet Eric Setton, the co-founder and CTO of is a Silicon-Valley startup offering free cross-platform mobile video-calling.  Prior to founding Tango, the Ph.D. from Stanford served as the CTO at a video distribution company and authored a book on peer-to-peer video streaming. was founded 18 months ago by Eric and Uri Raz, his partner, in Palo Alto, California.  The inspiration behind his popular application was his pregnant wife.  Needing a way to stay in touch with her while on the road, Eric quickly learned Skype did not deliver a satisfying mobile video experience.  Out of necessity, both founders started the mission to create a versatile, streamlined video calling application for the mobile environment.  After 6 months of development more than 17,000 users downloaded the app within the first 12 hours of the initial release.

Today, 6 months later, Tango has over 11 million active users.  When the app became available in October of 2010, 3G networks and handsets with front cameras were already commonly used. Similar attempts by Skype and Fring could not have been adopted by such a broad user base in their original releases, as both cellular hardware and networks were not optimized for video calling.  This fact shows that Tango’s success was a product of great timing as well as great design.

Tango’s implementation strategy has proven admirable as well:

  • Cross-platform support (at the moment being iOS products and Android phones),
  • Incorporation of WiFi and 3G
  • and especially: a dedication to mobile devices and video (and VoIP) services only.

This dedication to mobile devices brings the advantage of a client which is, as opposed to Skype, fully optimized for mobile use. It integrates into the system using the phone’s internal address book to determine who on your list also has Tango installed (by showing a Tango logo next to contacts with Tango installed).   It also does not consume precious battery life by always running in the background.  Instead, Tango uses a push-notification system which starts the client when a Tango call is started.  As a result the software does not incorporate or require any “online presence” system since it uses the phone’s native call alert environment.

Tango recently raised $8.7 million in its second round of funding bringing the total funding to around $15M.  With this additional funding secured, Tango is moving to develop opportunities in Asia.  South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong currently are among the top 10 countries based on Tango usage.  China in particular is has become an important target for Tango.  With current Tango users in the P.R.C. around 400K in number, Tango has recently opened a new office in the Haidian district in Beijing.  The local manager is a former team leader and Tsinghua graduate, who joined the company in 2009 just after the initial founding.  Initially, the three employees in China will focus on engineering to prepare and translate the application for the local market, but the long term goal will be extending the business network of Tango.  How to adapt the application use by the Chinese public and how to work together with the local government will be main points of focus, Eric emphasized.  Tango is currently in talks with major handset manufacturers to preinstall its client into the OS, such as HTC.  Additionally, Tango is in the initial discussion stages with Tom Online, the Chinese enterprise which also has a joint-venture with Skype to offer a modified version of Skype to the Chinese market.

The recent Microsoft-Nokia partnership may not only be an advantage for the two global companies, it may be a great opportunity for startups and apps like Tango.  The combination of a friendly environment for software companies and a predicted third place slot in term of market share leaves Eric to believe expansion to the new platform will be an easy decision.

Startups and other companies interested in the success story of Tango will most likely have the opportunity to see Eric Setton at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing.

About the Author

Arndt FockeResearch and Consulting Manager at GWC, Arndt is also the author of the organization’s GWC Insights and GPORT reports. His past experience includes innovation and technology management, and technology strategies in the ICT industry.

Follow Arndt Focke: Twitter @arndtfockeArndt Focke Linkedin

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