Berggi, Mobile Messaging for the Masses

Now that the average cell phone user is coming to terms with text messaging (last I checked around 36% have texted in the U.S.) startups and carriers are hoping that more people will start using mobile email and mobile IM. We’re not talking about you, Silicon Valley Blackberry addicts, but people using low-end, even free phones that don’t have unlimited data plans.

Berggi, a startup based in Houston, is one of these that are trying to “make dumb phones smart,” as they put it, and is announcing their service today, which they plan to have up and running on Thanksgiving.

The company raised $3 million from investors like Adara Venture Partners, and offers a downloadable application that bundles email, IM and texting capabilties, which costs $9.99 per month. Your phone needs to be data-enabled, to use the service, and the regular data fees from your carrier (per usage or on a plan) apply. At present Berggi doesn’t work over Verizon or Nextel networks.

I tried to test out the service last night and this morning, but there were connection problems, so I can’t verify if the service is easy to use or designed well. We’ll try it out later and let you know what we think.

A business based on offering mobile IM and mobile email on average phones is riding a significant trend, and services like Flurry, Renzoo, and Oz Communications offer various solutions. But we’re not sure Berggi’s current business model is the right approach. How many in their target market of average phone users will be willing to download a little-known application on their phone and then pay $10 a month for this service? We’re talking about the users who are getting a free phone and probably aren’t willing to pay for an unlimited data plan.

Other companies like OZ Communications are selling phone and server software to the carriers to offer mobile messaging on phones. This is an easier market to make money in. OZ’s CEO Skuli Mogensen says “the major thing about mobile IM and email is discover-ability and usability. The majority of our solutions are pre-loaded/embedded on the device. . . Consumers do not want to read manuals, they want to be able to click and go, and many find downloading services difficult.”

Like Berggi, Flurry also offers a direct-to-consumer mobile messaging service, but its mobile email service is free — free might not always be good for the bottom line, but good for bringing in users. All of these direct-to-consumer services will need a lot of marketing money for anyone to discover the application. But if these services are actually significantly better and cheaper than what the carrier offers, then they might have a chance to spread virally.

Next year Berggi says they will white label their service through well-known brands — that is actually a pretty good idea. If you’re bored on Thanksgiving, download the app and tell us what you think.