Bubbly: A Voice Twitter for the Billions Who Don’t Have Internet

With more than 4 billion mobile phone users and some 1.7 billion Internet users, there’s a market opportunity to provide web-style services for people who aren’t online. That’s what Bubble Motion, a Mountain View, Calif.- and Singapore-based startup with some $30 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, Palomar Ventures and Comcast Interactive Capital (s CMCSA), wants to do with its new service Bubbly.

Bubbly is an extension of 4-year-old Bubble Motion’s BubbleTalk, which helps users leave short voice messages for each other (like a text, but with voice). For Bubbly, the company is going from one-to-one communication to a Twitter model, which allows users to follow celebrities and friends alike, receiving SMS alerts when they’ve dialed in a new voice update.

Bubbly is being released in partnership with mobile operators, starting last week in India (Bubble Motion declined to identify its carrier partner, but it has previously worked with Bharti Airtel). Inspired in part by participation from Indian celebrities, Bubbly already has some 150,000 users in the country, according to David Still, VP of product management.

The benefit of working with mobile operators directly — and more are coming soon in Southeast Asia, said Still — is that the service is tightly integrated and charged through users’ normal billing. Bubble Motion takes a cut of revenue directly from the carriers. That’s different from the standard practice of buying text messages in bulk. On the consumer side, in order to leave a Bubbly message, people just dial *7 and speak on a live phone call and hang up. Then subscribers get an SMS message and dial *2 to listen. All of this can be done without a Bubbly account, and at the cost of text messages or slightly more.

Right now the key is to grow Bubbly by partnering with more carriers, said Still, but other future projects for the 40-person Bubble Motion may include a web interface or video support. I can see how inbox management, archived history and search functionality could really help — while voice may be accessible and expressive, parsing through piles of voice mails is not my idea of fun. But I’m not the target market.