Skype Inks Deal To Acquire GroupMe

Startup’s mobile conferencing app could strengthen Windows Phone 7 platform once Microsoft completes Skype buyout.
In a deal that could ultimately give Microsoft a much needed boost in the smartphone market, Skype announced Sunday that it has reached a definitive agreement to buy GroupMe, a privately held developer of group messaging and conferencing apps for mobile devices. Financial terms were not disclosed.

"Skype and GroupMe have a shared vision of creating applications and experiences that are the daily communications choice for a billion people. We will continue to seek the top talent and technology to make that vision a reality," said Skype CEO Tony Bates, in a statement.

GroupMe's applications could enhance the appeal of Windows Phone 7 once Microsoft's deal to acquire Skype and its technology portfolio for $8.5 billion is completed, possibly later this year. The deal was announced in May.

GroupMe's app lets mobile users launch texting, messaging, and conference calling sessions among pre-defined groups of users. Competitors include other startups like Beluga, which was recently acquired by Facebook, and Appconomy's GroupedIn.

GroupMe currently publishes versions of its app for multiple mobile platforms, including Apple iPhone, Google Android, RIM BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7. It's uncertain whether support will be continued for non-Windows platforms under Microsoft, as Redmond needs to differentiate Windows Phone 7 from competitors if it's to boost its share of the mobile market, which currently stands at just under 6% in the United States.

Though it can't legally weigh in on Skype's business decisions, including acquisitions, until the buyout is complete, Microsoft has said that it plans to integrate Skype's voice, video, and messaging services into a number of products, including Xbox Live and Office. In one possible scenario, Office users could launch Skype sessions directly from within a document to collaborate on content in real-time with colleagues or business partners. GroupMe's app could further enhance that experience.

"The GroupMe team has created an incredibly sticky group messaging experience that works across mobile devices and platforms, making this a perfect addition to the voice and text products in the Skype family," said Bates.

GroupMe officials said the deal will instantly expose the company's technology to Skype's 175 million users. "Integrating GroupMe into the Skype experience is an amazing opportunity for us and accelerates the execution of our vision tenfold," said GroupMe co-founder Steve Martocci in a statement.

New York City-based GroupMe launched a year ago after successfully demonstrating its group conferencing concept at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. Its investors include Khosla Ventures, First Round Capital, and General Capital Partners.

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