from the September 2007 issue

Website allows phone calls by email

That invitation, counter-intuitive as it may seem, is what Israeli start-up Yoomba Ltd. said it will allow consumers to do via an online service that enables instant-messaging and Web-based calling to anyone with email.

Yoomba says it has made calling a friend as simple as sending an email, with no special registration or phone numbers to recall. One click on a hyperlink invitation from a friend and you can start talking for free.

Underlying the service is a form of peer-to-peer technology that turns personal computers into contributors to a phone network. Users just need a PC and telephone headset.

Computer-to-computer calling works by sharing network bandwidth among users, similar to how existing services like Skype work, said Yoomba chief executive Elad Hemar.

"Up until now, various instant messaging services have been closed systems," said Hemar, who co-founded Yoomba. "We allow you to communicate with all your email contacts by bringing them into one place," he said. Yoomba software lets users call anyone with an email address that works in Outlook, Outlook Express, Microsoft Hotmail, Yahoo Mail or Google Gmail. It soon plans to add other email services and social network mailing lists.

"This is the new Internet. It's not the separate, walled-off Internet of the portals anymore," Hemar said. "We've taken the only universal online network - email - and built our service on top of it."

The 20-employee company, which was started in Herzelia, Israel, is now based in Menlo Park, California, in the offices of one of its venture capital investors.

Yoomba has taken several million dollars in financing from U.S. Venture Partners and Global Catalyst Partners. Exact terms were not disclosed. It is the biggest ever pre-product launch investment in an Israeli Internet company, Hemar said.

The past year has seen the proliferation of dozens of companies offering free or low-cost ways to place Internet calls via computers, regular phones or mobile phones. But virtually all require some level of change in user behavior.

Yoomba asks a caller to type a contact's email address into a box on their site and click a few buttons to initiate a call. Missed calls go to voicemail. Many set-up steps required by similar services are handled automatically by Yoomba.

"If you have my email address, you can call me," Hemar said. "You can call people who aren't even part of Yoomba."

For the first call, there is an initial pause as Yoomba software reaches out to install itself inside the sender's email application. Recipients receive an email with an embedded link. Click on the link and a call begins shortly.

Once a user starts using Yoomba, small buttons appear inside Outlook or Gmail to show when friends are online. The technology is designed for consumers but also can sneak through corporate firewalls into office networks. Yoomba is working on control features to allow corporate technicians to manage Yoomba traffic inside their networks. Readers can try a trial version of the service at

No personal information ever leaves the user's program as Yoomba software is designed to work inside it. Hemar said the company has applied for several patents.

Users cannot import that instant messaging buddy lists into Yoomba's service but since most people have e-mail addresses for their contacts, this is unlikely to be an issue.

Eventually, Yoomba aims to introduce a new form of interactive advertising to support the service.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report September 2007

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