Hannes Richter

Two Young Austrians Create Free Telephoning

Hannes Richter

JAJAHscharf_mattes_logo.jpgIn the past few decades many of the innovations that have advanced the world and enlightened society have come from computer technology. It is a world that encourages revolutionary ideas, driven by competition and internet talents, and drawn to places like Silicon Valley in California. The environment is competitive and working hours endless. To compensate, companies such as Microsoft, Google or Yahoo have created luxurious campuses for their employees – with fitness gyms, massages and free-of-charge restaurants – the perfect environment for spawning brilliant ideas.

But clever minds don’t always need perfect conditions for conceiving revolutionary ideas. In fact, some of the most innovative ideas today are spawned by people working in incidental places under modest circumstances. Two such people are from Austria: Roman Scharf (35) and Daniel Mattes (34), and they work out of an unassuming office located behind a discount supermarket in Mountain View, California. Their ambition has been to create free telephoning worldwide that is available to everyone. Today their company is the fastest-growing supplier of telephoning via the internet, and their upstart goes by the name of Jajah.

Unlike other providers such as Skype, Jajah requires no special software, no downloading, no microphone or headset which has to be connected to the computer, and one need not be a genius to use it. Calls can be accessed from any telephone, either landline, mobile or on the computer. By simply going into their website at www.jajah.com, one enters his own telephone number and the number to call, whether local or international, and Jajah connects the two numbers via the internet. If the callers are registered users, the call is free, otherwise, costs for telephoning are minimal. Israeli Yair Goldfinger, a legendary figure who devised chatting on the internet, claimed: “I had my Mother try out Jajah and within two minutes time she grasped it. That convinced me that telephoning will change.”

A Phenomenal Success
Jajah is not only a rising star; it has arrived. Following television coverage of Jajah by CNN and CBS in 2006, the company was awarded a prize for innovation by Silicon Valley’s highly regarded magazine, Red Herring. Then on February 28, 2008, Jajah was named the world’s most innovative global communication company and winner of the Graham Bell Award for Best Communication Solution by the Service Provider Forum of the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley. More than 100 years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, Jajah has reinvented the way people speak with each other across the globe. Currently more than 122 countries have access to its services. Its potential has attracted investors like Intel and Deutsche Telekom AG. In the meantime, co-founders Scharf and Mattes spend hours in an airplane, flying between the company’s research and development center in Israel, technical site in Ireland and the European headquarters branch in Luxemburg.

Creating the Company
As Daniel Mattes and Roman described in an interview with the Austrian magazine Profil (article by Sebastian Heinzl in December 2006 issue), it all started in 2004 when they met each other in Vienna. Scharf had sold his engineering software company and was in search of new business ideas. Daniel Mattes, who was already fascinated by computer programming at an early age, had written a piece on software for internet telephoning. Mattes worked on the technical side of things, while Scharf was the more creative of the two. They began experimenting and by the summer of 2005, a small program which they had devised online for testing purposes, aroused considerable interest among technology fans.

One day while at their office, located in Vienna’s 15th district, they received a call from Silicon Valley. It came from Sequoia Capital, one of the largest venture capitalists of the internet branches and previously involved in the financing of such start-ups as Apple, Google and YouTube. During the Telephone conversation, Scharf hinted at the idea of downloading free internet telephoning. Two days later, Sequoia’s representatives appeared in Vienna. “They didn’t wish to see any business plan or power point presentation, but only wished to listen to our idea.”

Discussions ran until the early hours of the morning. Then the venture capitalist firm decided on the spot to join Jajah’s project by offering millions of dollars. “Less than three weeks later, we signed the contracts in Israel and then toasted with mojitos on the beach,” recalls Scharf. “In Austria, it took two months just to register Jajah in the registry of companies.”

For Sequoia to have invested in a European firm like Jajah was rather unusual Haim Sadger, one of the leading brains of ´Sequoia said: “I really traveled to Vienna only out of curiosity. But when I witnessed the energy and entrepreneurial spirit emanating from Roman and Daniel, I knew immediately.”

In the two years since its launch, Jajah has clearly grown up. What started as an innovative start-up project developed by an enthusiastic team with idealistic goals has evolved into a plausible product aimed at a larger audience.

In Mattes’ words “Our step into the mass market proves that Jajah’s long list of services function on many levels for everyone who uses a telephone, regardless of age, heritage, work or ethnic background. Jajah has established itself as a major global communications player.”

Jajah: Inspired by an anonymous Australian outback blogger who referred to himself as Jajah and wrote a free-your-voice manifesto and preached liberate communications now, Scharf and Mattes gave their upstart the name.