It was announced today that Skype has entered an agreement to acquire group messaging provider GroupMe for an undisclosed sum.
The acquisition is a huge win for GroupMe, a company founded just 15 months ago with roughly $11.5M in VC funding. As part of the deal, GroupMe will remain in New York City with its team intact and continue to operate as a standalone application, though it will now have access to Skype’s 175M+ monthly users. This is a big deal considering all group messaging startups are looking for ways to differentiate themselves in the wake of Facebook Messenger.
GroupMe originated from a project conceived during a TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in May of last year and has seen quick success since. The company says it sends over 100M messages per month in 90+ countries and just introduced version 3.0 of its platform a few weeks ago. While it’s enjoyed relative success, it hasn’t come without a few speed bumps. The company is currently facing two lawsuits — one for trademark infringement and another accusing it of sending SMS spam.
A competing group messaging application, Groupie, is suing GroupMe on the basis of “likelihood of confusion” given the two company names are a letter apart and are “audibly indistinguishable.” Groupie, which was founded in 2008 as a part of NYU’s Business Plan Competition, claims it currently has 60,000 users, 25,000 groups, and 1 million messages sent per month — which is significantly lower than GroupMe’s numbers. In May 2009, Groupie founders Jordan Adler and Leo Efstathiou were granted the trademark “GROUPIE,” while GroupMe filed for its trademark on July 26, 2010. GroupMe’s application was opposed just three months ago.
The second lawsuit names GroupMe as part of a class action that also accuses Google and Twilio of sending mobile spam. The company faces fines of up to $500 for each message sent, though GroupMe’s best defense may be the Communications Decency Act, which protects providers from liability as the publisher of unwanted information, as long as the information is provided by another platform (like Twilio).
With the company facing the possibility of paying out large settlements and facing heavy competition from Facebook, the Skype acquisition could be exactly what they needed.