Bubbly.net, an online social network for voice messages, which became popular in India after celebrities such as actors Amitabh Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar began using it, is set to lose its voice.

Singapore-based Bubble Motion Inc., which operates Bubbly.net, is winding up after its efforts to get acquired failed and has asked most employees to leave, said two company officials aware of the developments, who did not want to be named.

Bubble Motion, which is backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Jafco Asia, claims to have about 30 million users, many of them from India. “We heard two weeks ago that the company was merging with Kirusa, another mobile social media service provider. However, last week we got a mail saying that the merger has fallen apart and they were shutting down operations," said one of the people cited above.

Often referred to as the new Twitter, Bubbly.net offers two services, peer-to-peer and follow a celebrity. While the peer-to-peer service is free, a user is charged 30 per month for the celebrity service.

Emails sent to Thomas Clayton, chief executive officer (CEO), and Joanne Joynson-Hewlett, chief financial officer, on Friday did not elicit any response.

The company started exploring merger options in June 2013. The person cited above said some Indian players, too, had shown interest since India had the “lion’s share" of its user base.

However, there is no clarity on why the merger fell apart. One of the reasons could be a cash crunch, said the person cited earlier. Bubble Motion has received up to $55 million from investors like Sequoia, Jafco Asia and Singtel Innov8 since 2006.

“The company had good tie-ups in India, but one big challenge for Bubble Motion was it was too dependent on the celebrity that used their service. And unlike on Twitter or Facebook, the content was not being driven by consumers," said Neha Gupta, senior research analyst at IT consultancy Gartner. “In general, voice SMS apps face a challenge as humans inherently don’t like to leave voice messages and prefer email or a text SMS. One more crucial thing is that the revenue model was not based on advertisement as ads are difficult to put in between the voice messages."

“Amitabh Bachchan has more followers on Bubbly.net than he had on Twitter, even though we were a paid service, as voice message makes it more authentic than text," the Bubbly.net executive cited earlier said.

According to Tech in Asia, a news website for technology, Bubbly had undergone due diligence several times over the past nine months in anticipation of an acquisition. “Twice, the deal fell through with Chinese-listed companies due to issues on their end that caused their stock prices to crash," the website reported.

The company had three more offers and accepted the highest one by another venture capital-backed company. “The due diligence process dragged on for two months. But as the merger was about to take place after Bubbly laid off its management team and restructured the company in order to close the deal, the acquirer tried to lower Bubbly’s price by 90% because it assumed the start-up’s investors no longer had any more options," said the Tech in Asia report.

The company may have made a mistake with the revenue model, said Moksh Juneja, CEO at Avignyata Inc., a digital marketing agency. “Many companies like Twitter and Facebook did not start with the idea of pricing in and that’s what they should have done—focus on building the brand and money would have followed," he said.

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