Bill, meet Bill.
At one point, BillMonk was right up there as the most popular social billing apps in the world. Recently however, it has been suffering from neglect and experienced plenty of downtime. As is always the case with derelict apps (see Google Reader), flummoxed users had to go through the inconvenience of exporting their data and switching over to a more reliable service.
BillMonk users may now have reason to cheer. Today, Singapore’s BillPin, a six-month-old social billing app, announced that it has acquired BillMonk from Obopay, which purchased the company way back in 2007.
The acquisition, made at an undisclosed sum, includes BillMonk’s user base, infrastructure, source code, and related intellectual property rights.
Here’s the most important bit for BillMonk fans: the app will cease to exist by 30 April. However, according to BillPin co-founder Darius Cheung, existing user data from BillMonk has been imported into the younger social billing service, which means previous BillMonk users who want to switch over to the new app won’t have to go through the hassle of transferring the data themselves.
Compared to Google Reader’s demise and the resulting controversy, this is perhaps a better way of closing down a service: Offer users a lifeline, rather than leaving them out to dry.
The data migration is certainly a huge time saver for loyal users, and not exactly a surprising move since BillPin has been offering backup services for the older app.
Darius believes the social billing space has much more room for growth.
“I am a loyal BillMonk user for last seven years — I can’t think of many web products from seven years ago that I am still using today. Though I do believe BillMonk may not have lived up to its full potential due to premature acquisition and founders’ departure, we will see how we can take a whack at that,” he said.
As such, BillMonk users can be assured that the new caretakers are committed to the vision of making social debt settlements more fluid, at least while the company can sustain itself.
While BillPin remains simple feature-wise, Darius’ team is working on easier ways to capture group expenses and gather better intelligence and analysis of that data.
On the business front, the move is clearly beneficial for BillPin, an app with a smaller userbase but one that has been increasing at 9 percent week-on-week over the last six months in terms of registered users. This acquisition will certainly accelerate its growth and help it gain traction into the United States.
While the ability for existing users to switch to another app with their data intact should prove to be a huge draw – there’s the question of how serious was the exodus out of BillMonk in its months of neglect, which would leave BillPin with a reduced but still significant pool of users to tap on.
“In the long term, we have to win as a product, not just because it’s an easier migration, and we are confident of that. I think we already deliver the best experience today; the data transfer is just a red carpet,” said Darius.
Some questions remain with regards to the negotiation process — as a young startup, BillPin doesn’t have a lot of reserves to draw on to make a large acquisition.
So I do wonder about BillMonk’s actual userbase as well as Obopay’s current health and its level of enthusiasm in getting rid of its BillPin assets, which are of course weighed in terms of opportunity costs.
Whatever the circumstances were surrounding the negotiations, BillPin believes that it got, in Darius’ words, “one hell of a deal”.