Russian billionaire investor Roman Abramovich has plunked down £70 million (U.S. $110 million) for a big piece of London’s Truphone, an international mobile operator that charges local rates for calls made in other countries.
Abramovich’s new 23.3 percent stake in Truphone isn’t quite as impressive as his outright ownership of the world-famous Chelsea Football Club (that’s soccer to us Yanks). But the investment is a huge vote of confidence to an aging startup, which is on its second business model in six years. Abramovich’s investment vehicle Minden led a £75 million round – it’s first since its £16.5 million Series B in 2008 — valuing the company at £300 million.
Truphone started out in 2006 as the mobile equivalent of Skype, developing handset software that allowed customers to place free or low-cost VoIP calls over Wi-Fi to international destinations and while roaming onto international networks. Rather than compete with other VoIP providers like Skype it partnered, supporting their services within its client.
But in 2010 Truphone became a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), creating an international SIM card that access multiple networks in different countries as if they were “home” networks. The result is a service where customers paid the same local rates regardless of whether they were in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.
Truphone plans to use the new funds to expand its virtual footprint outside of Anglophone countries. It plans to target the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Poland, Germany and Spain this year, but is also in negotiations with carriers in other countries to buy capacity off their networks, the company said. Truphone added that it would hire another 500 employees, most of which would be based in the U.K.