ARMENIAN-BORN APP CHALLENGES LIKES OF SKYPE
Thursday, February 26th, 2015
Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Zangi, Vahram Martirosian
BY ROUBEN KRIKOURIAN
LOS ANGELES--At the Innovate Armenia event hosted by the USC Dornsife
Institute of Armenian Studies on Feb. 21, a team of software engineers
from Armenia, headed by Varham Martirosian, presented a mobile phone
application that wowed the audience. The app, called "Zangi," aims
to provide a communication service similar to Skype and Viber, but,
its developers insist, with better, more convenient services than
their current leading competitors. The figures seem to suggest that
users agree on the app's merits; Zangi is the number one downloaded
app in its category in Armenia with 150,000 users, beating out Skype,
Viber, Tango and a number of others. The social media app is picking
up ground abroad, too, with about 1,000 users in the United States,
according to its developers.
Much like Viber, Zangi allows users to make voice and video calls over
an Internet connection, for free. The app offers additional features
like instant messaging and can even make calls when one or both parties
lack an internet connection or when the party receiving a call does
not have the Zangi app, although fees will apply in those cases.
One of the advantages Zangi boasts over its competitors is its ability
to provide clear audio and video calls even under weak Internet
connectivity. The app is also designed to have as small an impact on
mobile phone resources as possible in order to be smoothly operable
on less powerful phones. The Zangi developers pride themselves on
creating an app that is as accessible as possible by people around
the world. "I can name tens of different apps, but the services and
ease of use that Zangi provides is unique," founder and chief engineer
Varham Martirosian told me while he visited the Asbarez and Horizon
offices in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Martirosian said he and his team faced their share of immense
challenges during the development of the app. In fact, he said, they
started their development process at about the same time as the teams
behind Skype and Viber started theirs, but with far fewer resources.
"Our challenges working out of Armenia were unique," Martirosian said.
"In some aspects, we had advantages in Armenia. Unlike in the United
States, for example, organizing, gathering a team, was easy in Armenia
when we started. Five years ago it was very easy to gather a team of
software engineers for a project - although today it's not as easy.
But our disadvantages were mainly in things like accessing the
necessary financial instruments to get momentum behind the project."
I asked Martirosian why it is more difficult to find engineers today.
"I've been working in IT for the last fifteen years in Armenia and the
rate of integration and advancement has been extremely rapid. Part of
the issue today is that there is a lot more demand for engineers in
Armenia, with many more start-ups and a huge influx of outsourced
orders from abroad coming into Armenia. The other issue is that
there is significant 'brain drain' in Armenia - the people with the
very high skills needed for high quality projects tend to leave the
country to go work abroad where there are more lucrative offers. This
is a problem," Martirosian said.
Martirosian said there is so much demand for software development in
Armenia, particularly in the mobile app sector, that firms are having
trouble fulfilling all of the orders coming in.
At USC's Innovate Armenia event, the former Vice President of Twitter
Raffi Krikorian said, "There's an ember in Armenia [referring to
the IT industry], and we need to figure out how to throw gasoline on
"I like to use a different analogy," Martirosian said. "I compare
the IT industry in Armenia to a pearl. Right now, there is a grain
of sand and we need to cultivate it and nurture it so it can become
a big pearl.
"What we need in Armenia is not help, but investment. We don't need
help. We have world class engineers and technology. We need investment
to bring meaningful change.
"We can present our success to Armenians to motivate the growth of
this sector. People in Armenia always hear about some start-up firm
or another overseas that had great success. In Armenia that seems like
a very distant prospect to people; but we need to break that myth and
show everyone that this is possible in Armenia -- very possible. What
we need for this is investment, a lot of investment. We see that the
diaspora helps Armenia, but we need investment for Armenia to become
economically successful in this sector."
The app is available as a free download on the Apple App Store and on
Google Play, for iOS and Android phones respectively. The developers
say they are working on releasing a desktop PC and Mac version of