Herzliya-based Shellanoo Group, a buzz-fueled and celebrity-backed technology incubator specializing in interactive mobile apps and internet related services, abruptly cancelled its freshly announced IPO.
The surprising move, which raised red flags and is being viewed with skepticism in the local market, came less than two weeks after Shellanoo disclosed amid great mystery and fanfare, that it was planning to raise 100 million shekels ($26.5 million) or more, in an initial public offering on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange by October, as previously reported by ExitHub.
In a twist of fate. now the group’s investors, including billionaire Roman Abramovich, music luminaries including Tiesto, Avicii, will.i.am, David Guetta, Sebastian Ingrosso (of Swedish House Mafia), Nicki Minaj, Benny Andersson (of music group ABBA), plus super agents Ash Pournouri and Gee Roberson (previously chairman of Geffen Records and now part of Maverick Management), and other celebrities and friends such as supermodel Bar Refaeli and her brother Dor, who co-founded Blindspot, can tell O.D. Kobo –anonymously– what they really think, using Shellanoo’s Blindspot app.
Shellanoo said it currently manages “over $200 million in assets.” The IPO was supposed to be managed by Poalim IBI-Management & Underwriting Ltd (TASE: PIU), Israel’s leading local investment bank.
“In a one-line statement to the bourse, Shellanoo – which last month said it would raise at least 100 million shekels ($27 million) in a share offering – did not give a reason for the cancellation and did not provide further details,” Reuters reported.
“The main criticism Israeli financial journalists raised is that the (pre-revenue) company’s leading app – the messaging app Blindspot – has only 1.4M active users who are mainly teenagers in Brazil and dozens of potential apps that will be released later on,” wrote SeekingAlpha contributor, Lior Ronen, a financial analyst and CEO of Finro.
“These dozens of new apps bring more of the same to already saturated markets like online dating, job hunting, used goods sales, social media and much more. The potential of these apps to gain substantial market share in the markets they target is tiny, while using a freemium model and in-app purchase revenue streams, make the potential revenues growth highly unlikely,” he added.
Relying on Blindspot, “which tried penetrating a boiling market of messaging, the company is light years away” from even relatively small players like Telegram, with 100M monthly active users (MAU), and Kakaotalk, with 48M MAU (not to mention big players such as WhatsApp, Facebook, QQ Mobile, WeChat, Microsoft’s LinkedIn, Skype, Viber, Line, or Blackberry) noted Ronen, as illustrated in his chart below.
Shellanoo said it had closed a $35 million round of funding in April 2015, in conjunction with the launch of its music sharing app Music Messenger.
Last year Shellanoo’s backer Abramovich was said to have acquired for 100 million shekels The Varsano luxury boutique hotel property, nestled within the trendy historical neighborhood of Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv, which he is expected to turn into his Israeli hôtel particulier. The hotel business has already been permanently closed. He’s also said to be periodically scouting for new high-tech investment opportunities in Israel.
Shellanoo is the brainchild of Oded “O.D.” Kobo, a serial Israeli Internet entrepreneur born in Hong Kong. He started his IT career at the age of 20 by developing patented technology for the lottery industry. He later moved back to Asia to establish IT outsourcing facilities. He is a co-founder of Chinese Internet companies KGIM, SinoSheen and Koolanoo Group. KGIM, a holding group of multiple Internet companies, and a seed investment group once partnered with the Prime Minister of Qatar HH Al Thani, was later sold to East River Capital for $80 million. In 2012 he founded social media app Pheed, which was sold for $40 million in 2014 to Mobli Media, a company controlled by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim. Kobo is a former board member of Camden Market Holdings (LSE: MKT), a real estate conglomerate based in London, controlled Israeli property tycoon and technology entrepreneur Teddy Sagi.
In December 2015, Shellanoo launched Blindspot, a new anonymous messaging app that gives people the opportunity to express their true feelings, without revealing their identity – unless they choose to.
“Blindspot is definitely one of our portfolio’s liveliest projects,” said O.D. Kobo, chairman of Shellanoo Group. The idea for Blindspot emerged from a 12-hour hackathon at Shellanoo’s headquarters in Israel. “When you remove the barrier of identity between people things start to get interesting,” says Kobo.
Blindspot is perfect for flirting or chatting. Users can message anyone in their contact list for one-to-one communication, sending text, images, voice-notes and video. Perhaps it’s the loud, cartoon-style design, the game-like interface, or simply the ability to message people anonymously. Whatever it is, Blindspot opens up a whole new world of communications.
Message recipients can easily block other users and can ask senders to reveal their identity at any time. Any user that is blocked by three people is removed from the app. Any misuse can be raised directly with Blindspot.
“What would you say to people you know if you were anonymous?” ask Dor Refaeli and Lee Greenberg, co-founders of Blindspot. “Most users want to flirt, play jokes on friends or share secretive information they would otherwise be scared to reveal. There’s so much fake comment on social media – it can be like an airbrushed version of life. We want people to have fun, and most of all we want people to be real with one another.”
Dor Refaeli (above, L) is the younger brother of Israel’s international supermodel Bar Refaeli (above, R). Funding terms and the equity share split between Shellanoo and Blindspot’s founders Refaeli and Greenberg were not disclosed.
(Upper) Photo: O.D. Kobo and his wife Etty (Instagram/Walla).