Congrats to Dopplr? Maybe. But before the champagne, some context

So before we get into this, let’s build the case for the defence. Nokia has been acquiring lots of small startups lately (Plum, Cellity and Bit-Side this year) and now has a source that says they’ve bought boutique travel social network Dopplr. This appears to have occurred while Dopplr was fundraising – something which often happens when deals are being thrashed out. Dopplr is not commenting on the story.

Dopplr is headquartered in London but owned and operated by Dopplr Ltd. in Helsinki, Finland. The service is based on the idea of “intention broadcasting” where you publish your intention to visit somewhere in the future, thus making happy coincidences in your social network less and less coincidental (and thus happier, more efficient). Where or from whom the original idea came from is lost in the mists of time (perhaps someone can enlighten us in the comments?).

Anyway, the purchase price is said to be between €10 million and €15 million. We first covered Dopplr in 2007 when it closed on seed funding.

Supposedly it has raised just €1.25 million or so in total funding although exact figures were never announced, even though they assembled a stellar groups of backers who have much deeper pockets than that.

Get a load of this: Martin Varsavsky (FON), Joichi Ito, Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Saul Klein (TAG), Esther Dyson (Angel), Tyler Brûlé (Meeja), Thomas Glocer (Thomson Reuters) and Lars Hinrichs (Xing). I mean, good grief, most startups would kill and maim to have that kind of board. As good as this purported exit is, clearly these people thought Dopplr would go way, way bigger than a €15m exit.

Why Nokia? Well, here’s a thought: a significant part of the team were ex-Nokia. Dopplr cofounder and CEO Marko Ahtisaari was previously the Director of Design Strategy at Nokia. Various tech people were from Nokia and interface designers Matt Jones, who recently left, was ex-Nokia.

Hold on a second, did I say recently left? Yes, I did. Only last month Jones departed for Jack Schulze and Matt Webb’s design agency, Schulze & Webb, since renamed Berg (British Experimental Rocket Group).

So why would Jones, knowing that the company was funding raising, which would either lead to a higher valuation or to a potential sale (if talks progressed) have jumped ship? Why miss out on a very lucrative exit? I dare-say Jones retain a stake in the company, and in theory he didn’t need to actually physically still be there to benefit. But surely it would make sense to be there when the champagne corks were popped? Maybe he knew about this (still to be confirmed BTW) sale a good while ago.

And let’s get this bit out of the way: The site has never grown to huge usage, but its core users are passionate about Dopplr. It’s one of the darlings of London’s Silicon Roundabout. Let’s acknowledge that Dopplr was an amazing idea, designed beautifully and executed almost perfectly.

But a few things have nagged me about Dopplr. When I met with Marko Ahtisaari a few months ago I asked by why it was that on Tripit, I could email them the flight plan sent by my airline and it would automatically log the tip, but on Dopplr I had to manually type it in. He wasn’t too happy with the comparison, and preferred to emphasise the fast that they had a lot of upscale users – not, I inferred, the great unwashed of mass-market Tripit.

The second thing that stuck me as odd recently was that the launch of their iPhone app seemed a tad ‘quick and dirty’. It used the free OpenStreetMap which, at least on this app, I found spectacularly inaccurate (apologies to all OSM fans) and, crucially, you couldn’t add a trip on the app. It smacked of a half-baked product to try and get some traction.

Then you look at their Compete figures, which are patchy. This is no J-curve:

Furthermore, other things don’t add up: the non-J-curve performance recently, the lack of a press release screaming into my inbox to “set the facts straight” after this TechCrunch story; no announcement on the blog; no CEO tweets or co-founder Matt Biddulph going “Woot!” on Twitter. No comment from the company. Nothing (as of 24th Sept 10.40am). So either the sale has not in fact occurred, as some think (which I doubt), or it has and they just don’t really want to talk about it because it’s not really the exit they ultimately wanted.

But the threads of the prior connections with Nokia and a high profile CEO do look like they have added up to a tidy and simple exit for the founders. Well, if that’s the case, bloody fair enough to them.

It feels to me like they’ve already moved on. Well, I wish them luck.