You had a quiet launch. Is the obvious name of the company - phone.com - compensating for the quiet launch?
Obviously when you hear the company name it stands out. That is what attracted me as well. If you have a quality product with such a name it lends added credibility and perception of a bigger company. All of that leads to a lower marketing cost direct and indirect. We are three months into our launch. We see steady growth in traffic and customer acquisition. There is direct typing traffic and search results traffic via Google where the word phone is one of the most searched word. People find us very little advertising.
Do you think some of these visitors could be people who want to purchase phone.com domain and their search leads them to your page?
I donâ€™t think so. The history of this domain name is interesting. It used to belong to a company that was acquired a long time ago and it sat idle for few years. After it was re-purchased and I came in, we kept a sign-up page where we did a survey of visitors asking them why they came to the site and what kind of phone related services they are interested in. We got statistics. Among those answers, there were a few questions about purchasing the domain. But whoever is serious about purchasing a domain knows how to find the owner. A vast majority of the traffic we had pre launch was people looking for phone services.
If you are getting good amount of traffic you could monetize that by offering advertising space. Is that a possibility in the future?
When you hear the name phone.com everybody has suggestions what to do with it. We took a decision to offer services ourselves rather than being a referral site for telecom services of other companies. Looking at advertising models, the answer is yes this is definitely something we will be exploring.
You are starting a venture in the midst of a slowdown in North America. Why start at this particular time when the market may not be favourable for startups?
First of all I think the market is favourable for startups if it is the right one. And you do see new investments. Over the past year we have seen VC invest in a lot of startups in the area of telecom, from Jajah to Rebtel to GrandCentral acquisition to others. That said, our approach is very focussed. We target SOHO customers and there is a growing demand for PBX type services among the SOHO segment in the US.
But there have been virtual PBX features in PSTN days as well as those that come with IP options now. What is your unique selling point especially in view of the fact that you are up against large operators who offer a bundle?
We offer these services at extremely competitive prices. And our customer service is very strong. There are no companies out there that offer virtual PBX services at such a low price and then bundle in the customer support of the quality that we offer.
What in particular do you offer SOHO customer that they did not previously have? Are auto-attendant, find-me-follow-me, and the usual PBX type features the main attractions for them?
Auto-attendant lets a small business user have all its employees based in different locations be reachable through just one phone number. That is a very powerful feature. Toll free numbers are very popular with them. As long as you can offer a flat rate toll free number service, I think there are lots of possibilities.
Again competitive prices and customer features are big factors as well.
Can the employees of the business be based internationally?
Yes, you can set up extensions to reach people in several countries for free or for US price.
The platform that you are using, who do you source it from?
This is essentially our own intellectual property. The developers are not phone.com employees but they are working on an exclusive relationship with us on the project. They also handle our customer support.
What the servicing and support expectations of SOHO segment?
There is no hardware purchase involved for the SOHOs. We have made it very easy for the customer to configure their virtual PBX. We have manuals, faqs etc but most people do it on their own. There are certainly those who do not want to do it on their own. They call our customer service agents who walk them through the configuration step by step on phone.
People have talked about find-me-follow-me services for a long time and it is starting to happen now. When you were at Vocaltec and you had similar capabilities available without much demand did you ever perceive the timing factor as the main hitch?
I was president of Surf-and-Call division at Vocaltec. When you see the present day click-to-call options, the web call back type features, it is funny to see them. Looking back at my Vocaltec presentations eight years back, I almost do not have to change anything.
You mean nothing is new then?
The only bits that we did not have then was broadband and maybe the firewall/SBC type of stuff.