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September 14, 2012

StartupCamp Vets Fonolo and Hoot.me Riding Waves of Success

By Rich Steeves, TMCnet Web Editor

Many successful companies can, when reflecting back on their growth, point to one particular turning point, one period that helped shape the company into a success. Shai Berger (News - Alert), cofounder and CEO at Fonolo (shown to the right), can trace much of his company’s recent success to a period, not long after the company was founded, that included a trip to StartupCamp.

Likewise, Michael Koetting, CEO at Hoot.me, remembers StartupCamp as the beginning of a period of great growth for his company.

StartupCamp is touted as an evening to celebrate entrepreneurship in telecom and an opportunity to network as well. It is a chance for startups to get on stage and present their products or solutions to a panel of experts and get advice, feedback and sometimes even investments.

Fonolo was launched in 2008 and Berger took part in StartupCamp in 2009. He said that this was during an important evolutionary period in his company’s growth. Berger found that the company’s initial direction was not going to be as successful as he wished, and he quickly realized that his product was more suited to the enterprise. This change of direction coincided with StartupCamp and it became a great opportunity for Berger and Fonolo (News - Alert).

Berger stated that StartupCamp was a great opportunity for him to hone his new pitch. It was one of the first times he publically spoke about the new direction and it was a chance for him to unveil the new thinking about how the product would interact with the industry. It was a perfect setting, too, as StartupCamp featured a great crowd, great panelists and top notch judges. Berger was happy to get good feedback on an early version of his new messaging, as getting that messaging right and boiling it down to the benefits of the product that can be communicated quickly and easily.

It is Berger’s opinion that everyone doing a startup should take the opportunity to speak in front of people, be it five or 500, to smooth out the rough edges of presentation.

In the years since StartupCamp, Fonolo has had a great deal of success. It is on track to triple its revenue from 2011 and boasts customers such as the Royal Bank of Canada, Sirius Radio and others. Berger says the company is well positioned to improve the call center experience for end users and drag it into the 21st century.

Fonolo identified a pain point that needed addressing and developed a game changing solution.

In the coming months, Berger expects to hire more employees and is working on securing more high-profile customers. The company’s goal is to build momentum in the call center world, eventually becoming the standard throughout the industry. The company is focusing quite a bit on the smartphone front, since these devices are becoming important interfaces for customer service.

He cited a recent study showing that smartphone penetration in the U.S. has reached 50 percent, and feels that Fonolo is years ahead of its competitors in serving this market.

As for Hoot.me, Koetting stated that StartupCamp gave him a unique opportunity to pitch in front of an audience of several hundred people and a panel of judges. He said it was a great sounding board and it propelled the company to the next stage, connecting with DreamIt Ventures and Startl. 

Koetting even got to meet MC Hammer (second to the right) at the SXSW (News - Alert) Interactive Accelerator.

 

But more importantly, he connected with Mark Dzwonczyk (News - Alert) at StartupCamp as well as Jamie Siminoff. Both men continue to stay in touch and advise the crew at Hoot.me.

Since StartupCamp, Hoot.me has seen a lot of growth. The company is now generating revenue and the product has expanded from just student-to-student connections to also allow for student-to-tutor connections. Koetting says the company is observing how students study and adjusting the product. In the future, he sees Hoot.me expanding into more college campuses and perhaps even into the realm of high schools. Online educational solutions have been a hot space these days, Koetting says, but he was happy that Hoot.me got into the game early, providing personalized learning at scale for communities of students.

And much of that success can be traced back to experiences at StartupCamp.


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Edited by Braden Becker
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