This article originally appeared in the Aug. 2011 issue of Unified Communications Magazine
Four years ago, in 2007, a group of entrepreneurs acquired the domain name Phone (News - Alert).com and began to build a philosophy, an organization, a suite of technologies, and a set of strategies and tactics to take advantage of such a key asset. Today, in 2011, Phone.com (News - Alert) has grown into one of the most respected providers of cloud-based voice communications in the U.S. Month to month continuous growth in customers and revenues are tied to an incredibly low customer turnover rate. At the heart of this success has been the core philosophy of serving the small business marketplace for companies with up to 20 employees.
In 2007 when Phone.com was formed, the hosted VoIP and cloud-based service industries were still new and evolving. The concept of a true cloud-based business environment where voice phone services were but one part of the solution was still embryonic. Ari Rabban (News - Alert), one of the co-founders and CEO, recognized that success was not tethered to technology but rather to identifying a customer base in need of his services and building solutions to address the needs of the underserved small business community. In 2007, most Internet telephony service providers were talking about SIP, softswitches, routers, and concurrent calls. Rabban sensed that this was not a sustainable strategy. Phone.com was thinking about business and the solutions that would be needed rather than just the technology.
Small businesses are fighting for survival. They wanted to hear about how cloud-based communications was less costly than premises-based systems. They wanted to know what more can they do with this new technology. Phone.com created an approach that included outstanding value with competitive pricing, high quality U.S.-based customer support, and an all-inclusive service package that allowed for simple selection of components that were needed.
The founding team at Phone.com included Rabban, Alon Cohen, and Brian Scott. Alon Cohen was one of the earliest pioneers in commercial VoIP services as the co-founder of VocalTec (News - Alert) Communications. This was the first company to provide Internet voice technology worldwide, and in 1996 was one of the earliest successful Internet IPOs. As an innovator, Cohen holds several U.S. technology patents. Brian Scott’s operational experience comes from founding and running operations focused on small businesses, online sales, customer service and real-time networks. Rabban’s experience also comes from the formative years of VoIP, as well as developing and managing early stage companies. These three contributed tremendous all around industry and professional experience that enabled the stunning success of Phone.com.
Core services offered by Phone.com are built around the philosophy that small businesses – those with two to 20 employees – need to be able to communicate and interact with the wired world as much as or even more so than larger companies. The United States Government Small Business Administration defines small business as “those with fewer than 500 employees” and goes on to state that these organizations “are generally the creators of most new net jobs, as well as the employers of about half of the nation’s private sector workforce, and responsible for a significant share of innovations.”
Phone.com believes that the real strength of entrepreneurism in the United States today is in companies of less than 50 employees. They also recognize that the traditional model of one large office or even factory is being replaced by a mobile workforce where people can be working from their homes or traveling on company business. An effective cloud communications system will allow them to work in a connected and cost-effective fashion, benefitting from this distribution of talent. Features such as customizable auto attendant, impromptu conference bridging, and linking smartphones to a business account all add value and functionality for small business professionals.
Another of the strategies that has been successful for Phone.com is their method of marketing. Rather than attempt to use a traditional and expensive sales force, Phone.com has relied on creative web marketing campaigns, direct response, affiliate programs, strategic partnering, and a recently implemented channel partner program for organizations already servicing a customer base. By using these methods and combining them with a very high level of customer satisfaction and retention, Phone.com has been able to keep its customer acquisition costs quite low.
The competitive landscape for unified communications and cloud-based communications services will become increasingly more crowded. Larger telephone companies are expected to move more aggressively into this space as their traditional services are eroded by Internet telephony. The keys to success, as envisioned by Phone.com, are to achieve significant name recognition, be easy to find via web searches, deliver high quality but competitively priced services, remain flexible and responsive to ever-changing market conditions, and deliver top-notch customer support.
When asked about what the future holds for Phone.com, Rabban responded “We cannot reveal everything, but building on our core products, we intend to offer more tools, more apps, and more features. We don’t believe in one size fits all!” He further explained, “also, expanding into more mobile apps and services is on our radar, and a big market opportunity ahead is allowing customers and other third parties to customize and develop services based on their business needs.”
Phone.com believes that business tools such as VoIP but also including CRM, business planning, human resources, and so forth must be interconnected in the future so that we eliminate the islands of functionality as existed in the past and replace it with a truly unified business environment. The technology is mature enough now with open source and other tools. There is no need to have walled gardens or islands of functionality. Customers don’t have to accept a cookie cutter solution as the option exists to create the service they want.
From its origins as an organization that sprung from a domain name, Phone.com continues its growth toward becoming a model enterprise for the delivery of 21st Century unified business solutions.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi