This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.
Among the most popular events at TMC’s ITEXPO is StartUpCamp, which is hosted by Embrase Business Consulting. StartupCamp is promoted as an evening to celebrate entrepreneurship in telecom and an opportunity to learn, network and have fun. And StartUpCamp at TMC’s most recent ITEXPO in Austin, Texas, once again delivered on that promise.
StartUpCamp, now in its sixth iteration, begins with a featured guest, in this case BroadSoft (News - Alert) co-founder and CEO Michael. That is followed by brief presentations by a handful of entrepreneurs who explain why their startups are worthy of funding and deserve the StartUpCamp audience’s vote at the end of the evening.
October’s stable of startups included RingDNA, which was deemed the best of the group by the audience and on-stage judges; Phonism; Vsnap; and Zello.
Howard Brown, CEO and founder, spoke on behalf of RingDNA. As reported by TMCnet web editor Rich Steeves, this is a company that says it powers intelligent conversation.
During his ITEXPO Austin presentation, Brown said web marketing is a $40 billion business, and added that sales reps spend 24 percent of their time generating leads. He also mentioned that support agents toggle through many different systems over the course of one call. At the same time, customers just want good customer service from the right agent.
Using the Twilio API, RingDNA can build call tracking information into CRM systems, such as Salesforce.com (News - Alert). The RingDNA platform, when built into CRM technology, gives the customer the correct phone number for the right rep, when customers are searching on a company website. When a customer or potential customer calls, the data for that customer is presented to an agent on a mobile device or browser. The formerly siloed data is brought together at the time of the call, which is also available at the time of an outbound call.
The company received over one million dollars of angel investment and rolled out its Apple (News - Alert) app this year. More than100 companies use RingDNA, according to the company, which says that many of them are quite large and all are Salesforce customers. The RingDNA development team has a great deal of experience in the field, and Brown hopes to expand the business in the near future. The company plans to generate revenue through a premium model.
Steve Lazaridis presented for Phonism, a company that delivers a solution to address what he identified as the pain point of IP phone provisioning and management. The idea for the solution came from Steve’s brother, who recognized this personal need as a potential market opportunity.
Phonism consists of two components, the Cloud Service and the Agent. The Cloud Service was designed for multi-tenant deployments. The Agent is an embeddable application that sits in the service provider’s network to give it access to SIP endpoints via a web interface. Not only does this enable easier configuration of the multitude of different VoIP phones on the market, said Lazaridis, but if one of the endpoints goes down, it enables the service provider to see that information before the customer calls.
There are more than 1,000 service providers in the U.S. alone, and many of them are small and based on open source, said Lazaridis, adding this is the target group for Phonism.
The company was in private beta with customers earlier this year. The next beta will be released later this year.
Dave McLaughlin, CEO of video messaging business Vsnap, pitched his company’s business model to the StartUpCamp panel and audience, and said that businesses are lacking more meaningful ways to connect with customers, according to a TMCnet story by Erin Harrison, executive editor of TMC’s Cloud Computing magazine. Since e-mail and text are usually impersonal, Vsnap has developed a way for businesses to send short video messages as a more personal alternative to email or text.
According to McLaughlin, customers are 33 to 41 percent more likely to take action when you reach them via Vsnap compared to e-mail or text.
The central theme of McLaughlin’s pitch was personalization. He said a Vsnap feels more personal and more special than a text communication, and captures tone and emotion and enthusiasm and authenticity (and lots of other non-verbal communications) in a way that actually translates – which text and e-mail can’t do.
“We think that businesses are trapped in text. In all those little interactions in the sales process and post purchase, businesses seem to be stick in e-mail,” McLaughlin said. “Text doesn’t capture emotion and how we build trust and form feelings and shape our buying decisions. If you are not creating an emotional connection with the customer, you will experience churn.”
A Vsnap video is 60 seconds long and there’s nothing to download so businesses just need an Internet connection and a camera on their computer, smartphone or tablet.
“We give you an easy little system to record share and measure video messages as a more personal; more rich alternative to e-mail or text,” McLaughlin said.
Bill Moore (News - Alert), CEO of Zello, described his company’s solution as being “like a CB radio for your phone,” reported TMCnet contributor Robbie Pleasant. The “social radio” app Zello essentially turns the phone into a walkie-talkie, with hundreds of thousands of live channels based on various topics. This presentation was particularly colorful, as during the demonstration of the solution, someone called out a profanity from over the social radio airwaves.
Zello is different to Skype (News - Alert) or WhatsApp in that while they are private communication tools, Zello is made for public communication, Moore explained. It’s similar to social media, but uses the power of the human voice rather than text; while it’s focused on live communication, it is possible to record or re-listen to messages. However, it is for the most part made for live conversations.
With 6 million active members, it already has a significant audience, particularly among the young. Forty-eight percent of those who try it remain active after 30 days, so it’s not a “use it once and get over it” thing, said Moore, who added that the company seeks investments and people to work on programming and design.
For those hoping to make a profit from their investment, it may prove tricky in the near term, as there are no plans for monetizing it yet. The plan is to add advertisements later in the game. There is also an idea being batted around that companies such as cab dispatchers could purchase a channel so that customers can reach them instantly.
Erin Harrison, Robbie Pleasant and Rich Steeves contributed to this story.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi