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October 04, 2012

ITEXPO: Zello Takes on the Startup Camp Challenge

By Robbie Pleasant, TMCnet Contributor

ITEXPO (News - Alert) has a proud tradition of an event called Startup Camp, where four young companies have five minutes to win over the audience and judges. Those who prove themselves impressive can leave the expo with new sponsors, partners, and contacts; those who don’t just have to deal with the blow to their pride. Among those challengers this year in Austin was Zello, which created a social radio smart phone app.

Bill Moore, CEO, took the stage, describing Zello as “like a CB radio for your phone.” His previous ten years of experience with tunein radio proves his experience, which he is bringing to Zello. The “social radio” app Zello essentially turns the phone into a walkie-talkie, with hundreds of thousands of live channels based on various topics. Of course, as with anything where people can talk anonymously, there is a risk for foul language, as proven during the demonstration when someone on the other end called out a profanity. The nature of the conversations may prove a challenge; as anyone who plays video games online knows, when you give someone a voice but no face, they can and will shout obsceneties.

Zello is different to Skype (News - Alert) or WhatsApp in that while they are private communication tools, Zello is made for public communication. 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. However, there is still work to be done, which is why Moore was presenting at Startup Camp. It still needs investments and people to work on programming, design, and so on. The technology needed to perfect it is still tricky to create, which proves a challenge.

For those hoping to make a profit from their investment, it may prove tricky, as there are no plans for monetizing it yet. The current idea is to add advertisements later on, but at the moment it’s hard to make money from it. There is also an idea for companies such as cab dispatchers to purchase a channel so that customers can reach them instantly, but it is still a work in progress.

Zello seemed to invite some skeptics, but also those who were drawn to the idea. It may be a hard sell, but there is definitely an idea with potential there, so good luck to Zello.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca
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