One-touch dialing app hits a million calls and supposedly starts making money
Today or tomorrow, one-year old MobileDay will have amassed its one-millionth call and the triumphant sound of 10 vuvuzelas (plastic horns) will fill the corridors of an office building in Boulder, Colorado. Since the company's inception last July, the small startup -- seven staff and four interns -- has been celebrating app milestones that way.
"Dunder Mifflin [office] across the hall doesn't quite know how to handle us," co-founder Brad Dupee says.
Dupee is counting on the conference calling industry, which was nearly killed by free services like Skype, finding a new life in mobile. Betcha didn't know there was a conference call industry, did you? Dupee was a part of it for years, working for stalwart companies like InterCall and RainDance Communications. He says the smartphone boom caused a conference call innovation resurgence, and MobileDay is part of that.
The startup's vuvuzela playing team has a simple mission: to kill dialing. The app synchs your calendar, extracting conference call invitations or phone meetings. Thirty seconds before said call, a green button pops up on your phone. When you hit it, it rings the number for you.
I'm all for that. I hate dialing into conference calls. I'm always balancing a coffee in one hand, my laptop in the other, trying to tap my calendar notes gently with my chin. Then I have to memorize the number and the access code, dial in, and inevitably end up alone in a conference room for five minutes before I realize I dialed the wrong access code. This is a regular part of my life as a reporter.
There are only so many conference call providers out there, so MobileDay developed a system that can automatically read the type of provider, give your access code and bypass the program. You'll hear it "beeping" in your numbers and then you magically arrive in the conference call. Voila!
When I asked Dupee who MobileDay's biggest competitors were, he played coy. "The phone. The post-it note. The executive assistant." So I looked it up. Mobile Day's real competitors are conference call providers who also have apps (like InterCall, WebEx, or AT&T), but Dupee claims MobileDay is the only one doing one-touch dialing for both the conference call host and its 'visitors.' According to Dupee the startup has spent very little money on marketing, aside from targeted ads, so it managed to hit a million calls mostly through word of mouth. But those million calls don't pay for the app -- so how, exactly, is MobileDay making money?
Initially, it wasn't. In classic startup fashion, the company made its product free and relied on the fact that the money would come somehow once its usefulness was proved. Now, at one million calls Dupee says that day has arrived.
Corporations are paying MobileDay to fix a problem that Dupee calls "mobile negligence." It's a little confusing, so bear with me. Company A strikes a deal with a phone company for their conference calls. The deal gives Company A two types of call-in options: a toll free number (so that Company A can pay the long-distance bill for whomever they're doing business with), and a local number (for Company A's own employees to use). However, whenever the calendar invitation gets sent out for the conference call, it only has the toll free number on it. As a result, Company A's employees don't bother looking up the number they're supposed to use -- they just dial the 1-800 number and Company A gets charged. When enough employees do this at a big company, the costs add up according to Dupee.
MobileDay is uniquely suited to fix this problem. Company A's employees download the MobileDay app (for free) and go through a setup process. The app automatically pulls the toll free numbers listed on conference call invitations and prepares a big green button for the call. Then the corporation pays MobileDay to link those specific 1-800 numbers to the local number the employees should be dialing to save money.
What corporations are jumping on this bandwagon? Well, Dupee wouldn't tell me (something to do with client security. How much are these companies paying for MobileDay to hook up connections? He wouldn't tell me that either. In fact, I had to employ all my persuasive skills just to convince him he could go on the record saying that jet-setting employees can rack up $5,000 international calling bills for companies when they don't dial a particular number.
Such reluctance to share facts and figures gets any reporter a little suspicious. Is MobileDay struggling financially or is it just uber-vigilant about not pissing off its new big corporate clients?
I don't have the answer, but I can say this: I downloaded MobileDay, tested it for my 6 PM conference call, and I'm already hooked. I wasn't sure how it would read my calendar, which has plenty of planned calls that aren't formatted in perfect (xxx) xxx-xxxx formats. But it synched all of them and gave me a simple interface that showed my upcoming phone calls for the week (conference and otherwise), with a nice big green button next to each of them.
No more balancing coffee and laptop while attempting to memorize and dial 13 digits. No more waiting five minutes before I realize I misdialed the access code. Now if only I could find a service to conduct all my interviews and write my stories. No, wait. Cancel that. Then I'd be out of a job.