Today's interview with with Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail (www.youmail.com), an Aliso Viejo-based firm which has created a personalized cell phone and voicemail service. Quilici was a co-founder at Quack.com, a company which was acquired in 2000 by AOL. Alex spoke with Ben Kuo, and told us a little bit more about the company, it's funding, and the service.
What's the story behind YouMail--what's the idea behind your service?
Alex Quilici: The basic story behind YouMail, is that we provide free cell phone and voicemail service, which is much better than on cell phones now. That's our reason for existing. Our approach to doing it, is to provide features such as personal greetings--greetings for every caller--getting voicemail online, and sharing and archiving your voicemail to a PC, and other things that people have had a strong desire for, but haven't been able to do. From a consumer standpoint, that's what we do. From a business perspective, how we make money is through advertising, reciprocal compensation, and eventually, premium services.
How is adoption of the service going?
Alex Quilici: The adoption has been going well. It's interesting, what had happened is a year ago--before I joined--the company had launched a prototype, gotten lots of people signed up, and fell apart. It wasn't scalable. So, we pretty much had to stop talking about it, and had some people churn off and it stayed flat. Then, in mid-May, we relaunched with a stable product, and began to re-market it, test market it, and see what was working and what was not. Where we are now, is we have tens of thousands of active users. We had had a lot that signed up, but we only care about those who are active and using it on a regular basis. We have distribution deals going which will take the service out to four or five million users over the next three months or so. So, we're not just going after individual consumers, we have partners who are marketing YouMail for us.
Give me an example of how this works, and how you get access to the service?
Alex Quilici: To get access to YouMail, you go to Youmail.com, sign up with your phone number and email address. Then, you enter the phone or carrier specific codes to route your voicemail to our platform instead of the carrier's. For most carriers--except Sprint, who we have to call customer service--it's two or three minutes and it's up and working. It's like your regular voicemail, except whole lots more features. For example, with the individual greetings for each call, we also have a library of greetings, where you can grab funny greetings, school fight songs, or whatever else you like from other users.
It would be interesting to talk a little bit about your background--I understand you joined recently?
Alex Quilici: My relevant background is in 1999, I co-founded a company called Quack.com, which we sold for a very healthy nine figures in an acquisition by AOL. I can't disclose the exact amount due to our agreement with AOL. I stayed at AOL for six years, working in voice--AOL By Phone, email by telephone, home voicemail, and voicemail online through AOL--a whole bunch of voicemail stuff. What I really wanted to do at AOL was cell phone voicemail, so when I saw YouMail, it was a perfect opportunity. I invested in the company and joined the board, so I could use my consumer oriented background in a more detailed role.
How's the firm funded?
Alex Quilici: We raised an angel round of $1.9M with the Tech Coast Angels putting in somewhere between $800,000 and $1 million, with the rest friends and family. We also had a few institutional investors who came in, who had invested in Zeacom, the parent company that YouMail was spun out of. Zeacom is a New Zealand company making call center software--they also put in additional capital as part of the $1.9M, which is how we got that number.
So the service is now full up and running?
Alex Quilici: Yes, it's up and running and we're signing people up. We will start announcing the distribution deals in the next two or three weeks. We've also done another deal with a content provider, who is providing comedic greetings, and will market YouMail as a way to sell their creative greetings. We have a number of things in the pipeline which we will be announcing shortly.
Earlier you mentioned you had some reciprocal agreements-- this is the long distance charge sharing from carriers?
Alex Quilici: Yes. The active number is long distance, and the way it works in the U.S. is whoever terminates the call gets paid a fee for termination. The origin of the call is a person's wireless cell phone company, and the deal we have is we share revenue which is generated from reciprocal compensation.
There seem there might be lots of telecom companies, or others who might want to enter this space, and provide a similar service to users. What's your competitive position?
Alex Quilici: It's really interesting. Our biggest competitor is inertia. People have to take an action to move off their existing cellular voicemail. It takes some effort to switch. We just have to convince them we can do it much better, and tell the story so that they can see it. That's our biggest competition. There are other companies providing free voicemail, but none have the combination of productivity and fun we do. For example, we are very unique in we have a vibrant greetings community, where we have a base of users publishing their own greetings. That's completely unique, and no one else is doing anything similar.