Thursday, July 7, 2011
Interview with Bryan Hertz, VoxOx
With the proliferation of social networks, communications clients and VoIP phone services, users often find they need to use multiple ways--Twitter, Facebook, phone, FAX, and more--to communicate with their contacts. In a bid to simplify that world, and going beyond the current idea of unified communications, VoxOx (www.voxox.com) is looking to create a "universal communicator" which supports the full range of those services through a single interface. To try to understand the service's strategy, we spoke with Bryan Hertz,CEO of Telcentris, the parent firm of VoxOx. Telcentris is based in San Diego.
Tell us a little bit about VoxOx and Telcentris?
Bryan Hertz: We do a lot here, but our flagship product is VoxOx. Essentially what VoxOx is, is a service which logs into all of your networks. It takes all of the different contacts you have into one place, and allows you to contact them for free or at a low cost. It works with any device. In other words, you can log into your social media sites like Twitter, log into Instant Messenger and other accounts, and it will pull your contacts and give you a seamless way to organize those contacts. It allows you to communicate with those contacts with one click, whether by voice, video, text message, instant message, file sharing, or fax, and even allows you to update your status on social networks and services like Twitter. It's pretty comprehensive. The idea was to create a universal communicator, and help to solve the problem of communications overload.
We recall you started from the phone side of the world?
Bryan Hertz: The genesis of the company was really to build the VoxOx universal communicator, which is the idea that got us started, but along the way one of the things we realized in order to do this right, there were many things we needed to do in terms of breath of features and functionality. Although there are lots of aggregation products like Trillian for instant messaging, there are also lots of apps which are Sunday hack-a-thon types of apps. What they lack is the capability to effectively provide a paid service as part of their product offering, which would allow their product to live and grow and thrive. In order to do that, what we did is instead of focusing on the front end apps, we worked on developing our own, back end unified communications platform, which gives us a the ability to offer telephony and text messaging, file sharing, and video conferencing. You either need to rent space on someone else's telephony platform, or have your own. What has set us aside from the competition, is we built our own back end telco platform. That's allowed us to leverage that platform to sell services, such as telephony to hundreds of business customers, which is why you seeing us doing both things in the space.
Why would your users want to manage all of their communications, social networking, and so forth in one place?
Bryan Hertz: One of the things we find is really an issue, is people have contacts in so many different places. You don't want to be in the business of trying to figure out how to communicate, you just want to do it. When you get VoxOx, it logs into those networks for you, it figures out what networks your contacts are available on, the last network you communicated with them on, and efficiently allows you to click and launch communications. It's solving the overload problem. More of than not, your contacts might have Skype or Twitter, some might have Facebook or MSN messenger, some Google Talk or Skype. You don't know exactly what they are using. It's a kind of spread out market in terms of the tools people have at their disposal. Having them all there gives us the ability to provide the broadest and most effective service for users.
Speaking of Skype and Google, are they big competitors?
Bryan Hertz: That's a good question. It is a competitive environment. The way we see ourselves, is that the market is really crowded by walled gardens, such as the Google's of the world, the Facebooks of the world. Even though they might be slightly interoperable, they're mostly walled gardens. Google is trying to get as much of you to themselves as they can, and it's the same with Facebook. Our tool opens that up for people. We respect the communications networks they are on, and we're network agnostic. We don't want to be the ones who tell you which networks to use and not to use, and we feel like you are going to have your contacts spread across networks. Those networks also tend to come and go--just look at MySpace, which was huge, and now it's just been purchased for a tenth of the price it was sold for last. That's just sort of how things go in this market. We wanted to build something more future proof, and would be there for users even though the networks might change.
On a different topic, how's the company funded?
Bryan Hertz: So far, we've been funded by private, family office investors. We're actually just raising our first institutional round, a $10M, preferred Series A.
There's an enterprise side of your business--can you explain how that relates to VoxOx?
Bryan Hertz: When we set up to build the VoxOx app, we realized that in order to be a serious player in the space, we'd need revenue streams that would put us in a position to be sustainable. We did not want to be part of the eyeball game. The game companies play there are not really sustainable models. We needed a revenue stream to build our unified communications platform, and we figured that platform might as well support both business telephony and call center functionality. We built our that feature set, and found ourselves essentially selling to two different audiences in the B2B space. Carriers white label our own platform, and use it for their own telephony, and on the other side we sell hosted PBX and SIP trunking services to small and medium sized businesses
Finally, what's the big project for you now at the firm?
Bryan Hertz: At the beginning of the year, we had a few hundred thousand users. Since then, we did a little launch at CES for VoxOx, and although we didn't have a big booth, we had some press activity and we've almost doubled the size of our user base. We're on a growth trajectory, and things are looking really good. There's been a lot of activity happening in this space, and we've struck a chord with our users. What's really been interesting is our users are upgrading from our free to paid services, in proportion to what's very similar to Skype's paying users. Based on data we were able to glean from Skype's filings, we see our performance has been similar, which is very compelling for us. We see that in the next year to a couple of years, VoxOx will become much more ubiquitous out there, and consumers and business users will start leveraging our platform in a big way.