The end of an error.

February 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm 4 comments

We are shutting down Phonefromhere.com .

My initial vision for Phonefromhere.com was a company providing a service that was massively scalable. I’d helped in the creation of several startups and run my own consulting business, but I wanted something that could double in size without doubling the payroll.

In the end it was an easy decision to shut down, but it took a while to get there.

We will leave the services running for a while longer and help our customers migrate off the platform.

On a personal note, I want to thank all my friends who so generously helped us along the way , variously with time, advice, loyalty, hardware, hard work and money. That goes doubly for my colleagues and family, I know it hasn’t been an easy ride, thanks for your patience.

But why shutdown?

The biggest part of the decision was the numbers. One customer was kind enough to give us access to the statistics for the buttons on their site. The results were devastating, I can’t give you the figures, but let’s just say that on a like-for-like comparison we were a factor of 1000 from where we needed to be. No amount of SEO or UX optimisation will fix that. We had a fundamentally broken proposition. We were not going to replace the 0800 number any time soon.

The lesson here is “Data Trumps Intuitions” . Although if I’m honest we also picked our business model because it was easy to explain to some local risk averse VCs. They didn’t give us the money but we stuck with that plan.

Whilst we poured our money and effort into the 0800 number replacement arena, our other product, the pluggable conference call was doing quite nicely on Twiddla.com and Scriblink.com , the Vuc.me  plugin was seeing reasonable usage. But we devoted very little time or effort to marketing that since we couldn’t see how to monetize them or pitch them to a VC. In retrospect this was a mistake, but I’m not convinced things would have turned out differently…

Time was against us – we lived in fear of one of the big players moving into our market before we could establish a significant user base. To my astonishment, Skype still have’t offered a browser product (except to Facebook, and I’m not clear how well that’s going). Google however started making noises about what would become WebRTC.  What happened to Adobe’s lead in this technology is a complete mystery.

The market was also changing – our customers were starting to ask for support on mobiles, so we did versions for iOS and Android, but by this time we had no money (or energy) to market or productize them. We were turning into a provider of a niche SDK, without the services arm – not at all what I’d envisioned.

So when Voxeo Labs offered us good money for some of our audio IPR for inclusion in the open source Phono.com jQuery plugin, we took it. I’m now doing consulting for Voxeo Labs on Phono and the rest of their portfolio. (see “PhonoSDK WebRTC Preview” ).

If WebRTC gets included in every browser (including phones and tablets), it will be the culmination of my technical dream, easy realtime communication in the browser . One of the first things a friend said to me was “you need to get this into the browsers”, she was right, but we were too small, poorly connected and early to make that happen.

There is a perverse irony here, British Telecom  bought our Silicon Valley competitor Ribbit for £60M but no VC would invest in us. (It is true our business plan fell between 2 stools, neither being ambitious enough to suit the Silicon Valley VCs, nor safe enough for the locals). However two of the key Phono engineers are Brits, why do we have to (virtually) emigrate to have our work funded?

I’m enjoying the work I’m doing for Voxeo Labs immensely – I want to thank them for giving me the chance to continue  “Giving the web a voice” .

Entry filed under: startup, VoIP. Tags: , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Roger Schneider  |  February 27, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Good luck, Tim! Your work has always been impressive and I’m sure you’ll succeed.
    Roger Schneider

    Reply
  • 2. Dele Olajide  |  February 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Good to read your story Tim. Very interesting🙂

    I was working for BT when it bought Ribbit. As the creator of Red5phone, one of the first open source Web phones, I was over-looked in favour of Silicon Valley.

    It was a pleasure working with you at Voxeo and I am sure our paths will cross again with WebRTC.

    Reply
  • […] PhoneFromHere.com […]

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  • 4. Just Show It! | BeSuccessful  |  May 29, 2012 at 1:19 am

    […] companies: ➢ Phonefromhere.com ➢ RaffleIt.com ➢ iPlatform ➢ Diary.com ➢ Erepublik.com Phonefromhere.com is basically a new version of Skype. The presentation was awful and I didn’t think the idea had […]

    Reply

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