Brad Down

Startup Review: vtalk - Business VoIP for the rest of us

I first met the vtalk guys at CeBIT and their little blue box piqued my interest. The simplicity of setup and the stylish design were enough for me to want to try it out. We had just moved office and had dumped a very expensive and complex NEC PBX system and were now using Skype which was much cheaper but proving unacceptable in a business context.

vtalkYour Name: Ryan Spaccavento!

Job Title: Business Development Manager

Startup Name: vtalk

Startup Location: Sydney

Startup Age: 3yrs

1. What was the spark moment that led this business to become a reality?

Our MD, Jeremy was trying to get a phone system for his other company, Segment Publishing and just couldn’t find one that fit what he needed. Everything was either way too expensive or incredibly complicated and difficult to use. DIY solutions were really difficult to get support for, most of it from forums. He wanted to use VoIP to save money, and we’ve built a system that makes it really easy for small businesses to transition to VoIP.

Nobody was doing the phone system thing right. Everything was either too expensive or too complicated. DIY solutions made you reliant upon forums. VoIP is a big saver - why not meet half way with a product that was easy to use and inexpensive.

2. What were the biggest challenges of the first twelve months?

Making sure we knew who we were and what we wanted to do. We’ve changed our business model substantially once over the course of 6 months and have totally revitalised our business as a result of it.

Making sure we knew what our customers wanted, we needed to span the gap between us wanting to add in incredibly cool and very geeky features vs customers wanting to be able to do simple things easily and with no fuss. You need to work with your customers and your potential customers to deliver what they need. Once we had that figured out, the next challenge was how to get that to the mass market - of which we then took the channel distribution model.

3. What channels do you use to market your business?

Google Adwords, word of mouth, distribution partners, EDM’s, social media. Our biggest marketing channels are word of mouth and working with our distribution partners. With their help we’ve leveraged a very successful EDM campaign that’s help substantially increase brand awareness and has increased sales.

As with every other business in the tech space we’ve had some success leveraging Google Adwords to target people interested in what we’re doing and we’ve topped it off with a small campaign to build our presence on social media through a t-shirt give away.
It’s all really exciting.

4. How do you attract and talent into your business? How do you keep them motivated?

I was good friends with jeremy (founder) before he approached me to work with him at vtalk. We also shared a lot in common, mainly culinary adventures and a passion for technology and anything petrol operated. Dan was recommended to us through a friend of the company. We used the UNSW Jobs board for Engineering students for up and coming Developer as we wanted to attract fresh
talent!

We try to celebrating every win vocally. Our team is small enough that we can get out and about easily. Our weekly Monday morning meetings we try and mix up with a different cafe to have breakfast at (we’ve got it nailed down to a top 5 that we rotate through). Earlier this year we took the team to Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco, and on the back of it we had some really good team building time in and around San Fran. Outing’s, awards nights and networking events are all something we like to go as a team to. If they involve coffee or beer then you can generally count us in.

5. Can you highlight the challenges and opportunities you see when using digital marketing channels?

There is so much noise in telephone systems. People are confused as it is. We want to be seen as a middle player in-between carriers and networking equipment. How to you both educate and sell to our target market?

We’re currently experimenting with targeting customers who’ve had exploited/hacked systems - no one has ever been exposed or had big phone bills that are unexplained that use vtalk.

Start up’s are another big target for us. Get your office fitted out, and your going to at some stage need a pabx, vtalk give you a low cost solution that you own allowing you to choose chop and change carriers = saved money.

Not annoying people is really important and getting past that first point of ‘is this spam or is this something I’m interested in’ is something we’ve worked really hard at. We’ve found by spending time and money on making our stuff look good we’ve been able to substantially increase our conversion rate. The investment is worth it.

6. What is it that you are offering that is disruptive?

We provide a DIY phone solution that is easy to use, understand and configure. You don’t need a degree to set it up. You can go from out of the box to making phone calls in less than 10 minutes.

We work with what people have, we’re about providing a system that’s independent - you don’t need a particular manufacturer’s phones, or a particular piece of software, we work with anything. The other players make you buy product, buy licenses, pay someone to install, charge large on going fees and lock you to a carrier. We don’t.

We also allow our customers to work from home with no extra hardware. Configure a cloud compatible phone (that allows you to work from home with no special hardware) then ship it off to your teleworker or take it home with you. Plug it into your network at home and it’s like you never left the office. We’re working on some really interesting ideas for the future in this space.

7. How do you see digital and other media evolving in the next 5 years?

The rather speedy death of the big media giants is becoming more and more apparent, at least in the print sphere. With the advent of the NBN we’ll start to see the TV monopoly challenged as well with new offerings from other media players, maybe even particularly
allowing streaming sports on demand, something that has been a big cash cow for the TV companies. Social media is important but it’s still very early days - we’ve seen some incredible stories come out of social media but we’ve also seen a lot of noise coming out along with that signal. I think the ubiquity will become more and more apparent, in particular local content and requirements regulations will become a thing of the past - it makes sense when you’re reading the new york times for news over breakfast on your
iPad that maybe local content isn’t where we should be focusing. The popularisation and sustainability of niche content providers is going to be the real story of the next decade.

People who are skilled, talented and passionate about their topics are going to easily tap
into demand and desire about their particular niches and show that informed analysis is
incredibly valuable.

8. What systems and software have you put in place to operate your startup?

Assistly - Incredible tool for helpdesk and knowledgebase support, it keeps track of support requests across the main social media services as well.

Flow - Task management and delegation finally done right. Allows us to delegate and assign tasks, have discussions on tasks and properly keep track of who is responsible for what.

Salesforce.com - Our business is nothing without our customers, Salesforce allows us to keep track of all of our leads and customer info and integrate with our other services through their APIs

Github - We use it to store our code in a private account (always have several backups!) and as Git is integral to our development process we’re happy to support github. We’re also using Github issues to keep track of anything that pops up and the new iPhone github issues app makes it easy to keep track of what we need to be working on when we’re on the go.

Merlin - It’s Microsoft Project but actually incredibly user friendly. Takes a bit of getting used to initially but using Merlin has allowed us to properly understand what we’re working on and where we need to go and give better timelines and feedback to our customers and
partners.

Campaign Monitor - it’s a great email campaign tool. We use it for our EDM’s for both end customers, resellers & our big announcements. The Campaign Monitor guys are Aussie too!

9. Where do you see yourself in three years?

- Growing in the startup space
- Offering customers that are on IP phone systems a better choice
- Offering a great IP Telephone solution for customers as the NBN rolls out and growing the business accordingly

10. What is the number one lesson you have learned that you could share for someone starting up a business?

Do your research and keep your eye on the market you’re going for. Figure out who you are and what you want to offer. Keep re-evaluating the market you’re targeting and keep figuring out what people in that market need. Don’t get complacent that you offer
something good, always work to make it better. Don’t go overboard, make sure you’re never innovating at the expense of what your core business does. Always focus on what you’re doing well and what you need to improve. After you understand your market and really nut out what is the gap. Once you’ve found that gap and there is your niche. Understand your early adopters and listen, listen listen.

Check out vtalk at vtalk.com


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Brad Down Burst SMS Brad Down
Company: Burst SMS
Position: Head of Innovation
17 years experience in web design and usability, advertising, marketing and graphic design. Morphing into mobile marketing and SMS expert. Multi skilled, creative and passionate. My goal is to make the web easier to use and more useful for everybody. Specialties: Mobile Marketing, SMS Marketing, Enterprise SMS Solutions Read Brad's full bio

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