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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Catching Up: Mobivox - Launching Voice-Enabled Conversations.

About three weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview Mobivox's new CEO Peter Diedrich, a telecom industry veteran who brings both telecom executive and VC-funded startup experience to the table. Mobivox has traditionally provided a low cost worldwide calling service, including free calls to Skype contacts. Key features included (i) no client downloads, (ii) launch a voice call from any telephone handset and (iii) access via over 340 points-of-presence in 40 countries. However, unpublicized has been that they also provide a platform for voice enabling the user interface to many other potential communications service partners.

Historically, Peter sums up Mobivox as having proven they can provide and host a simple service with a voice-enabled user interface; their primary challenge is to determine what should be free. The gems he sees in the current platform include:
  • a voice user interface, incorporating VoxGirl, with support for many languages

  • a team experienced in voice recognition and management technology

  • web-based calling from a (user generated) address book

  • the ability to set up and manage contacts via a voice recognition engine (and to include voice tags for each contact)

  • an little publicized ability to send email and SMS messages via voice
Going forward Peter sees the challenges for the Mobivox service to include:
  • make the user experience dead simple

    • determine what we do vs what we don't do

    • easiest to just tell customers what they do

    • most important for "hands-free" requirements

    • no client download

  • making the address book their stickiest asset

    • seamlessly import Outlook/Gmail/etc.

    • obtain access to mobile device address book

    • create contact voice tags

  • provide an access number directory "download" to mobile devices

  • make the service "from anywhere at anytime on any device"
Given the challenges of generating a worldwide user base, going forward Mobivox plans to continue the current service but also look for opportunities to find service provider partners who can take advantage of their voice-enabling platform. To have a more complete offering they are also looking to include API's that go beyond "call control in the cloud" to include support for call completion, backend billing, CRM interface and fraud management.

Their final challenge is to improve monetization; reversing a pre-appointment decision to make all but calls to Skype contacts chargeable, Peter sees the need to develop both a retail and partner customer base.

  • member-to-member calls remaining free (within the scope of a fair use policy)

  • pricing packages incorporating modified PSTN access "minute buckets"

  • text messaging services with, say, the first five messages free, then pay

  • study customer demand and usage; tailor packages to customer needs

  • agreements with service providers

The first service provider partnership was announced today with Jajah; Phil has seen a demonstration and will be commenting further.

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