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Conference calls are boring and what almost makes them interesting is how painful they are. Except it doesn't make them interesting, it makes them painful.
Pain is not interesting. That's why I thought it would be good to feature a conference call app in Start Me Up.
The app calls participants, it isn't VoIP, gives you local numbers and can be used on your network minutes or as PAYG with the platform. That makes it worth taking a look at.
It's called BLAP, and you can read on for more info, or to find out what it's like working in a startup in this competitive arena.
In one sentence, what is your product/service?
BLAP is the easiest and quickest way to make instant or scheduled conference calls from your mobile phone.
What problem(s) does it solve?
Outside of the cost savings the main focus was on ease of use and trying to rid the world of the pains with conferencing – dialling in, pin numbers, crap quality calls, international charges etc.
The functionality that we’ve managed to build in to the app means that a few clicks enables you to set up an instant or scheduled call and the app will call you and the other call participants at the designated time (if a scheduled call).
On the side of dialling in and pins, because the app dials you instead we’ve done away with the need for pins. From a quality perspective, it isn’t VoIP like a lot of other conferencing apps on the market which means you don’t need a constant data connection like 3G or WiFi and you therefore get better call quality.
Looking to call international colleagues, suppliers or partners? The beauty of the system means that both the call originator and participants use the equivalent of local phone numbers and we take care of the rest.
For example, I want to call a team in the USA. I get the app to dial them on a designated landline number while the App also calls me.
Here in the UK the app uses an 0203 number to call me while in the USA my team see an incoming call from a 001 US number so both “end legs” of the call are classed as local calls. The magic in the middle means nobody gets hit with super-size international charges on their phone bill.
What are your immediate goals?
We’re still effectively in BETA at the moment and so are looking for more people to come onboard and trial the app (iPhone or Android).
We’ve got a few large corporate trials underway but the best way to get accurate user feedback and be able to refine the system is by talking to active users.
To that end we’re offering free trials and if anyone wants to test it within a corporate environment and with their team (nationally or internationally) we’d love to hear from you.
What were the biggest challenges involved in building the tech or your team?
One of the biggest challenges with the tech has been fitting all the pieces together.
We’ve got some crazy ideas of what we’d like the app (and backend systems) to do so now we need to understand how and when those things can fit together. As example, we’ve gone from building a standard integration with Salesforce to now looking at a deeper integration with OEM partner status and we’re now planning on building elements on the Force.com platform.
That meant needing to understand the differences from both a tech perspective and a commercial perspective.
On the team side we’ve been quite fortunate in that the core team members each have their respective areas of expertise and a good track record. The CEO has a background in finance and stock portfolios an has already started and sold several businesses.
The CFO has a history of securing some sizeable financial raises while the CTO has devised, built and scaled some incredible systems. From an advisor perspective we’ve got the ex-CTO of Vodafone and another telecoms luminary and their combined insight and guidance has been instrumental in shaping both the app and the general proposition.
How will the company make money?
There are a couple of ways we are planning on doing this almost in a stepped system. At the moment the core proposition is subscription based. For app-to-app calling you need to subscribe but the beauty of that is that the system then taps in to your contract bundled minutes from your network provider.
For example, I’ve got 800 minutes on my monthly contract. Once I‘ve subscribed whenever I participate in a BLAP call I’ll be using those 800 minutes, almost “all you can eat” style.
However, we are looking at a base level where premium numbers may be used in a way that means you could forgo the monthly subscription.
When calling non-app mobiles or landlines, regardless of where they are in the world, we use a system called “BLAP Credit”. This works on a pre-loaded basis, similar to how PAYG mobiles work at the moment – top up £10 and then whenever you make calls you deduct X amount from that £10.
We’re working on the philosophy that if you really want to talk to a group of people instantly you’ll be willing to agree to bear the costs associated with the call for the people who aren’t app users.
So, if I go back to my USA example above and the team on a landline, if that call was to a single landline in the USA it would cost me roughly two pence per minute of my pre-loaded BLAP Credit. If I was calling one of the team on their mobile and they had the app, it wouldn’t cost anything as I’d already subscribed and it would use some of my 800 network operator contracted minutes.
Who is in your team?
Lee is the CEO and has overall responsibility for the business. He’s been building it largely single-handedly over past two or so years.
Rupert submerses himself in the financial modelling as the CFO, Jason has responsibility for the platform architecture, infrastructure and our development team in his role as CTO and then I round out the core team.
My responsibilities vary from day-to-day with me constantly switching hats. Some of the time I’m looking at the reporting from digital channels and potential marketing opportunities. Other times I’m managing corporate trials and interpreting user feedback or I’m creating wireframes and user stories to help Jason understand my crazy ideas.
We’ve then got a handful of advisors, contractors and angel investors who all contribute as well.
Where would you like to be in one, three and five years’ time?
If you look at the financial model in one year we’d like to be at breakeven.
After that we definitely have goals for three and five years with one of them being that we’re recognised in the market as the quickest and easiest way to make conference calls and the tool of choice for business users.
Other than your own, what are your favorite websites / apps / tools?
Econsultancy is still one of my favourite sites due to the varied nature of the content and the expert opinions provided by marketing peers. I also regularly check TechCrunch to see what’s going on in the world that I now find myself – tech startups.
Tools – Hootsuite is great for managing social accounts and I like the new PiQ tool from PeerIndex for identifying social influencers.
Apps for me would be Twitter, a great way to read what’s going on and stay connected. Outside of that I’m a Windows Phone user so having Office on my phone and being able to sync documents is really useful.