“My sweet spot is launching new products,” says serial entrepreneur Danny Boice. “I was doing lean startup before it was called that.”
Boice has launched software products for large and small companies and was busy working on SAT mobile apps for The College Board when he met John Bracken, a business development executive at AOL. “We were both finishing up stints at big companies," Boice recalls, "and we hit if off instantly.”
Their many conversations eventually brought them to the topic of conference calls—a necessary evil in the corporate world—and how terrible they were. All those numbers to punch in, the terrible Muzak, the unidentifiable voices ... with so much wrong with available systems, the duo reckoned there had to be a better way.
And there was. Their conference call kvetching eventually led them to start Speek in 2012. Speek is a VoIP service that gives users a unique Web address that connects them to a virtual conference table (for instance, www.speek.com/YourName). Send your fellow participants the link, and they can either join the call via the website or enter their own phone number, which Speek then dials. Participants can see who’s on the call and who’s speaking. There's no dial-in numbers, no pins and, best of all, no elevator music.
First Things First
In the beginning, the founders worked on their idea at AOL’s Fishbowl Labs incubator. True to the lean startup playbook, they launched a minimum viable product and, Boice says, “got a few hundred people using it right off the bat.” In doing so, they learned an important lesson: There was a viral component to Speek. Because it was novel, easier and more pleasant than traditional conference calls, people who were invited to a Speek call frequently signed up for the service.
Originally, the partners adopted a "freemium" model, similar to Dropbox: Users could sign up and use the service for free, but they had the option to upgrade to a $10-per-month subscription, which included extra features such as call recording, file sharing and the ability to include more than five callers at a time on a single call.
As the number of users grew, they learned another lesson: “We thought our market was prosumers,” Boice says, “then we noticed a number of company names among our users. They wanted five, 10 or 15 accounts under their company name.”
He and Bracken also heard from users who wanted a screen-sharing feature that wouldn't require them to download software. “They told us that WebEx and GoToMeeting were too heavy,” Boice says. “They had to download an installer to view someone’s screen, and there was just too much friction.”
Shifting the Model
For two years, after gathering information from users, Boice and Bracken finally came to the conclusion that the most appropriate business model for them would be more like Box.com than Dropbox. “We needed an enterprise offering,” Boice says. While individuals can still sign up for a free Speek account, the company now regards those customers as promising leads for business accounts.
To build a more robust platform for their business customers, the Speek team raised $5.8 million in March from 500 Startups, CNF Investments, Middleland Capital, the actor Edward Norton and others. Norton, Boice says, is also on the company’s board of advisors.
“He was on a Speek conference call, thought it was great and reached out to us,” Boice explains. After meeting with Boice in New York City, Norton decided to invest in the company. “He’s been helping us put together a fundraising strategy and in getting other investors for our Series A,” Boice adds.
The influx of capital has helped Speek beef up its Arlington, Virginia-based team—now at 22 employees and counting—and launch its new enterprise product, Speek for Business. Subscriptions now start at $19 per month per user and include file sharing, call recording, international calling, the ability to include as many as 100 participants on a single call, and screen sharing that doesn't require a software download. Speek links also include company logos as well as links to social media networks and other websites.
“We know we’re already taking users away from our competitors,” Boice says. With other companies charging as much as $50 per user per month, Speek's budget-conscious fees are attracting a variety of corporate clients, including Dell, Meals on Wheels, Louisville Slugger and Crowdrise.
Currently, Boice says Speek is posting revenues of $50,000 a month with the goal to get to $1 million in annual revenue as soon as possible. In the meantime, Boice is a bit closer to achieving a personal goal.
“I deliberately set about branding myself,” Boice explains. “I want to be the guy people think of as the best out there at launching new products.”
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Photos: Omar Madrid Photography; Getty Images