Friday, December 7, 2012
How CallFire Is Enabling Business Text and Phone, with Dinesh Ravishankar
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
If you're a business, what's the best way to send out phone calls and text, and communicate with your customers via phone? One way is to automate the process, which is what Los Angeles-based CallFire has been helping its business customers with. We thought it would be interesting to hear from Dinesh Ravishankar, CEO of CallFire, to learn more about where the company fits into the world of telephony APIs and services.
What is CallFire?
Dinesh Ravishankar: CallFire is a platform that allows businesses to automate their conversations with their customers. The two primary forms of communication we allow business to send and receive, are text messages and phone calls. Much like Twilio allows developers to access APIs in telephony, CallFire allows businesses to access and manage their telecommunications in text and graphical user interface. We also offers similar, telephony APIs, as well. We like to say that our system helps businesses automate conversations, using text messages and phone calls to customers.
How did you end up in this market?
Dinesh Ravishankar: We were doing software development for various companies in Southern California, out of my condo in West LA. One thing led to another, and we started doing VoIP consulting, bulidling both in-bound and outbound telephone systems for various customers. I realized that they were largely asking for the same things, plus the capacity and ability to scale instantly, which is kind of what the cloud was all about. However, there was no strong telephony player in the space. We launched CallFire to allow businesses to scale their telephone needs, to accept that one call, or 10,000 calls when you played your infomercial on television or when you wanted to take orders. Or, if you are the Democratic Party, and you want to send a voice broadcast the day before election, you can do that to. Those scenarios require tremendous amounts of hardware capacity. In the past, you'd also need a team of engineers to scale that, as well. With the advances in open source telecom software--we use Asterisk, OpenSIPS, and others software--we're able to emulate legacy hardware which would normally cost you $10M.
Talk about your strategy of offering both tools for consumers, and APIs for developers. What was the thought behind offering both of those?
Dinesh Ravishankar: It's interesting, lots of people ask us what our strategic thinking about that. To be honest, all five of our founding partners are developers, and we were all software developers or in computer science. Because it was in our nature to build tools for developers, it was never a question we'd offer APIs. For every tool we've built, we would also expose and API to it, just because we felt like it would be antithetical to building a cloud platform on the Internet, and not release an API. It was just too much in our blood as developers, and that's how the Internet works. But, we also have a strong penchant towards graphical design, and we recently hired a user interaction expert who lives and breathes experience, who is helping us both on the marketing side all the way down to button placement in our service. We really want to make the system usable for everyone, from your grandfather down to an expert. I think it's fundamental to the way CallFire sees building products, we want to reach an audience in a way that is useful for everybody.
What's the hardest part of what you are handling for users?
Dinesh Ravishankar: Maintaining call quality when you're receiving tens of thousands, if not millions of calls is not a trivial task. What happens, is that to scale this, you might have to send this out on multiple telephone carriers, and some carriers might be more overloaded or more expensive than another one. You also run into temporary call quality issues related to inclement weather. To manage all of that complexity takes time, takes data collection, and it takes a sophisticated platform. What CallFire doe sis manage all that complexity, while allowing our customers to scale up and down as required in the cloud. An example of this is a famous sports team, which uses us to put phone numbers on billboards. They measure how many phones calls there are to sales from those billboards, based on our analytics engine. On some days, there are thousands of phone calls, at the exact same time, around rush hour. We allow them to scale suddenly and still maintain a good quality call experience. To do that in-house, you'd have to have one, two, or three telecom guys in-house managing things. Instead, if you're on the cloud, we maintain the quality for you, we're always upgrading to better user interfaces and features, and we have a great customer support staff, which provides exceptional support. You can really call us to talk to a support agent, and we're rolling out chat support as well, and we're trying to change this from the old way of doing business, where someone might just throw up some documentation and call it a night. We go the extra mile with YouTube videos, support documentation, telephone support, and email support during business hours. It's a way we differentiate ourselves and our value proposition.
What's your next growth area?
Dinesh Ravishankar: We're really excited about our new, textable phone numbers. Those are local telephone numbers that allow businesses to text-message their customers, in an interactive fashion. For example, if you've got a CallFire phone number for your business, and you were to advertise that number in the newspaper or online, you could text that number with any question and we'll respond shortly. It just offers another way for businesses to communicate with their customers. We know that text messaging is very effective, and has a 9 percent open rate, and it's very, very popular among teens and those in their early 20's. You see four to five times the text messaging among that demographic, compared with the older demographic. It's also a great way to have a conversation with customers.