Another Way To “Skin The Cat”

As the saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” And so it is with software development. Remember my comment in the last post about re-thinking Linphone? May not have to do that after all. I have been interviewing developers since Saturday who are responding to my job posting to customize Linphone and create a new sigh-up, installation and configuration process for VoiFone™.  So, instead of $60,000 to $100,000 it looks like we’ll only spend about $2,700 at most and have our own full-featured VoiFone™ product rolled out within the next 30 to 45 days.

Simplified Installation For the New VoiFone™

Installing the new product will be ultra-simple compared to today’s procedure. New users will do the following:

  1. Download & install.
  2. Select a username, password & provide email when prompted.
  3. It’s connected – Instantly call other VoiFone™ Users worldwide for free!

That’s about as simple as it can get. There’s no configuration needed on the new version of this product.

The Upgraded VoiFone™ Feature-Rich

We’re making this a truly special product. Following is a partial list of the features that we anticipate including in the new-and-improved VoiFone™ :

  • Make & receive FREE calls with other users
  • Make & receive calls to & from:  PC-to-LandLine/Mobile Phone, LandLine/Mobile Phone-to-PC, Mobile-to-Mobile
  • Video Calls Device-to-Device (PC and/or Smart Phones, tablets & laptops)
  • Chat (send & receive secure messages – encrypted between users)
  • Display current status (online, offline, away, busy, etc.)
  • DTMF (Press a key and get a dial tone – necessary when calling a business that needs you to “Press one for sales”, etc.)
  • Record Phone Calls
  • Select & modify at will your own Caller ID
  • Click-2-Call integrated with your CRM
  • Voicemail & Voicemail indicator
  • Use existing contact list on on Android, iPhone, Blackberry
  • Remaining Balance Indicator
  • Add Funds link (useful when balance is low)
  • Call Forwarding
  • Blind Call Transfer
  • Instant Messaging (IM)
  • Video Call
  • Video Chat
  • SMS

These are all the features under discussion with just one of the developers. I’m negotiating seriously with 3 developers right now. I hope to make a decision and hire one by Thursday this week. At present time, it looks like customizing and deploying VoiFone™ will take about 45 days. That puts us near the end of March before it’s complete, but I think we’ll be rolling out various phases of it before the entire thing is complete. Example: One developer told me today that they could have the fully customized VoiFone™ application ready for Windows deployment within about 3 days.

This is a pretty big project because we’re preparing to do a “multi-platform” deployment. That means it’ll be available for Windows, Mac, Blackberry, Windows 8 Phone (“maybe”), iPhone, Android and Blackberry. Each one of these takes a substantial amount of time and effort to deploy (not to mention the cost).

I’m excited for this great news and hope you are too! It means we’ll start doing a lot of signups and start seeing a rapidly increasing call traffic by Spring this year. Onward and upward!

Jan. 28 Task Complete – Moving On

Well, I finally completed the accounting and tax work I mentioned in my January 28 article. I didn’t finish until Wednesday this week. Today is Friday and I’m fully back in the saddle playing catch-up. Yesterday was spent largely recovering from that monumental task.

It’s 5:00 am right now and I’m preparing for the first training session with our new Philippines agents at 7:30 am our time this morning (10:30 pm for them). We have recruited 3 new agents but one of them cannot start until her current job is terminated in about 5 weeks. Therefore, we’re recruiting a few more to ensure we have sufficient staff to meet the needs of our new Clients. I expect “live” calls will commence by next Wednesday. Today I’ll be notifying our new Clients of the expected start date for their respective campaigns.

Renewed Effort To Sell Leads

With today’s training session also comes a renewed marketing effort to compete in the lead generation business in the USA. The next step after we settle into a routine with our new Clients is to acquire MORE new Clients. Initially, I plan to do that with a robocalling campaign directed at the insurance industry in the USA. We already have a proven script that pulls response from this industry. At best, generating insurance leads is problematic for most insurance agents. We’ll be focusing on this discontent in our marketing efforts. By selling the leads instead of selling the ability for them to generate their own leads, we greatly simplify the process for insurance agents (our Lead-gen customers). Last year’s marketing efforts proved that this simplification for our Clients is necessary if we expect to acquire a sufficient number of Clients to make this aspect of our company viable and profitable.

Work-Around For VoiFone™ Activation Email

It seems the biggest problem we have had in setting up new VoiFone™ accounts is that people simply don’t click the link in the activation email. One reason for that is many of them aren’t getting the email. We have determined that the email is indeed sent by our sever in 100% of the sign-ups. But for some unknown reason, there are times when it just doesn’t arrive. At least that’s true for all of the major fee email providers:  Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail and AOL. It seems to be our Activation Email is randomly blocked from delivery. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent reason for our email being rejected, so we haven’t been able to debug the problem yet.

As a work-around, anyone who DOES NOT receive the activation email right away, beginning today will be instructed to request a free email account from us. We’ll set it up immediately and resend the activation email to their new company-issued email account (username@groupcaller.com) to enable our new customer to activate and begin using their account.

Re-Thinking The Use Of Linphone

I am re-thinking the adoption of Linphone as our preferred soft phone. The reason is expense. I am corresponding with the publishers of Linphone right now for the purpose of determining our cost to fully customize the product and brand it to ourselves. Of course they provide for this re-branding for their customers (“us”) to ensure that our customers see “only” the branding of our own product (“VoiFone™) and NOT their product (Linphone).

But the cost appears prohibitive. The producer of Linphone (Belletone Communications, Inc.) is a company based in France. Ironically, their product doesn’t even work in their own country! Their government blocks its use.  (Go figure.)  Most European products are not competitively priced for Americans due to the currency difference between the U.S. Dollar and the Euro (today’s conversion rate is 1 USD = 0.750 Euro.). This simply means that as of today, a dollar only buys 75 cents worth of products from Europe. Having said that, it would still be possible to do business with European entities if their prices were somewhat reasonable. At the present pricing scheme, it appears that Linphone’s licensing cost greatly outweighs the benefits.  It would cost us more than $60,000 USD to fully customize Linphone and brand it to ourselves, making all functions available to our customers (eg free calls, paid calls to phones, video calling and chat services). That would cover up to 1,000,000 downloads combined through Google Play and/or the App Store. If we want unlimited downloads it will cost closer to $100,000 USD. There’s also an annual maintenance cost for the Unlimited License of 18,000 Euro’s (about $24,000 USD).

For today, these costs are substantially beyond our ability to pay. I will consider it seriously if we raise a significant amount of new capital (eg $400,000 or more all at one time, to give us a sustainable operating budget). We could have a complete business-in-a-box solution for a fixed cost and ready to go instantly – “IF” I can raise sufficient capital. As of this writing, the company does not have sufficient capital to exercise an option like this.

Why Not Continue With Linphone Anyway?

Two reasons: Branding and Non-Working Features.

Branding is critical to our long-term success. Right now, we must disclose that our soft phone is Linphone. This naturally confuses customers because they are accustomed to seeing only ONE name associated with a product (Skype, Magic Jack, Vonage, etc). There are many open-source soft phones on the market that we can brand to ourselves for much less than Linphone. It’s OK to start our marketing with Linphone. But even at this early stage, I’m seeing some confusion among customers about using and downloading a product that is “NOT” VoiFone™ and yet we claim it to be part of our system.  “NOT” good.

I mention Non-Working Features because, while Linphone does provide the chat and video call services for free, the only way to use them without paying the massive license fees is to have our customers set up an account on THEIR server not ours. Their “free” product does not allow our users, while making free and paid calls through our services, to use the chat and video features of Linphone. This is potentially very detrimental to our long-term marketing plans and will certainly cause ongoing confusion among our customers, not to mention the very real possibility that customers lose confidence in our ability to provide end-to-end services for them.

One final reason for making this change is the complete lack of support from Belledone Communications, the producer of Linphone. They don’t provide support services to anyone except paid licensee’s. The “community” of Linphone users is too small to provide viable support. This company provides no method for Q & A with Linphone users with Belletone – direct communications with them is reserved only for their paid licensees.

The Immediate Work-Around

As I have watched our VoiFone™ marketing efforts continue to unfold, I have noticed that NO VoiFone™ users inquired about, or even tried to use, the chat or video call services. My natural conclusion is that these features are NOT important to the start up of this product. Our users have indicated interest in only two aspects of the VoiFone™ Service:  (1) Cost to call cell phones & land lines, and (2) Simplicity for setup and use.

The main attraction to Linphone has been its ability to replicate Skype’s services. However, since our customers have NOT placed value on chat and video services (after all, Skype is the world leader in these services, along with many others who already have complete and robust solutions for chat and video calls), it’s only logical to conclude that the primary interest our customer has in VoiFone™ is to get CHEAP AND FREE PHONE CALLS. We can easily provide those services with any one of countless free soft phones, many of which are open source and easy to modify and brand to our own logo. We can also provide individual and bulk SMS and email services without using Linphone (and that’s something Linphone doesn’t and cannot offer).

It’s easier and much less expensive to re-brand other existing soft phones to our own logo than is Linphone. Therefore, beginning today, I’m hunting for a different soft phone. Existing users won’t need to change from using their Linphone application to another soft phone, unless they wish to do so.  My guess is MOST customers will want to switch over, especially after we create the new simplified installation procedure in which the soft phone is automatically connected to our servers during the installation procedure WITHOUT requiring the customer to separately enter a username, password and URL into the software after installation.

In fact, Linphone is just fine “as is”. But if we really wish to brand ourselves (and we DO . . . ), the better and faster way to go is to just select a different soft phone. I’ll be announcing the new soft phone in the near future. Please return here often so you’ll know when it becomes available.

So Many ToDo’s – So Little Time

I’m sure a lot of my readers feel the same way. Here’s a quick update of what I’m working on and the progress in the past 10 days since my last post.

New Merchant Account Used On First 2 “Lead-Buying” Customers

Our new merchant account is set up and operational. Yesterday I closed our first sale and today I closed the second one. On both sales I used this new merchant account to collect payment. This is a “first” for the company in 2 ways. First, these 2 customers are the first ones who hired us to generate leads for them using our Philippines agents. Second, this is the first time since inception of our company that we’ve had an online portal we can use to take payment over the phone. One of the features of this new merchant account is a slick Administrative user interface allowing me (and our agents) to accept this common telephone payment method. It may not sound impressive to most people because it’s so common to pay with a card over the phone these days. But we’re in the direct selling industry and also the VoIP industry, both of which are often restricted by merchant account providers as to the ability to accept payments over the phone or through postal mail. Our new account allows us to do both. This way, we can close the sale and collect the money while we’re talking to the prospect. Many sales have been lost simply because the prospect forgot or otherwise never got around to going to our website and entering all their payment details. I have a 3rd new customer coming on board as soon as I get these 2 configured and going. This recent activity confirms my previous analysis that we’ll make a lot more sales if we do all the work for our customer – e.g. sell the Leads, not the Hosted Call Center service.

New Mail Server

Today I ordered a new server to handle all our company email plus all our Client’s email that they send through their CRM services. Our CRM programmer in India, Kalpesh, is ready now to set up the server so all email traffic going through GroupCaller™ CRM will now pass through our own email server. This is very significant because it means there are no restrictions on the number of emails or speed with which those emails can be delivered. Right now, we’re subject to the ISP’s restrictions, which are currently 900 emails per hour. If we exceed that, they shut down our email privileges for a few hours, and maybe permanently if we try to send too many emails. Naturally, this is unacceptable since a part of the service we’re selling is “bulk email” for our Clients, so they can promote their business through email to their existing customers. I expect the new server will be online and operational by sometime next week. The switch to the new server will be transparent to our Clients. But I’ll let YOU know about it as soon as it happens.

New SMS Services Almost Ready

One of the great features of our CRM is its ability to send individual and bulk SMS (text) messages worldwide. I’m negotiating right now with a company I found at CES to provide those wholesale services for us. Sorry, I don’t usually disclose the identity of our sources due to the extreme competitive nature of our business. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to discover good providers so we view certain aspects of our business (such as our core providers) as Trade Secrets. This is one of them. I think we’ll have an account set up with them within a week or so. After that, we and all our Clients (even the VoiFone™ customers) will be able to send text messages worldwide at competitive rates through our CRM using their computer, cell phone or tablet. Texting is so popular worldwide, but it’s not so easy to find a service like ours that allows the texting directly your computer and especially the ability to send your text message to a group or list of any size.

VoiFone™ Sales Manager Now Recruiting Agents & Customers

Randy, our Philippines Sales Manager now lives in Manila and is actively recruiting VoiFone™ customers and new call center agents to service our new Leads Clients here in the USA. We have decided on 3 new agents and will get them started over the weekend. I’m busy today and tomorrow setting up these two new Clients and the agents that will work for them. Randy is doing  a great job and will act as our Call Center Manager as well as our VoiFone™ Sales Manager. He is also taking an active role in training our new Call Center Agents.

Marketing Campaign Started

Officially we have started marketing and selling both GroupCaller™ and VoiFone™. Within 2 weeks, I expect to begin a more aggressive campaign to sell our Lead Generating services to insurance agents all over the USA. At the same time, I’m asking Randy to gear up for more sales meetings for VoiFone™.

Meeting With CIO Yields Decision to Move Comp Plan Module

Tuesday I met with Jeff Wilson, our CIO and we decided to move the original Compensation Plan module from the GlobalTmail™ website over to a brand new website hosted on the Godaddy servers to the new VoiFone™ website. This will be a completely new website and will be dedicated to serving Associates and PRG Members. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of building that website. It will be a password-protected site intended only for those who are registered Associates intending to earn money from us and who are recruiting and sponsoring VoiFone™ users.

This concludes my report for today. It’s early Friday morning right now and I must focus on setting up our 2 new Clients today plus trying to complete the accounting work I mentioned earlier. Never a dull moment around here, eh? Please check back here Monday night for another update of progress I make over the weekend.