Q&A with Toktumi/Line2 founder and CEO Peter Sisson
Line2 offers a feature-packed unified telephony application for businesses and consumers alike. The application is offered by Toktumi, which is based in San Francisco and was founded in 2008.
SUB: Please describe the concept behind Line2.
Sisson: The concept is really about having a second phone line on your cell phone.
People that use Line2 for business can create a professional identity for themselves. They can separate their business and personal calls without having to carry around two cell phones. One cell phone, two lines. Hence, Line2. Other features include: “Do Not Disturb,” separate voicemails and call forwarding.
Despite the primary targets being business professionals, we found that a lot of consumers have gravitated to Line2 as well. The biggest reason is that they want to keep their personal cell phone private. They use it in instances when they have to provide a phone number but don’t want it to be the primary number.
The third use is that people discover that they can make calls where they couldn’t before. A lot of people have issues with cellular reception in their homes and offices. Line2 can be used for cellular, Wi-Fi and 3G calling. Line2 makes it so that they’re never stuck without service, even if they don’t have a cell signal.
SUB: What is the experience like for users?
Sisson: It’s just like using your regular cell phone but with lots of additional benefits that users don’t normally get. What was very important to us in creating Line2 was to not force people to learn new behaviors in order to place a call. We wanted Line2 to work the same way as their existing cell phone service but with the ability to switch between VoIP and cellular calls. They also have some additional cool features, especially for business.
With Line2 Pro, users have the ability to set up an auto attendant, manage multiple lines thru a single account, and can even have different phones connected to your Line2, not just your cell phone. It’s a whole level of additional features.
The core is to make it as easy to use as a regular cell phone.
SUB: How was the company founded—was there a big “aha” moment, or was the concept the result of a more gradual process?
Sisson: The “aha” moment that really stuck out was that people were carrying around two phones—one for their company and one for personal use. Carrying two phones and worrying about keeping them both charged and paying both bills is just not an ideal experience. Instead of carrying two phones why not put two lines on one phone?
SUB: What were the first steps you took to establish the company? For example, did you seek funding first, establish a team, etc.?
Sisson: We practice what is called the “lean startup model” which is really just to spend very little money until you discover what your product really is and who your customers are. I raised a little bit of money from a friend and angel investor who funded me and a couple contractors to figure out what the initial concept was. We came up with something, debuted it and it wasn’t right. We iterated on the product based on customer feedback and over time it migrated from a softphone for a PC to the Line2 application for mobile devices. That’s when the product really took off.
SUB: Who do you consider to be Line2’s competitors?
Sisson: There are many people chasing this opportunity, although almost all of them are focused on consumers. Companies like Skype, Google Voice, Tru, Fring etc. all have mobile offerings, although none offer a service focused entirely on bringing business phone features to mobile professionals like we do.
SUB: How do your services compare with services like Skype and Google Voice?
Sisson: Professional-grade quality and reliability, business features and live customer support are how we differentiate from the free services.
Most of the other services are free and as a result there are issues with quality, they’re consumer oriented—not business and they don’t offer live customer support. Essentially, we attract the professionals who like such services but are willing to spend a little money in return for better quality and reliably, business features, and live customer support.
SUB: What is your primary target market?
Sisson: Professionals and people whose calls are important to them. They’re employed, high income, college educated, in their 30s-to-50s.
SUB: How are you marketing the service?
Sisson: A combo of word of mouth, public relations and mobile marketing.
Our primary effort is PR and awareness generation through news coverage. The most important channel that we’re trying to build is PR combined with word of mouth. We want our customers to become our own evangelists. Customers that love the service and want to share it with friends and associates is the secret sauce for any company that wants to grow.
We also do some mobile advertising with companies like iAd and JumpTap on smartphones and mobile devices. By doing that, we’ve already eliminated the people who are not our targets. We know that they have a mobile device and what device they have.
SUB: How has Line2 been funded to this point? Are you considering raising (or raising more) outside funding in the near future?
Sisson: The company is funded by investors and a venture capital firm. Our goal is to become profitable which we can do this year. Once we’re profitable our plan is to raise a Series B which will be an expansion round that will focus on expanding our customer base.
SUB: Where do you see Line2 in a year from now?
Sisson: Line2 will be a profitable, well capitalized company that is top of mind when people are looking for a professional grade communications service on their mobile device.
SUB: Finally, a question I always ask: as an entrepreneur who has successfully navigated the waters of the bad economy, what advice do you have for those just starting a company?
Sisson: Use your funds to get your product right before you hire a big team. Learn as much as you can from your customers and from the marketplace. Keep it very very lean to start. Make sure that you have the fundamentals down and the product has legs, and only then start marketing and building your company.
Line2 – www.line2.com