I recently had the honor of speaking with Jan Scheeren, CEO and Founder of Talkswitch, makers of a line of self installable PBX appliances for small businesses.
Jan founded TalkSwitch (back then named Concero) in 1990 to provide small businesses with a phone system that could do everything a “big business” phone system could do.
Why is there an increasing amount of buzz about phone systems? For one, voice communication is still an important way of communicating. Furthermore, Jan explaiend, not having a proper phone system gives a bad image to small business owners. For example missed phone calls, could mean that your customers are calling the competition if they can’t reach you.
Your phone system should also be an asset to your core business communications. For example, maybe you assign one extension to give directions to your business.
Jan’s vision is for TalkSwitch to be about having a phone system that is owner friendly and channel friendly. He’s reached that vision already. TalkSwitch’s phone systems are simple enough that the owner themselves could set one up. But if not, their IT person or local consultant can do it, with no need to be a dedicated telephone sales person.
There’s few company executives I speak to that have a vision for making their products as simple to use as this. Intuit’s business model is also like TalkSwitch’s – products that a business owner can install and use, right out of the box.
As you know, VOIP is a very hot market right now. Many vendors, such as Cisco and Microsoft are pushing VOIP in the belief that plain old telephone service (POTS) is dead. However, Jan believes that the best approach is a hybrid approach, wherein customers can use their POTS and migrate to VOIP when they’re ready. He feels that the vendors on the “VOIP only” bandwagon are missing out on what many small businesses still consider important – plain and simple telephone service.
A few days before speaking with Jan, I also spoke with Ring Central’s Michael Mullany, Chief Product Officer and Jay Blazensky, VP of Business Development.
Both TalkSwitch and Ring Central sell different solutions to the same issue – better telephone communications.
TalkSwitch provides a PBX appliance, Ring Central provides a virtual PBX service,as does Gotvmail and VirtualPBX.
Ring Central recently received $12 million in funding and has 40,000 customers as of November 2007, about 10,000 more than TalkSwith. This compares to 20,000 customers Ringe Central had one year ago.
Michael and Jay shared with me that small businesses really don’t like the telephone options available to them today. For smaller businesses it can be relatively expensive and time consuming to have a traditional PBX installed. On the other hand, a virtual phone system is granularly scalable and instantly provisioned – there’s no wait time.
Microsoft recently launched its phone system for small businesses, Response Point. This telephone system is comprised of software from Microsoft and hardware from partners.
According to Michael, Microsoft is still stuck in an “old school” mentality of a CD and hardware and he believes that a hardware based approach is not efficient for connecting distributed users in multiple locations.
I checked out Microsoft’s Response Point site and if the slick web site is even half as good as the reality I think Microsoft has a winning and simple telephone system for small businesses. This phone system is not going to be a direct challenge to virtual telephone systems as much as it’s going to be a challenge to TalkSwith and other small business focused PBX vendors.