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“YouMail’s goal is to provide everyone an automated secretary for handling missed calls.”

YouMail helps consumers and businesses deal with incoming mobile phone calls.

The YouMail Visual Voicemail Plus service is the world’s most popular third-party voicemail service, having answered the phone well over two billion times. They directly provide top-rated iPhone and Android apps, and third-parties have brought YouMail to Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

They have well over 4 million registered users and 150,000+ businesses of all sizes that have discovered how YouMail can help them interact more efficient with customers, prospects, and partners, through a combination of unique features like smart business greetings, automatic replies to voicemail, high quality voicemail to text conversion, and much more.

MO: How did you come up with the concept for YouMail?

Alex: All of us hated voicemail, and generally wished we had an assistant that could deal with it instead, so we didn’t have to. That quickly morphed into a simple vision: YouMail’s goal is to provide everyone an automated secretary for handling missed calls. When you think about a secretary, what do they do? They figure out who’s calling, they greet them nicely and professionally, they let them know why you’re unavailable and when they can get ahold of you or you’ll get back to them, they transcribe or summarize messages, they route calls and messages to the right places, and they often reply to callers.

MO: Can you elaborate on the process of totally re-inventing voicemail and turning it into a positive experience?

Alex: Once we had the vision of replacing voicemail with an automated secretary, our process became really simple. We steadily work step-by-step to build features that capture different actions a secretary would do when answering a call, put that produce in front of users, refine them, and move onto the next one. But simple is different than easy – a simple concept is often a boatload of work.

MO: What are some of your favorite features of YouMail?

Alex: The ones unique to YouMail! For example, YouMail has a smart greeting, which greets callers by name (“Hi Mike, Alex can’t come to the phone”). Originally, YouMail started with the notion of a personalized greeting, where you could have one greeting for your Mom and Dad, another for your significant other, and still another for each of your friends. But we found most people simply recorded something like “Hi Mike, you’ve reached Alex”, which led to us providing the smart greeting feature.

Another favorite is YouMail’s “ditch” feature – for unwanted callers, YouMail plays “Doo-Doo-Doo. This number is out of service”, which automatically takes people off telemarketing lists and convinces unwanted ex’s that you’ve changed your number. Now that many people have only a single phone, you’re stuck giving that number out all the time, which leads to people calling who you don’t want to – and the “ditch” feature stops that.

Still another is “visual caller id”, where we figure out who is calling, and show their name and an appropriate image. For example, if we can figure out that a number if Bank of America calling, we can show their name and logo, even if it’s not in your phone’s address book. This one has really changed the notion of caller id for people – and as a side effects, makes our app(s) much more visually appealing.

Finally, YouMail’s auto-reply, which automatically texts callers a status message (like this: “Busy until 5pm. Will call then.”), lets unknown callers update their caller ID information in our user’s address books, and even lets them play or save the voicemail they left. We saw users replying to all their callers by typing the same text, over and over, and thought that we could make that much simpler.

MO: Startups typically need to pivot and evolve their business model over time, especially as customers start to use the product or service. Can you provide some advice or lessons learned to entrepreneurs on pivoting while keeping your business moving forward at the same time?

Alex: Three things. First, make sure your evolution is driven by customer data or feedback. Our focus shifted to businesses when we saw a really high percentage of calls coming from businesses and a lot of business users signing up – even though we initially thought we were about a service for on-the-go consumers. Second, don’t spend time looking in the rear view mirror. You have to pivot whole-heartedly, putting all your energy into the new model. In a startup, you just don’t have the resources to do more than one thing well. Third, focus on pivoting very quickly. Lay out a series of short-term milestones to see how well your pivot is working, and hit them one after another, as fast as you can. Just because you pivoted doesn’t mean that pivot is going to work – so you need to quickly understand how well it’s working.

MO: Congratulations on nearly hitting 5m registered users – what’s been your marketing strategy to gain such an impressive amount of traction?

Alex: Our marketing strategy has been on creating high-value product features that also expose the value of YouMail to callers and friends of YouMail users – including the smart greeting, easy voicemail sharing, and automatic replies. That drives downloads, use, and exposure, which in turn drives more downloads, use, and exposure. In fact, we have grown our base completely organically – never spending anything on advertising or other traditional forms of marketing.

MO: How do you plan to keep the momentum going?

Alex: We’re starting to finally expand beyond letting product features drive our growth. In particular, we’re forming partnerships with carriers to supply YouMail to all or some of their users. For example, a new MVNO, Zact Mobile, provides YouMail to every single Zact Mobile user, so as they grow we grow. And we’re starting to explore using traditional mobile advertising to leverage our product’s natural virality. We’re also close to releasing an enterprise version of YouMail that will allow us to greatly expand our presence in enterprises – where we can support our champions within an enterprise in their quest to have enterprises adopt YouMail as their standard for mobile voicemail.

 

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