Start-ups to Watch: myaNUMBER Simple, Secure Family Communications using Telecom APIs

At the AT&T Developer Summit myaNUMBER gave an excellent presentation of their Telecom API-enabled service, there’s a sweet video demonstration at the end of this article.  At the AT&T event I was fortunate to have Voxeo Labs introduce me to the founders of myaNUMBER, John Wantz, Chief Dad, and Kyle Schei, Ops Dad; and we had an opportunity chat about their experiences.  Voxeo Labs recently covered myaNUMBER on their weblog.  The myaNUMBER service will be publicly available soon.

The main functions of the myaNUMBER service are:

  • Gives your kids a single ten-digit number to reach a trusted adult;
  • Ensures children can always reach a trusted adult when they need to;
  • Uses location so you always know where your family are;
  • Use everyone’s existing phones – landlines & mobile numbers on all carriers; and
  • Your family stays updated with text and email reports after each call.

The process for setting up the service is the customer chooses a myaNUMBER, they program it into their child’s phone, then that calls each phone in turn, Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, Grandparents, Nanny, etc..  The service also allows group text amongst the caregivers, and uses location so they can see where everyone is.  The pricing for the service is $9.99 per month or $89.99 per year, includes 200 minutes of call and 100 SMS, with rollover, and additional bundles can be bought.  When a family signs up for a myaNUMBER they can choose between a local or toll free number that will ring up to 5 phones. The phones can ring all at once or consecutively in a predefined order. After a call is placed, an email and text message report is sent to each registered caretaker on the account including speech to text of the conversation.  There are existing virtual numbers and services that partially solve this problem, but none of them are simple for the family, rather simple for the service provider.

For those of us at that stage in life with young kids I’m sure you can appreciate the use cases for this service: arranging dinner plans, or who picks who up after school events, or dealing with those all too often emergency situations (especially with boys), or simply seeing where people are (using location information) as they were supposed to be back 10 minutes ago for dinner.  “Simplicity of the customer’s experience drove all our decisions, this meant no freemium as that introduced complexity with adverts, no apps it just works when the child calls the number.  We selected Tropo over the competition for two reasons, as a developer its documentation and support far exceeded the attempts of the competition, and our focus is simplicity, Tropo works across all carriers and is integrated into the AT&T network, so it works with existing numbers.”  Stated John Wantz, Chief Dad at myaNUMBER.

John’s comments on the importance of documentation and developer support must not be underestimated, most telco attempts have failed at the first hurdle on documentation and developer support.  In my own experience, I’ve seen the Voxeo Labs’ support guys respond almost immediately to queries from developers I work with.  And the great thing is it’s a collaborative, expert, human approach, no hint of big company behavior.

The idea for the service came from the founders’ experience of the problems in raising their children across the extended family of parents, nannies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-grandparents and neighbors, with multiple numbers for each.  Their children had to call and remember too many phone numbers, they needed one number, and that’s where myaNUMBER came into existence.  The service uses the Tropo and Phono APIs.  Tropo is used for voice and SMS, and Phono it extends those functions to the browser.  Other APIs include the AT&T payment API, locator API, in-app messaging API so SMS from a browser looks like its sent from the person’s mobile, and speech to text API.

The business model is quite interesting, for $99 per year the developer gets 1 million points per month.  The points are consumed on using the APIs, beta APIs are free, speech transcription <60s (any type) costs 1 pt, to send SMS, MMS or WAP via Short Code is 1 pt.  This pricing is not about making money with the APIs, it’s about fostering innovation,  once a service becomes successful, 1 million transactions is quickly consumed.  And that’s the purpose of the model, low entry barrier to encourage developers to experiment.  John made a comment that I’ve found over the past couple of weeks many developers echoing, “AT&T has set the bar in the industry, unless Verizon, Sprint and TMO copy them, developers are unlikely to engage” stated John.

When we discussed the future road-map of myaNUMBER, John and Kyle got excited, “Tropo is really the only platform I would trust on which to run my business.  Phono is an amazing JavaScript library that cut down our development time for building out the web browser experience by over 80%, and is a central component upon which our future product road-map is based.  We are particularly excited about running our service on Voxeo Labs’ Ameche platform, we’ll be able to do so much more in making the experience easy and successful, such being able to add family members to an existing call and having an SMS to the group read into the call, the possibilities are very exciting“.  On thing’s for sure, we’re going to see a lot of innovation in the coming years given their enthusiasm for Telecom APIs.

John and Kyle advised other developers, “Don’t follow technology fashion, follow what makes a beautifully simple experience for your customers that solves an unmet need for which the customer is prepared to pay.  Specifically, don’t chase the app-economy, being in the network makes things simple and easy for the customer.  Telecom APIs, and in particular Tropo and Phono from Voxeo Labs, have made our business possible.”

This is a service that works across any operator, it should be part of most operators family bundles. “myaNUMBER transcends carriers, it should be in all their portfolio’s, and Tropo / Phono can get carriers there fast” declared Kyle.  This is a service most families will use for about 10 years, after which its likely their adolescent child will have stopped talking to them.  But in those golden years of 3-13 years, it has significant value.  It need not be limited to just family groups, I can see how with the right packaging this can be used to create beautifully simple experiences to meet the n
eed of many different groups.