13. August 2012–
Israeli comms pioneer CallMyName lands in Germany
Remember the domain-name landgrab of the early 90s? No, you're probably too young. But maybe you know thousands of companies who suddenly began to snap up urls as the realisation dawned that the internet was here to stay... And that it made sense to have a catchy address so that people could find you easily.
Now one Israeli company aims to bring the same fervour to the world of mobile, and furnish the world with unique mobile "names" instead of boring, hard-to-remember numbers.
"We actually used to use numerical IP addresses in the 80s on the internet!" exclaims Assi Rotbart, the exuberant founder of CallMyName.
"In the 90s it was still very hard to convince companies to have domains. There's so many stories of companies that didn't register them and had expensive cases afterwards – Playboy and Nissan for instance".
"And then we realised that it's the same today with phone numbers – they're boring and meaningless. No-one can remember them, no-one can understand them. We worked on technology that enabled us to solve this problem and implement exactly the same solution of the domain names to the telephone system."
The faith/fear dynamic
The concept is head-slappingly simple: individuals or companies register with CallMyName, then choose a name (or as many as they want) and assign any communication information to that moniker.
So for instance – phone number, website, Facebook page, Skype details, Google + can all be accessed through one name. A free Android, iOS or BlackBerry app will let users control and dial up contacts (or see them on a map, or check out their website) using these names. If you're a company, this means that all your information can be easily rationalised and display advertising becomes a whole lot simpler.
It's a mixture of faith and fear that makes CallMyName such a compelling business model – companies who fear that they will be left behind or face a massive payout for a mobile domain name further down the line are willing to make a relatively small bet of $300 per year to secure their identity.
The team spent three years in heavy R&D to make sure that the tech behind transforming numbers into handles is easily integrated into operators' infrastructure and uses standard protocols - which gave Northern Californian tech investors Canaan Partners enough faith to invest $6 million, with another $3 million provided by Angel investors.
Israel provides perfect launchpad
Rotbart's home country of Israel proved to be the perfect place to launch. A contained population of 75 million with solid but small infrastructures and an above average concentration of wealthy businesses means that rollout of a completely new service can be less risky than in other markets.
"When we launched at the end of 2010, we were shocked. It was a huge land-rush. More then three million pre-registrations were collected in our bank account after six weeks, and now we have more then twelve thousand businesses, more then 10% of the market. We've seen one healthcare association register 17,000 names – one for every single one of their doctors..."
The chicken and the egg
Personal customers in the UK and Germany can already download the app, with a full-scale rollout and €5 million media campaign scheduled for September as well as a US release due in October. Rotbart and his team have also been working with Yellow Pages providers, so that they have independently logged some two million German companies – once the companies start to (hopefully) sit up and take notice, a secondary database of registered domains can be integrated.
"Our challenge is obviously to let people know that we exist. But right now, there's a fully usable app that customers can use to look up restaurants in Mitte or call Deutsche Bank..."
Germany versus Israel – analytics vs speed
"It can be a little bit slower here," says Rotbart when asked what the main differences in doing business between countries is. "In Germany people will think and rethink decisions before committing. Which is nice in a way, as there are fewer nasty surprises down the line.
"In Israel, there are a lot of people looking for shortcuts. This is the American dream. To have a fast exit, to invent something new, to influence, to build something yourself. There are a lot of self-employees in Israel. A lot of independent small businesses and small companies. And almost half the population is living in Tel Aviv. In the same building you'll see maybe ten different startups, and everybody is meeting for lunch and going to the same clubs at night. So there's really an atmosphere. Actually, Berlin reminds me of this too."