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OtherNum Brings PBX To The Cloud

With apologies (but no royalties) to the Eagles, there’s a new kid in town – and it’s called OtherNum. Started by my fellow ATDC Alpharetta buddy Andrew Watson, the service has launched February 1st (a full two weeks early) and aims to free small- to medium-businesses from the shackles of complex PBX systems. Watson and his CTO Walter Duncan call it ‘virtual PBX in the cloud’.

While startup launches are common, the OtherNum guys have taken a five different tacks worth noting:

  1. Watson kept his full-time gig while concepting and launching OtherNum. While bootstrapping is all the rage, those of us with families and mortgages know there are fiscal limitations to being a great entrepreneur. In the perfect world, you buy yourself out of full-time employment, and the early phase of your business is scalable enough to run in parallel with a job. That usually means managing your company semi-autonomously between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. while the rest of the house is resting peacefully. This type of task dedication is every bit as hard as bootstrapping it.
  2. The OtherNum solution is built on existing technology platforms and services – significantly reducing the big-bang costs to launch. With the advent of a voice platform like Twilio with its open APIs and straightforward pricing model, the competitive advantage is no longer derived from owning a ‘network’ – it’s delivering a solution people will pay for. This is increasingly common with the open source revolution, and will slingshot hundreds more companies to market during an average year versus the old-school build cycles of the last decade. And perhaps most importantly, these businesses don’t sit frozen in tight capital markets because they require $500K to bring to life.
  3. Of the most importance to the startup community, Watson is sharing the OtherNum launch process. For example, I recently read his blog post on the importance of understanding web metrics and site visitor traffic. While the topic seems obvious on the surface, taking the time to outline this thinking is a great benefit to the entrepreneurs who are days, weeks or months away from their very same launch moment. Another great example was ‘Thoughts on a Startup Launch’ by Paul Stamatiou of Skribit (and Georgia Tech poster) fame. This is what Atlanta needs more of: information sharing among those on the front lines.
  4. OtherNum is also making strong use of local vendors. When you already have hundreds of dependencies on outside forces, it’s comforting to take the advice of the community to select your tools. OtherNum is using key Atlanta providers like MailChimp for email delivery, A Small Orange for hosting, and Ninja Post for online forums. Having local folks within close proximity tends to work equally well for celebrating your joint success and quickly resolving any issues. Again, this should be a startup blueprint that continually feeds the success of Atlanta as a whole.
  5. And maybe most interesting: OtherNum is staring the Google Voice beast directly in the face. It’s the classic case of a big brand setting the use case for a new technology, and entrepreneurs flocking in to make it better and more efficient (think of how the 1990s Personal Information Manager splintered and grew into a multibillion dollar industry called Sales Force Automation). Many of us didn’t know we needed this functionality until Google Voice made it available to anyone. Once the mind is opened, those with a predisposition to pay inevitably ask second-order questions like number portability, multiple mailboxes and conference calling. Call them power users, call them early adopters, call them whatever label is popular this week – OtherNum calls them revenue.

 

So the logical question is how does a company like OtherNum exit? Given it’s not some huge intellectual property play involving thousands of developer hours, it exits the way every successful business should: becoming indispensable to an ever-growing user base. Once a strong market position has been established and customers have turned the corner to advocacy, the opportunities will come. If you have any pre-conceived notions about this strategy, I’m sure Aaron Patzer and the Mint.com crew could give you 170 million reasons itdoes work.

You can find more details on the company – including a 20% bonus promo code – at OtherNum.com.

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