London — As telecoms moves to over-the-top data services it's interesting to see how legacy interconnect arrangements have been used to build a free conference calling service. Russell Southwood talked to Bertrand Daumalle, Managing Director, International Operations, Freeconferencecall.com about its operations in Africa.
Freeconferencecall.com was started in 2001 by David Erickson out of his apartment. According to Inc in 2016., Erikson sunk time and effort into building a service to let users conduct screen sharing and videoconferencing, but then a rival company began offering a similar service for free. So, he decided to get into the free business model himself and launched FreeConferenceCall.com with a US$10 domain name bought from GoDaddy.
Erickson is keen to stress that this is no leveraged start-up:"We've taken no institutional money and have no debt. I want people to know we're not venture funded, not looking for our next round of capital." According to Owler, it has annual revenues of US$45.6 million..
It was originally a US-centric service but went international after eight years. Two years ago Daumalle joined to do international partnerships with telcos. He had previously worked at Liquid Telecom and VoIP carrier iBasis.
Freeconferencecall.com is a no subscription and no commitment service and you can use it once or as many times as you like. Each account accommodates 1000 participants on an unlimited number of 6 hour free international conference calls and is available to use 24/7 without any reservations.
On a service basis, they can do a conference broadcast for users who need more than 1,000 callers. The platform can offer 5,000 callers for people like religious leaders:"There's strong demand for this in Ghana, Senegal and DRC".
You can access the service using a phone line but also via mobile data or Wi-Fi. You can do video and screen-sharing for free:"We can put your logo in and we charge a small sum to create a personalized greeting". Current users tend to be residential and SMEs:"We're developing an enterprise model ourselves. They can pay fees for the service and have account management.
So how does the free business model work? It's based on sharing the revenues the telco partner operator receives from interconnect charges:"The local partner provides Direct Outward Dialing (DOD) and sends calls on to us. The standard agreement is 50% of the interconnect charges. There is no capex or opex for the operator and they will get a big part of the revenues they get."
They are currently in 70 countries globally:"The first country we opened in Africa was South Africa followed by Uganda three years ago then Nigeria followed two years ago by Kenya and Algeria and then Malawi a year ago. The three biggest markets for us are the oldest ones".
Are there plans for further expansion?:"Any country on the map we don't have we'd like to have. The key factors for going into a country are population, disposable income, penetration ratio and cheap data".
Marketing is done on a digital basis after seeing how word-of-mouth takes off:" It's done digitally. We wait to see how likely it is for people to hear about it for a couple of months then do digital including Facebook, Twitter and Google Ads".
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