“I talked to a guy who told me that Telecom is a cool thing where money can be made even while you are asleep & that triggered my entry into telecom” says Dave Erickson, Founder & CEO of FreeConferenceCall.com.
It is a busy time for Conference Call companies now. Government organizations, Corporates, Families, Friends – everyone is looking for options to be ‘connected’. Work from Home is the new go to mantra.
The timing to interview Dave Erickson could not have been any better. I got the opportunity to talk to Dave Erickson when the whole world is looking at all possible options to stay connected. In this interview (done via FreeConferenceCall.com), Dave shared the history of the company as well as conferencing call options available on FreeConferenceCall.com, their future plans, etc. He also shared his message to the Startups out there who might be struggling to get going in the current global ‘stand still’ situation.
VJCV: What were you doing before starting FreeConferenceCall.com ?
Dave: I am a high school graduate & I do not have any university degree. I have made concrete curbing gutter machines, done finance and different type of things. I talked to a guy who told me that Telecom is a cool thing where money can be made even while you are asleep & that triggered my entry into telecom.
VJCV: You even thought of coming out with your own Newspaper?
Dave: That was long time ago, as a kid. It says a lot about who I am; I was able to, at a very early age, start mowing lawns & gardening for neighbors. I always did things that I wanted to do. I wanted to get in to telecom & as a bootstrapped guy it was difficult to get into this sector. FreeConferenceCall created the Self Service Conference Call. Now FreeConferenceCall.com is running faster & better than many of the other companies out there.
VJCV: How did you decide on the name of the company and when did you pick up the domain ?
Dave: During that time (2001) Screen sharing and Video Conferencing was a new field & making in roads. So when I came up with the idea of Conference Call, I wanted to see if people will take this service. People started using it but they did not know about the brand. So I needed to come up with a name and then I thought why couldn’t I call it as ‘FreeConferenceCall.com’. I picked up the domain for 10$ (USD) on 26th Oct, 2001.
VJCV: For the initial 3 years, you were the only employee at FreeConferenceCall.com. How did you manage all the work?
Dave: I did not have the money to pay people. I built everything myself & arranged deals where I managed to use somebody’s infrastructure. Close to 900 days I was managing everything. I even answered all the Customer Care calls 24/7. It was the desire to do it. Lot of people called & learnt to use Conference Call from me. They used to call and tell me the cool things that they were doing with this & how I am part of their collaborative efforts. Mary K Cosmetics used our services & managed to move from being a neighborhood business to nation wide business.
VJCV: When and how did you start generating revenue ?
Dave: It was 1st April, 2004. I was looking for a phone company which can host my conferencing bridges. I had approx. 6 million conferencing minutes at that time. I found a company in Iowa. They paid me somewhere in the mid of May, 2004. They paid me early because they were so happy with the volume. They had 200 lines in total and we added 2024 lines there (almost 10 times their size).
VJCV: Is FreeConferenceCall.com absolutely free to use for Consumer ? There is an option of payment which I saw on your website, what exactly is it all about ?
Dave: It is absolutely free. We have been able to make money from other things which are part of the telecom economics. I had to keep this free for everyone. I reached out to customers and gave an option for customers to pay what they felt is fare for the usage. This was to make sure that others who cannot afford to make any payments still use our Services. The response to this was amazing. 1000s of customers paid and also picked up other value added services. We use this to help Students and Charity organizations to use Conference Call.
VJCV: Is internet mandatory to use FreeConferenceCall.com?
Dave: Customer can connect via Voice on our App, via video conferencing, data conferencing or you can just be on telephone. You can just dial in to the conference line from a regular telephone and be part of the conversation.
VJCV: How do you make sure that the calls are secured & privacy of the user is maintained ?
Dave: There are different layers of security. On a telephone system, once everyone dials in, you can take a roll call & check the participants who are connected to the call. Once the required people are connected on the bridge then the call can be locked. It is the most secured scenario. The Access code is not a security code, it is given out to people to connect to the conference. In regard with the backend information, FreeConferenceCall is a private company. We have not sold any data to any information to any company ever. We do not use information to sell other services as well. I do not like it when my information is sold / used. As long as I am the CEO of the company it will remain like that :). Privacy is sort of moving target. I do not think anyone say that they are completely 100% locked down.
VJCV: What is the call duration possible on a call ? How many people can be on a call simultaneously ?
Dave: Conference call can go on for 6 hours. Whenever a new member joins the call then the call duration will get extended to another 6 hours.There are court cases where in we have seen the calls going on for 8 hours also. 1000 people can be on a call at the same time. We see Direct Selling people connecting to 700-800 people & also Prayer calls see 1000 people getting connected at the same time.
VJCV: How are you managing the current demand because of the unprecedented situations ?
Dave: We have seen great demand from across the globe especially Turkey, Iran, Iraq & India. In India we have seen usage going up by some 1000%. We have a different Culture & do not work / operate like a typical corporate. Employees here can work anywhere & get paid lot more. But they love it here. They sometimes make me feel an inadequate leader. They just went full time now without being asked, this is their network & they take it personal, which is beautiful. I have a great team. It is super rewarding for them. We are happy with the network we have built. It could be bigger & we are trying to double the size of it.
VJCV: There was a time when you did not want more customers to use your services ?
Dave: It was in 2005. The company kept growing and I did not have the money to buy the equipments as fast it was growing. I stopped all marketing but it still kept growing. But now the market situations have changed & things are lot better now. We specialize in telecom piece and it is the most difficult piece to scale.
VJCV: What is the USP on FreeConferenceCall.com compared to others like Zoom, UberConference, Google Hangouts, Ring Central, etc. ?
Dave: We are community supported . Our users help other users to get connected. We are always free. We do not do 30 days free / 60 days free. It is lifetime free in FreeConferenceCall.com.
VJCV: The hold tune you have been using from the beginning is Sunshine Soul by the New York Ensemble. It is in a way a great song during this current pandemic when people are looking at ways to get some Sunshine.
Dave: All our souls need some Sunshine during quarantine 🙂
VJCV: You have a special line running during Christmas called the Santa’s hot line. How many kids call Santa using this service?
Dave: My brother thought it will be a good idea to have a mail form – Santa line. We got a pretty good Santa voice after couple of trials. Around 7-8 million kids call in every year to leave the message. It is a regular toll number. A text is sent to the number from which the call is made and the kids recorded message to Santa is sent back.
VJCV: What is next coming up at FreeConferenceCall.com ?
Dave: Typically Conference Calls were made from offices. Now things have changed. People are working from home. So we are going to look into video display options. We are also looking to launch a Smart phone as well with the suite of products at FreeConferenceCall.com. This is to make it easier for customers to use our services from across the globe. It will have a US number linked to the App.
VJCV: How are you personally coping up with the current situation – Working from Home ?
Dave: I have to go to office twice a week for one hour each as I some signatures have to be done. I feel that I get more time at home as the impromptu meetings do not take place at home. It is more scheduled now and hence more time. So I am enjoying this Work from Home.
VJCV: You are also the CEO of CarrierX.com. Can you share some details about CarrierX.com ?
Dave: Carriers have been serving customers for years. They look at serving the end users. I think Carriers need to learn to serve the applications that serve the end users. CarrierX is set up for serving the applications. The administrator should be able to control everything, right up to the tandem switch. It has to be super agile.
VJCV: You started in 2001 and still maintaining this as a bootstrapped Startup. Someone like you who has been managing a Startup for last 19 years & also have experienced sub prime crisis/recession, what is your message to the startups who might be currently struggling due to the un foreseen market scenarios ?
Dave: I tell my employees that in trouble and in good times, ‘I can’t wait to see what happens next‘. If you are someone struggling with a Startup then you should know that things not happening cannot be the reason for not being prepared. It is all about what is going to happen. When opportunity presents itself , you cannot be flat footed. You should be ready for the next thing and make it in to Sunshine.
VJCV: In the last week, FreeConferenceCall has got some unwanted attention. I could see on Twitter people talking about Jared Kushner using FreeConferenceCall services. You would like to share your thoughts on that ?
Dave: As I shared in the beginning about privacy, FreeConferenceCall is very secured. Government has been using our services since way long, in FBI take outs / police take outs, in subpoenas, government agencies, etc. We are approved for use in Government agencies. There is a way to use FreeConferenceCall which makes it really secure.
FreeConferenceCall.com ,from its humble beginnings in 2001, has now become one of the top Conference Call service providers in the globe.
A high school graduate, one idea, 10$ domain and now the lifeline for millions to stay connected.
This is yet another great story about people who have shown that Passion, Attitude and Curiosity can take you to places.
Dave Erickson on PAC Talks with VJCV
(Listen to much detailed conversation. Podcasts available on Apple as well as Spotify)
(As a user , I felt FreeConferenceCall.com is not that user friendly when compared to other services available. But it is a great option and has the following advantages 1. you can have long conversations (6 hours) 2. 1000 people can connect at the same time 3. Internet is not mandatory (phone line will be charged for the call).