« Previous entry | Home | Next entry »

Pinger, a pretty cool vmail service

Have you ever been in a rush, and wanted to call someone, but just to leave them a message without actually talking with them?

The big problem: If you call them, they might pick up.

Joe Sipher and Greg Woock, former executives at the personal digital assistant company Handspring, have produced a surprisingly convenient vmail service to do that -- from any mobile phone. Their new company is called Pinger, and Greg showed us the service last Friday. Today, it has started testing the service, and you can sign up on their site We think this has a great shot at getting wide adoption.

Here's how it works: Pinger gives you a local number that you store in your phone under "speed dial." Whenever you want to use the service, you press "p", and it dials a local number. So far, you have just pressed one button.

Pinger then gives you a prompt, and then you simply say the name of the person you want to call (your phone must have the person's contact details stored, such as email address and/or phone number). Pinger uses voice recognition (from Tellme) to look up their details. Pinger then gives you a second prompt, and you speak your message into the phone. Pinger then sends the audio message to the person's email account, or to their phone via an SMS audio file. So the person on the other end can listen to it immediately or later -- but the main point is, you're not locked into actually talking with them.

The break-through technology that has allowed this is VoIP. When you call that local number from your cell, by pressing "p," Pinger tunnels into a VoIP network, and then distributes the number. It works independent of carriers, so it can send to and receive from any carrier or phone.

So, here it stands in favorable contrast with other products, including that of Coremobility "vnotes" product, which we wrote about almost two years ago. Sprint has launched that on millions of phones, but you have to be a Sprint subscriber to use it.

Woock said the engineering was tricky, but that he was able to hire the right folks to do it. Given the company's expertise and experience in taking products to market, this company should be able to execute just fine. Woock was Handspring's VP of sales, and Sipher was Handspring's VP of marketing. So success will depend on how useful this product really is. They are going to rely on a viral campaign, Woock said. We've used it, and really like it.

If you use the service from your computer, via the Web, it will be free. But Pinger will start charging you once you exceed ten messages a month from your phone. Even if only three percent of Pinger's expected users choose to pay for the service, it will make money, Woock predicts.

At every step, it is designed for easy use. Once you leave a message with someone, via email, that person gets a message asking them whether they want to sign up with Pinger too. It then handholds them through the process. You have a dashboard for settings, which you can manage on the Web. You can choose "expert" mode if you simply want a little tone prompt instead of spoken directions each time you call. You can choose whether messages are sent via text or email, or both, and so on.

Woock likes to call the service "asynchronous" voice, meaning it is the voice equivalent of text messaging or emailing -- where both parties aren't talking with each other in real time.

Woock thinks there's a large market for this. Texting (SMS'ing) exploded from practically zero messages being sent in early 2005, to almost 50 billion messages being sent in the second half of 2005, he said.

Last year, the company got $3 million in backing from Randy Komisar at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which we've mentioned before, back when it was called VoiceVault. They met him through Donna Dubinsky, who they'd worked with at Handspring.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Links to blogs that reference this entry:


Cool idea.

Ash on August 23, 2006 9:09 AM
Comment link

Please note that at least in Europe you can call someoneęs voicemail directly. Instead of calling +49 1XX XXX XX XX you dial +49 1XX YY XXX XX XX. As there are no dedicated mobile numbers in the US, I donęt know if itęs working there as well. However, voicemail technology is pretty much the same worldwide. So besides the number thing it should be possible. Anyway, I doubt the market for voicemail. But you never know; probably all about marketing!

Sven Schmidt on August 23, 2006 9:50 AM
Comment link

Carriers can start this kind of service with just one option as mentioned above in comments. Though service will be great and will say carriers that they need to start this. As far as doing this on my phone, I dont have everyone's email id stored. And people will get SMS with URL not attachment (i guess) that would mean i need full fledge data plan. But anyway, this kind of service would be great.

Ajay on August 23, 2006 10:15 AM
Comment link

Ok, am I missing something? Aren't these guys a day late and 3 million dollars short?

Hoodia on August 23, 2006 11:34 AM
Comment link

I don't know why this service is innovative at all. This thing has been done by many companies who specialized in virtual personal assistant in the past, the most popular one was wildfire (now owned by Orange) launched back in 2000.

Technology-wise, given that the heavy-lifting (network fault tolerance, scalability, recovery, caching, voice recognition integration, etc) is done by Tellme Networks, there is really not much there, any average programmers who spent a day on learning vxml can write up this apps with sms gateway api hookup in a day, if not hours. I have to agree with Ash, this is a 100% pure marketing play.

EIR48 on August 23, 2006 11:41 AM
Comment link

Just be clear, you don't need email addresses on your phone to use Pinger. During signup, you import/synchronize your contacts to the Pinger service from Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. If you don't want to import your whole address book, you can type in a few. Then when you call the Pinger number, you just SAY the name of the person you want to message. Voice addressing just works these days and is far easier than keying phone numbers to address.

Joe on August 23, 2006 11:45 AM
Comment link

Here is one better for Carriers, All they need to do is program these features into the Voice mail number / button, were a user can store all there numbers as phone book and are voice activated by persons name, they access the voice mail # of party one is calling and send *.Wav file to there Email. So were does pinger fit in this case. Too late to market !


RK on August 23, 2006 12:37 PM
Comment link

May be TellMe can provide all this framework and collect the toll, good app for TellMe!

RK on August 23, 2006 12:42 PM
Comment link

I can see it on the "send" side (if they can truly make it easy for mobile users), because I can speak faster than I can text or write an email.

However, on the "receive" side I'm not interested in more voicemails. I can digest information faster via text message or email, and even do it covertly while in a meeting, club, party, etc.

There's a reason why communication is moving away from voice and more towards text. Organization, convenience, efficiency, forwarding, better storage/search, etc.

Jordan Mitchell on August 23, 2006 1:35 PM
Comment link

Sorry folks. The timing changed on the release, and looks like it will be first open for testing later today. Have updated.

Matt Marshall on August 23, 2006 1:47 PM
Comment link

Not sure I fully understand this, isnt this mobile to mobile voice mms?

rich on August 23, 2006 2:00 PM
Comment link

the timing changed on the release? :-)

michael arrington on August 23, 2006 2:24 PM
Comment link

It's now open for testing.

Matt Marshall on August 23, 2006 3:02 PM
Comment link

Seriously...is this a joke...lets think through this.

1. Most vaoicemails are relatively short - anything long and most people dont listen. If you agree with that then why not just send an email or sms instead of an email voicemail which is essentially what this company does.

2. When I call someone and hope to get their voicemail its for a few reasons a. I dont want to talk to them but would rather leave a message b. I want them to think I tried to reach them (here is where this model falls apart. If I get an email voicemail from someone it will make me think - what they didnt want to talk to me live?)

3. It would be much better if this service new the voicemail number for all of the networks and dialed that and let you leave a real voicemail for someone - I am sure this can be done.

4. Why bother - 10 voice emails and I am paying for more - I dont think so...Ill just send an email or sms....

Can someone do a sanity check - $3mm raised...for what? This can be developed by someone else fast but the bigger question is WHY?

alex on August 23, 2006 7:41 PM
Comment link

Sorry one more comment...it just hit me...this is good for phone sex...leave a sexy message for someone while they are at work...thats when hearing a voice is better than reading it as a message!

alex on August 23, 2006 7:44 PM
Comment link

Nice idea. I had a little company called Trekmail that did exactly this back in 2000-2005. You'd call in, record a message, it'd send an MP3 file to the desired recipient or group. It sync'd your phone book with Plaxo, and was a simple quick way to fire off emails by phone. It didn't have speech rec (but did have a simple speed dial/ivr interface), but otherwise it was the same idea.

The only problem is that it was a feature, not a business, and it was impossible to get people to pay for something like this. End users didn't want to pay $5/month on their credit cards, and the carriers wanted to keep most of the revenue for themselves.

After giving up on trying to sell it direct to consumers, we ended up selling the business to Visto, which rolled it into their portfolio of mobile email services We considered ourselves lucky to recoup some of our investment, and were not particularly happy with the whole experience.

Services like this look appealing, but the adsense model doesn't work, and getting customers to pay for point solutions like this is really hard.

Not saying it's a bad idea, just that we had a nearly identical service with loyal users, virtually none of whom were willing to pay, which made it a cool feature, but a lousy business.

Brian McConnell on August 23, 2006 7:48 PM
Comment link



steve_ray on August 23, 2006 10:11 PM
Comment link

This service will be especially helpful when dealing with others in different time zones -

you can leave a voicemail pertaining to a matter - for them to retrieve later. Sometimes you may think of a matter at an incorrect time to phone someone - and sometimes you simply forget to contact someone at the time you planned.

It is especially helpful to do all this from your PC - you may come interesting news you may want to share with a business associate who may be commuting - so you can just send a email or send a voicemail

Search Engines WEB ůű on August 23, 2006 10:29 PM
Comment link

I think it is for the exec or other busy professional in the car. They are driving home, and thinking of things they forgot to tell people during the day, or people they are thnking about, etc.

Matt Marshall on August 23, 2006 11:01 PM
Comment link

Doesn't anyone else think this is an idea, not a business? This is stupid if you ask me- I know they'd never make a dime off of me.
What ever happened to business planning- you know, creating a viable means of making money from an idea? I just don't see it in 95% of the companies profiled here. Shouldn't SB take a little more critical view of this stuff?

MartinE on August 24, 2006 6:32 AM
Comment link


Did you try it? I think you will like it. And yes, we may fall into the niche category of people are too busy for their own good, and for whom this service is targeted. There are times when I'd like to leave a little voice message for people while I'm driving, and to press one button, speak their name, and start talking is pretty easy. Now, regarding service, versus stand-alone business, you have a great point. See the comment above left by Brian McConnell about Trekmail, and link by Steve_Ray below it. Trekmail had a voice email service that worked exactly like this minus speech rec. It sync'd with your Plaxo address book, and enabled you to send quick messages by voice. Nobody was willing to pay for it as a stand-alone product, so they sold out to Visto last year, and integrated into Visto's mobile email clients.

Now, this service is not linked with Plaxo (it is broader than that), and has voice recognition, which also pushes things forward.

But how many people are going to actually pay for this? I've got a lot of monthly bills gouging me for this and that, and I haven't made up my mind whether the service is really compelling enough to make the cut. It's a great service, and may indeed only survive as a service offered by a larger company. We shall see.

Matt marshall on August 24, 2006 7:17 AM
Comment link

When it comes to telecommunications America is way behind Europe and Asian countries. In India you can enable the direct voicemail service for your cellphone. A small fee is charged.

I'm not sure why this will be a big business. Can somebody explain me ?

Harshal Vaidya on August 24, 2006 7:36 AM
Comment link

Hey Matt: Thanks for the mention. Just to be clear, the Core Mobility "Vnotes" product (sold as "SMS Voice Messaging" by Sprint) can deliver to any mobile phone that can receive SMS - on Sprint or off - and every recipient can reply. You only need to be a Sprint sub to originate messages.

We're seeing great traction with Vnotes at Sprint - by the end of this year, just about every data-capable Sprint phone will include it.

Doug van Kirk on August 24, 2006 10:06 AM
Comment link

I just used the service. The only thing that impressed me was the TellMe voice recognition. The service itself is not valuable. I don't care what hte mkt stats are, it is not useful to send a voicemail to someone's email. It would be useful if you could just leave a vmail on someone's real voicemail w/o having to actually dial into their phone. I

sarah on August 24, 2006 2:50 PM
Comment link

I seem to be amongst the few that see some great possibilities with this app. It's okay if it's not for everyone... The voice recognition feature is impressive, the ability to leave someone a non-intrusive message is very useful (especially if it's not urgent or you know the other person is in a meeting (think about it... how many times does someone send you an email then call you to tell you they just sent you an email? I'd rather get the voicemail in two places.)

I don't always have everyone's phone number on me...but I have most emails at my fingertips at any given moment. IMHO it's easier to voice a coherent message from a cell phone than type it out for sms on it's keyboard if it's more than a line or two.

I also really like the fact that you can forward a message received to others (groups: family, friends, co-workers) and even download the wav file to repurpose it (podcasting, sampling, ?). Again, perhaps that's a niche market, but the best things embraced by the mainstream generally start out as deviations to begin with.

A little bummed about the low-usage level to where they start to charge. But with a decent laptop and/or a mic on your desktop system you could still make great use of this.

At least someone's trying to be creative.

B on August 28, 2006 11:49 AM
Comment link

HA!! My mother has her own way of doing just this. She waits until she has only 5 minutes before she walks out the door, calls me, makes a BITCHY BLOODY SPEECH (at whatever topic at hand is presently); then of course, 'oh, I can't talk must go now...on my way to 'such and such'. This way she gets to bitch at me and never do I have a chance to say anything back. GRRRRR

Mother F on August 29, 2006 4:10 AM
Comment link

It sounds like a cool service. I might use it. But if they're going to charge after just ten messages, I really don't see the point. Maybe. Let's see what they do charge. If it's expensive count me out. Also, if I'm the only one I know who's paying, then I'm probably the only one using it also. I can't see anyone going through the trouble of signing up just to send ten free messages. I want to see it catch on. I don't feel like being the only one who sends messages this way.

One cool thing about this: I deal with people in China all the time. They speak and understand English, but have difficulty reading and writing it. This would be one hell of a way to communicate with them.

Joel Mannfried on August 29, 2006 7:34 PM
Comment link
Post a comment

Remember personal info?