Dialing up Call Spinner: Startup Weekend team stays on the line
Call Spinner, a phone number that when called pairs you up with another random caller, launched nearly two weeks ago at the second Startup Weekend Omaha, September 10-12. Not only did the team of four take away the competition's top prize of $300, but they kept and have continued to work on their service. Next up for the team: build out Call Spinner's advertising platform that would turn the fun side project into a sustainable one, if not a profitable one.
When pitched by Alex Gates on the first night of Startup Weekend, Call Spinner was described as the phone version of Chatroulette. The big difference being that Call Spinner is only voice when Chatroulette is video, voice, text chat, or a combination of the three. The video, however, ultimately hurt Chatroulette as users began exposing themselves. With Call Spinner, there's no concern for moderating video as there is none, but users could be rude over the phone, degrading the other user's experience.
Two other differences between Chatroulette and Call Spinner are advertisements and conversation time limits. Chatroulette has one advertisement at the bottom of its website while Call Spinner has audio ads between conversations. Chatroulette doesn't cap the time of a conversation while Call Spinner ends your conversation and transfers you to another caller after three minutes.
To best explain the Call Spinner experience, here's a screencast of me using the service via Skype. (Disclaimer: After two unsuccessful tries, I asked my friend, Jeff Milewski, to call into Call Spinner at the same time as I did. He's the other voice you hear in the video below.)
To learn more about the free service, the technology behind it, and the advertising model they've built, I conducted an email interview with Gates:
Silicon Prairie News: Who makes up the Call Spinner team and what are your roles?
Alex Gates: Our team formed at Startup Weekend Omaha on September 10, 2010.
We are (pictured below from left to right, photo by Danny Schreiber):
- John Hobbs: Developer at Town Commons
- Alex P. Gates: Developer at What Cheer
- Zach Leatherman: Developer at Union Pacific
- Cody Peterson: Designer / Developer at Secret Penguin
What is Call Spinner?
Call Spinner is a new way to anonymously talk to people using your phone. Callers are randomly paired with another caller and given three minutes to talk. At any time, either caller can press the star * button on their phone to skip to another caller. If a call is skipped or time runs out, you'll be paired to another random call and the cycle continues.
What technology went into making Call Spinner?
PHP & MySQL
We also used Twilio – It's a great API for building voice / SMS apps.
Outside of time, what are the costs that go into keeping Call Spinner up and running?
Twilio charges a small fee per minute. That's about it.
It's been nearly two weeks since you launched Call Spinner, what's been the biggest development since?
We've been developing the audio advertisement platform that runs behind Call Spinner and looking at ways to make it more universal and interesting.
A big part of Call Spinner is having more than one user. In the case of single callers, what have you done to give them a good experience?
The big part is more about having more than one simultaneous user. We all receive text messages if someone calls, of course, so we know when to call in. We're also looking at a few different ways of publishing an alert when someone is calling so others also know when to call in.
What's the revenue model behind Call Spinner?
We don't want callers to have to pay to use Call Spinner, so we built an advertising platform as well. We developed some really neat tools to allow people or organizations to publish ads, view analytics, and publish ads to targeted area codes.
How does one advertise on Call Spinner?
You can contact us from our website. We're offering some free ads for a while since everything is so new.
You and two of the other Call Spinner team members were involved in the winning idea from the first Omaha Startup Weekend (GiftBright.com) – what did you learn from that experience that you took into this most recent Omaha Startup Weekend?
Startup Weekend is really great, but it is also really intense. We learned that we shouldn't undertake anything seriously complex that couldn't be finished by Sunday. We just wanted to build something that was fun and able to be launched at the end of it.
Do you have any fun Call Spinner stories to share?
Ha! All the people I've talked to have been very interesting in their own ways, really.