This is not a story about fintech, but about a startup whose technology is used for phonebanking. If phonebanking isn’t as fintech as it gets, then what is it? Good question!
Phonebanking is also called canvassing. It’s used by political parties to engage with potential voters and convince them to go out and vote. Born in the United Kingdom, it used to be done by pads, but now, smartphone and cloud technologies have revolutionised the process. The startup we are talking about today is playing the political phonebanking space.
Founded by Augustus Franklin in 2014, Callhub helps advocacy organisations, political campaigns and businesses in their outreach efforts.
Augustus tells us, “I wanted to enable better real-time communication between people and businesses, but I struggled to find the right consumer segment. Many advocacy groups and political campaigns have big communication requirements, but struggle with finding a cost effective solution. With CallHub, I am able to provide world-class telephony infrastructure, available only to larger political party insiders, to everyone. CallHub helps level the playing field between political candidates, and in the process, helps make the world a much better place.”
The founder journey
Augustus is a serial entrepreneur. He had worked in world-class companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo for more than 14 years before he started his first startup Gaglers in May 2011, which was part of The Morpheus startup accelerator. He says “I could have continued along with my high-paying job, but I wanted to build something of my own, and I felt that I could contribute to the telephony sector. The journey started with Gaglers Chat, and it continues with enabling better conversations through CallHub.”
But Augustus’ journey hasn’t been a bed of roses by any means.
How and why did Augustus pivot from Gaglers to Callhub?
When Augustus expressed his choice to leave a lucrative career behind, his family believed in him and gave him a loan for six months. That’s when he started working on Gaglers. He gave himself a two year runway, which fell short in 2013. When Gaglers had only 10 paying customers, he called it quits.
He says, “When my runway ended in 2013, I had only 10 paying customers. Then, I got a loan from the family for six more months. CallHub would never have happened without great support from my family and initial set of advisors."
The odyssey to product market fit
Augustus’ desire to experiment with cloud telephony as a communication medium gave birth to CallHub. Initially, CallHub’s inability to generate any significant revenue made him desperate, and in January 2014, he started looking for consulting opportunities. Around the same time, he wrote a small integration for CallHub and a nonpartisan political CRM called NationBuilder. As it turned out, this was his big break. Advocacy and political campaigns turned out to be a highly underserved market.
Augustus says, “Today, we have over 700 customers who, using CallHub, reach out to people in more than 200 countries. CallHub significantly increases the chances of a newcomer winning a political office. CallHub levels the playing field when it comes to political software, making technology available to everyone no matter what their affiliations are. Current tools and technologies support party insiders. We make the same quality of innovative technology available to everyone.”
He elaborates on the success seen by some of his customers, “In the October 2016 elections, the Pirate Party of Iceland won 10 seats in Parliament, up from three seats in the previous election. The Australian Greens won nine seats in the 2016 Federal Election. Les Republicains of France recruited 800 volunteers in four months, and made close to a million minutes of calls to their supporters.”
Before technologies like CallHub existed, advocacy organisations hired staff paid by the hour to come into their office and make calls using a normal telephone.
What can CallHub be used for?
- To run volunteer-driven voter calling campaigns during elections
- Contact potential donors to raise funds for causes
- Advocacy groups call people to talk about their cause
- Campaign managers recruit volunteers for a political campaign
- Send automated voice messages to leads or voters
Thy customer, thy king
User experience comes before a user’s cheque. Augustus says, “I worked very closely with our first few customers and moulded CallHub based on their feedback. We integrated with numerous tools that a campaign manager had to use to make life simpler.”
For team CallHub, the understanding and usage of large communication platforms and products is their biggest USP. In-depth understanding of customer needs in the advocacy and political campaign space also helps them serve their customer better. CallHub uses Python, Django and AngularJS in the main product. Its data analysis pipeline is built using Apache Spark and Luigi. They use data that is generated in the product to improve the quality of every conversation that happens in CallHub. The idea is that as more customers use the product, the product gets better, providing customers with a better experience.
Most of Callhub’s customers discover them via their marketing channels, blogs and search engines. Regarding monetisation, Augustus says “Customers pay us for every call and text message that is sent through our system. It works like a prepaid system, where they buy credits and use them. We are one of those unique businesses that can grow in revenue in two ways. Increase in usage helps grow revenue, and we can also do so by acquiring more customers. Our business model is the panacea for SaaS startups.”
Entrepreneurship and balance
Coding, pizza and red bull are as common as dirt in a startup, but building for the long term requires maintaining one’s balance in the chaos of running a business. Augustus shares what keeps him grounded, “I meditate for 15 minutes in the morning, eat a high protein diet, go for a run every day and read a book before going to bed. Routine helps me maintain balance in my life. My kids keep me young and my work keeps me motivated.”
Among the books he reads are Guns, Germs and Steel, Learning Python Design Patterns and Entrepreneurship Simplified. He likes to watch A Beautiful Mind, The Ides of March and Spirited Away. And the destinations he is fond of are Machu Picchu in Peru, Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim and the North Pole in Alaska.
When YourStory ask him whether there was one thing he would do differently if he had to do start up all over again, Augustus says, “I would focus more on the customer's problems before building a product. Gaglers Chat was a very well built product, but the reason it did not grow is because it did not solve a clear pain point. With CallHub, we started growing when we solved the customer’s critical problems.”
The cloud telephony space
It is encouraging to see B2B-focused products being built out of India with a global focus. CallHub competes with players like CallFire in the West. In India, Ozontel, Knowlarity, MyOperator and Exotel are in a similar space, though they are focused on small and medium businesses. For CallHub, their moat is their data and rate of growth in their niche. The global cloud computing market now has an estimated worth of more than $120 billion, with a CAGR of 26 percent a year, according to MarketsandMarkets. Even if the cloud telephony sector isn’t considered sexy by tech pundits, it’s a space where one can build sustainable and profitable businesses.