Normally I don't cover companies run by friends or colleagues. How can you trust me to review a product when I have an emotional interest in its success?
So meeting with Joe Gillespie, CEO of Zoove and former executive vice president (my boss' boss) at my division here at CBS Interactive, put me in a bind. He's sitting on what looks like a very smart business that I believe is already well past the tipping point of success. I cannot not cover it, and I'll be damned if I'll give it to someone else. But if Zoove fails, I will have to re-evaluate any respect I ever had for Joe.
Zoove is a registry of mnemonic and short dialing codes for U.S. cellphones. All codes are preceded with ** ("star star") and they can be any length. Here's a demo: Call **SUZUKI from your mobile. You should get a recorded message from the phone call, as well as an immediate SMS with a hyperlink to a marketing video.
The marketer, in this case Suzuki Motorocycles, gets your phone number, phone type, and rough location, not to mention the opportunity to send you whatever data they want on your mobile--a text, a link to a coupon, or an actual voice call connection (as the StarLaw Network will be doing with **LAW).
The big news today is that Zoove has signed up all four of the major U.S. carriers: All the phones on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon work with Zoove's single directory of star codes.
Nobody is likely to step on Zoove's action here. Getting baked into the mobile carrier infrastructures took years. Having them all route ** calls through Zoove is a major coup. Theoretically, another company could come along and offer up a competing short code system, like ##, except, sorry, Zoove owns the routes to those numbers, too.
The fact that the company now has these networks locked up--with no competitors aside from archaic and overloaded toll-free number directory and the clunky five-digit SMS shortcodes run by CSCA--means that advertisers can start blasting these codes out with abandon.
And they should. Star codes are easier to use than other types of real-world links. With QR codes, for example, you need an app and you need to point your phone at something--tough when you're driving past a billboard (QR codes have other advantages, though). Using an SMS shortcode is twice as complex as a star code; you have to send a code to a code. Zoove codes can also be any length.
Want one for your business? Pay Joe--a lot. Short and generic codes cost the most. Two-letter codes are $75,000 a year; three-letter codes $50,000, four-letter codes are $25,000. I wanted to get **RAFE but Joe did not offer to make a deal. Shorter codes can be less, down to $7,500 a year, but generic codes are expensive. (**FLOWERS cost 1800Flowers.com a substantial sum.)
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