By Jon Fortt
November 17, 2006

I was skeptical when I first caught wind of what LiveOffice is doing. The conference call provider records customer meetings, then makes the mp3 files available to them for download. But I’ve been generally

disappointed in the failure of podcasts to emerge as a medium for creative new things with audio, and the LiveOffice initiative seemed quirky at least. So I decided to chat with CEO and co-founder Alexander

Rusich.

I’m glad I did. It turns out LiveOffice already considers its podcasting experiment to be a success, since it gives customers a

reason to stay loyal in the high-churn business of call services: easy access to call recordings. In the IM interview below, I got more detail on how podcasting is shaking things up at LiveOffice.

Fortt: So tell me how you decided to get into podcasting, why you think it’s an important opportunity, and how much you expect it will contribute to your business.

Rusich: Podcasting was an offshoot of our conferencing service – people loved the recording features and wanted to have an easier way to access the recordings and share them. Podcasting was the obvious answer, and people love it. In other words, we’re not all that smart – we just stumbled on to it. Why it’s important: People want to do business on their own time. They don’t want to dial into a call at a set time.

Fortt: Give me a sense of what your revenues are overall, and how you expect this to contribute.

Rusich: For 2006, we expect to end at $15 million. This service is brand new for us, but we expect that for the following years it will help to drive additional business through our premium services and make our existing services more “sticky.” If you’d like me to quantify that for next year, I think a safe estimate would be attributing it to 5 to 10 percent of our overall revenue.

Fortt: So tell me: roughly how much are your customers paying for the premium conference call service, and how many of them are adopting the podcast option?

Rusich: Our premium conference calls run on average of 8 cents per minute per connection for podcasting – about 20 percent of our users take advantage of the podcasting option.

Fortt: Do customers pay extra for the podcasting feature, or is it built in? How is it presented?

Rusich: No, it’s built in – and there’s no charge at all. It’s available in the control panel for teleconferencing.

Fortt: What kinds of clients have been taking advantage of it, and what have their responses been? And how is the podcast set up – do people subscribe to an RSS feed for a certain company, for a certain division within a company?

Rusich: Our typical customers are small and medium-size businesses with conference calls ranging from between two and 200 attendees. With the podcasting, there is an RSS feed for the conference bridge, and a company can have multiple conference bridges for multiple divisions. And we don’t charge extra for additional bridges.

Fortt: Interesting. How do you handle security? I imagine some proprietary things get discussed. Do they just have to keep the feed address secret?

Rusich: The host has a PIN he can assign to individual RSS feeds. The host can make the feed private or public, using our control panel.

Fortt: So, then, can people subscribe to the feed through iTunes?

Rusich: Yes, they can use any podcatcher software.

Fortt: I get the sense that podcasting hasn’t really found its way up to this point: it was supposed to take over radio, but it stalled. what do you see as its future?

Rusich: I see the future of podcasting advancing from just consumer-oriented “pirate radio” podcasts to an effective business communication tool. It goes back to the idea of people wanting to do business on their own time.

Fortt: So you see this feature as TiVo for conference calls?

Rusich: Absolutely! Soon you won’t even need to be tied to your iPod, you’ll be able to get podcasts through your cell phone as well. Imagine being in an airport and listening to the HR interview for a possible new hire.

Fortt: Talk about that. How do you see that happening on a technical basis? There’s not a lot of great podcatcher software for mobile phones.

Rusich: We’re looking to partner with this company – http://www.fonpods.com. They allow any podcasts to be listened to from any mobile phone without the need of downloading special software.

Fortt: So you expect to partner with them to make this more conveniently available to your users?

Rusich: Yes, for the mobile phone piece.

Fortt: Five to 10 percent of your overall revenue is a lot for something like this to contribute. Are there other ways you think you can capitalize on podcasting to drive your business?

Rusich: We attribute the growth to podcasting’s ability to make our existing conferencing services much more “sticky.” Currently conferencing, especially teleconferencing, is a commodity service with lots of turnover, and clients jumping from provider to provider.

Fortt: What’s to stop podcasting from becoming a commodity feature? Do you see any evidence that users of your podcasting feature are becoming more loyal?

Rusich: Absolutely – the folks that use it stay because they love the service and they’re totally dependent on it now. On top of that, for a specific bridge, the feed stays the same – so their audience now has their feed in their iTunes software.

Fortt: Sounds totally plausible. Give me some sense of the data that’s convinced you this is true.

Rusich: We are pretty new at this stuff – we don’t have years of data to back that up yet. But for the folks that are using it, we see a significant decrease in turnover. So the early indicators are positive.

Fortt: Can you give an example of situations where you’ve heard customers got particular use out of the feature? Are they using it while mobile, at their desks, or both?

Rusich: Sure. Typical large conference calls always have people that can’t make it on time. As an example, I was on two calls yesterday where guys came in 20 minutes late and missed half the call. Instead of us having to re-hash it when the call was done, they just went and picked up the podcast to hear what they missed. We see it being used at their desks and on the go. So, both.

Fortt: How long after a call ends is the mp3 file pushed out?

Rusich: Depends on the length of the call. It’s all automatic, so it takes about 5-15 minutes to get the file posted.

Fortt: … and as soon as it’s posted, it can be pulled down, depending on the preferences the user has set in the podcatcher, right? Is there a click-to-play option for folks who aren’t as savvy?

Rusich: You got it – there’s a Flash player option as well for streaming audio right from a Web page.

Fortt: A closing question: what cool gadgets or Web services have your attention these days?

Rusich: I’m really excited about SMS (text messaging) and the new abilities it will bring to businesses. That and location-based features on phones, GPS. For example, we host a great number of Web sites for our financial service customers. We are looking at the ability to automatically send an alert to a customer service representative’s cell phone when a customer has a request on the site, and then extend that with a click-to-call option where the user can be directly contacted to a representative.

Fortt: Glad I asked that last question. And thanks much for your time.

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