Ray Ozzie, the former Microsoft executive, has a revolutionary idea: Make phone calls cool again.
It’s not clear that voice communication was ever cool. It was always more like a necessity. What is clear, however, is that it has been largely replaced by all sorts of real-time, text-based services, from SMS to the latest crop of mobile messaging apps. Ozzie thinks he’s found a way to revitalize the old-fashioned, voice-based phone call.
“I passionately believe that there’s immense latent potential in voice to convey tone and emotion, to quickly resolve issues, to make decisions and to get things done,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the launch of his new company, Talko (sounds like “taco”). “There’s simply no faster and no more effective way to express essential emotions such as urgency, anxiety, understanding, confidence or trust. Quite simply, amazing things can happen when we just choose to talk.”
One of the ways Ozzie hopes to make voice-based communication relevant again is by infusing it with other methods, including text and images. Talko’s mobile application, which recently launched on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, lets people make ordinary phone calls, send text messages, and share photos without having to open a separate application. The app also allows users to bookmark and tag conversations, and automatically records calls for playback purposes. The app’s interface lends itself to conference calls. A user can easily create groups using their phone’s address book, and therefore push out voice messages or initiate live calls to more than one person at a time.
“It won’t replace [email or messaging] but if we can increase the amount of talking I think it will help a lot,” Ozzie tells Fortune.
The long-time entrepreneur founded the company with Matt Pope and Eric Patey. The trio has raised money from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Kapor Capital, and from Ozzie himself. (The company won’t disclose exactly how much it has raised to date.)
Earlier in his career, Ozzie was one of the masterminds of Lotus Notes, the collaboration software that was eventually acquired by IBM (IBM). He later sold another company, Groove Networks, to Microsoft (MSFT) in 2005 and worked for the Redmond-based tech giant until he left in 2010. More recently, he joined the board of directors at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ).
Despite deep knowledge of the technology industry and previous successes to his name, it’s a tall order for Ozzie to bring voice back in vogue. If the company takes off, it’s going to need business customers to embrace the app, not just consumers. Today, Talko is free, but the company plans to charge a monthly subscription fee to users who want their calls saved indefinitely. (The free version of the app will only preserve conversations for a 10-day period.)
Talko isn’t the only startup trying to make money in this category. Twilio, a development platform for voice communication, lets corporate customers create their own apps. That company recently launched a feature which lets users easily integrate images in its communications.
Voice is unlikely to make a strong comeback. (When’s the last time you checked your voicemail?) But it may have untapped potential when bundled with more fast-growing modern means of communication. Why shouldn’t you be able to quickly share photos of your surroundings while on a personal or work call?
Ozzie says he plans to integrate other functions—such as document or video sharing—into Talko’s calls in the near future. The company also plans to make the app available on Google’s Android mobile operating system as well as a web-based application.
One place Talko won’t be available anytime soon? Microsoft’s mobile operating system, Windows Phone. Apparently, you can take the boy out of Microsoft and take the Microsoft out of the boy.