Phweet Review – Your Suggestions Wish

December 31, 2008

in phweet

Some things are Phweet! Ah sweet! At least that’s the play on words I was looking for. I thought a world full of PhweetTalk might make Twitter a more interesting place. So this is my review.

10 things I have learned:

We haven’t yet changed the world. People still prefer to make their calls off or outside Twitter and without Phweet. While we garnered a lot of early attention the reasons why are not that hard to see.

1. Most importantly Phweet works. It breaks new ground re callerID, context for a call, call in progress, and call records. The variations developed later including persistent Phweets have even more potential.

2. However, Twitter isn’t yet a mature or effective signaling system. There’s lots of confusion around @ messages, DM’s and the default settings for notifications and email. Many times we wished we had the money to enable reliable SMS and email notification services ourselves.

3. I still look at Phweet as a Clayton Christensen type innovation. It’s counter intuitive, disruptive and slightly broken in the beginning. But watch out!

4. We thought the “PhweetURL” in the tweet would be more viral than it was. At first it was. We had a dozen people in our “launch call”. However sharing and promoting URL’s on twitter isn’t as easy as it sounds or may look. Signing in to Twitter was also a barrier. Twitter really needs an oAuth identification service. Twitter should authorize and send Phweet the key. We also had too many public canceled sessions so the user didn’t get a reward.

5. Tweeters do talk. In fact Twebinars prove they also like conference calls. Yet our lack of an app integration made this hard to call in. We also didn’t put in a “billing system” in the Alpha which restricted the “convenience that can be made available. A few of us know. We ran PSTN accounts and the integrity and convenience of the system improved.

6. We failed to get one Twitter App developer on board. They could have integrated Phweet using the API so it was almost like having a Twitter buddy on speed dial although without the rude ringing. This was disappointing to us. I never wanted to be in the App business although (if I had the funds) we could develop two or three twitter related apps that would challenge the current leaders on the desktop and mobile. I believe we presented revenue models and options that should have been attractive. My guess is many different agendas.

7. We have built a really nifty personal call management system. You can take the call on any channel and Phweet is effectively channel agnostic. Still the feature was buried for first time users and without a payment plan we couldn’t fund the calls so the host always got a call back. That’s a problem we’ve now solved alas it awaits another iteration.

8. Many don’t see the potential for the anonymity / callerID that is and separation from the phone number. This is integral to effective location based services and managing your privacy.

9. Similarly, we’ve not yet executed an integrated package that puts the receiver in charge. Many still fail to see that traditional call escalation results in interruptions, voicemail and potential breaches of privacy. By contrast Phweet lets the receiver make a judgment based on context and their relationship whether or not to escalate to a call. We’re already doing this unofficially by texting first. Phweet must make that dumb SMS message smart.

10. The PhweetURL was always meant to become invisible. In time it will. It’s really an exchange contract that brokers and escalates access between two or more parties. It may be public or private. Without apps we could make the Phweetman the button we envisage or enable it to go to every web page. Again we know the next step.

There’s more of course. We’ve looked at statistics, we’ve looking as deeply as anyone into twitter user behavior. For now we didn’t get a million users quickly. That’s not to say I can’t see 10+ million in my future.

What I would do differently

I wouldn’t have launched a public alpha. There were huge benefits and yet I think we may have done better with building out business case privately. When that public alpha launched, the perception was we were too big really for angels and we needed to go for something bigger. Fact was we were perhaps somewhere in between. As a consequence we shot too high too fast when we had a million demands at once. So I would have spent the time sharing it with more of those I trust and know. No one told me this privately although a couple of influential bloggers who I’d have called my friends shunned mentions as if they had been slighted. It was never the objective. We did what we thought was best at the time and prepped it. I couldn’t see at the time how I could run an effective alpha. Part of our initial focus was to learn how a Phweet passed through the twittersphere. Many of my best friends weren’t even on Twitter despite my early advocacy. So this is really a catch22 reflection. Still it is a note for future iterations.

I spent hard earned money on help with the look and feel of the site. If we hadn’t gone to public alpha we could have saved this money and in the end it was more trouble than it was worth. It’s always an interesting trade-off. It’s also part of the set of skills that’s required to get a start-up like this off the ground. In reality I’m still much happier we spent some time on the “packaging” my real frustration is not having the resources to make improvements. Like anything you have to be prepared to throw it away. Still as they say. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Just two guys had real skin and labor developing Phweet.

In both my reflections on 2008 and in the above I wish we had started with a few more resources. I felt close at the time it just didn’t quite gel that way. I’m sure David feels the same way. Both of us are capable of driving more than just ourselves. I still look at it with pride and think if this is what we could do just think what a team of 10 could do. It’s not a question of delegating everything; its more about ensuring everyone is doing what they are best at. I found myself caught in trying to do everything. The simple fact is few startups or web solutions start with so few resources and even less that provide VoIP solutions. Most have a small army.

If it is not clear in the above I would  approach funding differently. I’m a little horrified that I’m still stuck on really moving forward because of a complete lack of funds. Having sold big dollar consulting projects the costs to have driven our Phweet team forward could have already paid out many times over in some large organization with more resources. Still that’s not the prize that a startup VC or Angel looks for. I’m convinced that the ROI can be huge.

The future for Phweet

That will be a separate post. It’s dependent on and requires additional support from my friends. I require encouragement. So does David. We have a good understanding of services that we can harness in the next iteration. Our plans for Phweet won’t be beholden to “minutes” which is a death spiral for most VoIP companies.

What would thrill me the most and best kick start my new year would be your suggestions; public or private. So if it was yours… what would you do next? If you are as passionate as I am and want to press the innovation boundaries then join us, advise us, fund us etc. Certainly, now would be a good time to come forward.

  • http://blog.televoce.com Ed Prentice

    Great analysis Stuart, as usual. Putting yourself on the couch is a very difficult task, especially at this early stage. There is a pony in here and I know you can find it. I’ll meet you on the corner with my tin cup.

  • http://www.henshall.com Stuart

    Ed,
    Thanks! Although from my perspective I left out more than I put in. I could only publicly review things that I also felt should be 1)out in the open, and 2) generate more interest in what we are doing.

    I’m actually really excited to get started with 2009!

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