A few days back I had done a post on VoiceTAP’s IIT JEE conference call. I’d promised a more complete review of VoiceTAP for later after attending their AIEEE conference (no, I’m not giving the exam) on 19th April…here it is. To recapitulate quickly VoiceTAP is a platform that allows knowledge-seekers in a particular field to interact with experienced knowledge-givers over a conference. The way this works is that a conference call is pre-scheduled, then the participants login to the VoiceTAP system by calling up a pre-defined number and entering their unique PIN.
The AIEEE conference call was scheduled for 12 noon on 19th. I dialled in the VoiceTAP number and logged in to their system, got connected to conference call live. A session lasts around 30 minutes during which participants can put in their questions by pressing a sequence of numbers. A VoiceTAP representative then takes their question and a few selected ones are asked by the moderator to the experts who’re associated with the session. At the end of the session you can provide feedback by rating the session from a scale of 1-5. In a sense, this is quite like a radio talk show with the difference being in the medium used to deliver the content. The advantage that VoiceTAP has is that unlike radio which must cater to topics which have a wide audience, VoiceTAP can connect experts and ‘students’ from niche audiences too.
(For those who will be giving AIEEE you can listen in to a recording of the session by registering for the session on the VoiceTAP website. You’ll get an email containing all necessary details – your PIN, phone number you need to call. You’ll get tips on differences between IIT JEE and AIEEE, things you need keep in mind when attempting AIEEE, what you need to do in the days leading up to AIEEE, et al. It’s not that costly to ‘attend’ a call either; depending on whether you call in from a landline or cellphone you pay phone charges only to a tune of Rs 8-30, an excellent price for getting advice from experts.)
When you like a service you want the service to survive – and that means monetization. (I know startups want to focus on getting the product built well first and then monetize, but it’s something that needs to be kept in mind. And as a user I do need to think about it since without monetization the service dies out.) With that in mind I have a few suggestions for VoiceTAP:
- An obvious monetization strategy is advertising – through sponsorship in the way of ‘branded calls’ and in-conference ads. For instance, there’s a mid-session break during which questions asked by participants are compiled; that time can be used for airing relevant ads. Advertisers get good bang for buck as the participants are pro-active – they have dialled in to be a part of this and are not likely to hang up the phone. Probably more micro-breaks can be inserted.
- Podcasts / Downloads: Once advertising (as a business strategy) during the live call has been decided upon, I don’t see any reason why podcasts / downloads of conference calls can’t be made available. Ads already included in the ‘live’ version can be used, or ad slots can be sold to another set of advertisers. If people skipping ads in downloaded copies is an issue then maybe a streaming version of the recording can be made online. Later maybe paid downloads of recordings can also be considered. Anyway, at least in alpha / beta stage of VoiceTAP it would be a swell idea to provide downloads of recordings. Users are sceptical of ‘newfangled’ ideas and downloads would allow them to experience rich content without spending anything. Then, they may be enticed enough to attend a live version of future calls. Not a lot of expenditure is involved and it won’t make a significant dent because the ones using this would be tech-savvy users, who can evangelize and spread word-of-mouth publicity for VoiceTAP. (Like I am doing right now.)
- Premium-rated calls. After the conference call is done, participants who want to interact one-to-one with an expert can dial in on a premium number and have a word with them for a period of, say, up to one hour after the call (or however much the expert can devote). By ‘premium-rated call’ I mean those calls where you pay Rs 3-6 per minute. Of course, this is something VoiceTAP will only be able to negotiate with network service providers once they get volumes. I don’t think users would mind paying that price for interacting with an expert. Since the call is connected and moderated using VoiceTAP, privacy (phone number details) of the expert are also protected. By an extension, there could an SMS shortcode number to which participants can SMS queries to during and after session.
- VoiceTAP team and experts should go through some stock questions before going on air. By all means accept questions from participants, but be prepared with a few question-answer choices that are bound to come up. Do it over email, on phone before a conference, whatever. This helps in eliminating those ‘uhms’ and ‘ahs’ during a live call. I’m not saying current sessions are bad – the content is extremely good – but being prepared would help in smoother content delivery.
- Live polling. I’m not talking about just the feedback bit towards the end; I’m talking about asking questions during a session and giving responses accordingly. Example: In the AIEEE session, a quick poll could be taken on whether listeners want speakers to elaborate on some topic. Based on a quick 30-second poll the conference can go in two separate directions. Initially just yes-no questions since they’ll be easier to tally up when creating a poll on-the-fly during a show, but could be extended to varied choices. Or, say, polling the demographic of the audience listening in at the start of a session. (For AIEEE “Which class are you in?”, and so on.)
- Remove anonymity. I don’t know why they have done this, but the VoiceTAP team chooses to remain anonymous – referring to themselves by the first letter of their name. Users really don’t connect with you if you try to stay anonymous – and you’re trying to sell a product here. You don’t belong to James Bond’s secret organization so why obscure yourselves behind a facade of anonymity? :)
That’s about it. VoiceTAP is a promising concept and its USP of being able to reach niche audiences can make it a killer startup. I’ll be watching out for innovative developments at their end. Watch this space for updates.
My rating of VoiceTAP’s service: 8.7 / 10