ChaCha - Top Wireless Company 2008: FierceWireless, Fierce 15


Where it's based: Indianapolis, Ind.
When it was founded: 2006

Why it's Fierce: ChaCha is more than just a search firm with a catchy name. The company, founded by serial entrepreneur Scott Jones, was named because the word cha means search in Chinese and Jones thought it was a name that people would remember.

ChaCha is a human-powered search engine because company founders believe that traditional desktop search functionality doesn't translate well to mobile. Instead the company built a platform that uses human guides--many of which are internet-savvy college students or stay-at-home parents--that can answer questions quickly and accurately. The premise is simple: users can either call an 800 number with their question or send a text to the short code 242 242. Within two or three minutes, they receive their answer. The answers are not only provided quickly and accurately but also with a human personality. According to Jay Highley, chief business development officer at ChaCha, the human factor is important because many of the questions ChaCha guides get asked are "opinion" questions such as "Should I break up with my boyfriend?"

The service is advertising-funded but Highley says that the company only sends promotional messages that are related to questions that the user has asked.

ChaCha has an impressive management team and board of directors. Before starting ChaCha, Jones started Internet music firm Gracenote. Highley is a veteran of Sprint and the former CEO of Integrated Mobile. Other familiar names include Tom Kelly, former chief strategy officer at Sprint, who is a ChaCha board member.

The firm is funded by Bezos Expeditions, the personal investment firm of Jeff Bezos; Morton Meyerson, former president and vice chairman of EDS as well as chairman and CEO of Perot Systems; Rod Canion, founding CEO of Compaq Computer; and Jack Gill, well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

ChaCha is quickly gaining recognition in the wireless industry. At CTIA Wireless 2008 the company won AT&T's FastPitch Platinum award for best consumer application.

What to look for: One of ChaCha's biggest challenges is to develop brand awareness so consumers know to use the service. Look for ChaCha to do some innovative marketing campaigns, possibly in conjunction with a major operator such as AT&T.

ChaCha - Top Wireless Company 2008: FierceWireless, Fierce 15