On the Hot Seat with Christina Domecq, CEO of SpinVox

London-based SpinVox burst onto the radar screen this year when it announced some key deals with North American operators including Alltel and Cincinnati Bell. The privately held firm, which has developed a compelling voice-to-screen messaging solution, is the brainchild of Christina Domecq, the co-founder and CEO of the firm. FierceWireless editor-in-chief Sue Marek recently spoke with Domecq about SpinVox’s business strategy and the service’s appeal.

FierceWireless: How many deployments do you have with wireless operators?

Domecq: Globally you will see nine deployments between now and Christmas. Between the Alltel, Cincinnati we have another Canadian carrier we will be announcing shortly. You’ll see five deployments between now and Christmas in North America.

FierceWireless: What is so compelling about the SpinVox service?

Domecq: I think it’s the consumer demand that exists for additional voice services that are simply intuitive. There’s no training, no handset dependency. There’s really no application or downloading of an application. There are no barriers to entry for the consumers or carriers. There are no marketing dollars that have to be spent on training consumers. We’re also seeing it positioned as an enterprise service and a consumer service. It appeals to both sides of the spectrum. Carriers are reporting increases in voice and text traffic during their trials and pilots. We’re seeing somewhere around 17 percent increase in text traffic, and 7 percent in voice traffic all stimulated through the use of the service.

FierceWireless: There aren’t many applications that I’ve heard of that would drive traffic in both areas.

Domecq: The most powerful thing is that after three days of using the service (during the free trial) we are seeing retention numbers of up to 80 percent. Every single carrier globally launches it as a free trial. It’s an experience service. People talk about voice to text services but you can’t really get your head around it. But once they try the service there is a huge “wow” moment. They try it for free, some carriers have a one-week trial, some two weeks or a month. We are seeing 80 percent retention rates on average when they go from free trial to pay. We are anxious with the number of deployments we have between now and Christmas to see if we maintain that retention rate. It’s an intuitive and simple service.

FierceWireless: What is the typical monthly fee for this service?

Domecq: It depends on the marketplace. We have a U.K. deployment right now which is going to be free because the call continuity that is generated is enough for the carrier to make its business case successful. We have some carriers charging monthly rates of $5 per month to $10 per month. Some are charging on a transaction-based fee of 25 cents per transaction. So we are still young in the market. We are probably 12 to 18 months away from seeing the market reach a standard in the pricing space.

FierceWireless: You said the service is handset-agnostic. Does that mean you don’t have a client on the handset?

Domecq: That’s correct. That’s one of the enticing parts for the carrier. We integrate into their core network into their voicemail environment so there is no handset dependency.

FierceWireless: On the other hand, getting into the carrier core network must be a challenge.

Domecq: It’s not easy. This company was founded about four years ago and we first started selling to consumers because we needed a proof of concept environment. After proving the concept, watching the take up rates and the retention rates and watching the impact on voice and text traffic, we started working with the carriers and building the business case. But it’s taken about 18 months to build the carrier momentum. Between now and Christmas we expect to close another five significant deals, including a Tier 1 carrier in the U.S.

FierceWireless: How does SpinVox make money?

Domecq: We are transaction-based. We charge the carrier per event. Very similar to the SMSC model.

FierceWireless: You also have Skype as a client. You’re customer base is bigger than just the wireless carriers.

Domecq: Absolutely. We also have a blog product. Clearly we have found that voice is simply an input method into text. That’s a powerful application. We are using voice to cross the divide between the Web 2.0 environment and the telco space. We are positioning SpinVox as the glue between them.

FierceWireless: Are there more sophisticated applications on your roadmap?

Yes. We also generate and push data revenues through MMS by embedding a WAP file. We also have missed-call messenger. Missed-call messenger is very powerful for non-voicemail markets or where penetration is lower. It drives call termination revenue for carriers. Here’s how the product works: If I call you and you don’t have a voice mail, the call rings through. But instead we put an IVR in front of the customer, they speak a message and it gets sent from the customer as a text to the person on the go. We see it being very popular in the MVNO and pay-as-you-go space.