As part of ADOTAS’ continuing efforts to get you closer to our industry’s heavyweights, this week we sat down with John Federman, CEO of click-to-call and call tracking solutions company eStara. John gives us the inside scoop about this growing technology, what he’s learned since his former post as CEO of Dotomi, and what we can expect for the expansion of this cross-channel bridge.
ADOTAS: First, tell me a little bit about eStara.
John Federman: The Company has been around since ’99 and has consistently been focused on creating an easier, more seamless experience connecting buyers and sellers, and spends its time largely concentrating on how to do that with the power of voice.
A: How does it compare to your former CEO roles (Dotomi, Newmediary, AdSmart, etc.)?
JF: There’s a common thread in that each of the companies has been focused on using the power of the web to connect buyers and sellers, and some of the companies, which whom I’ve been associated with, have been in different points in their developments. eStara has a relatively mature product offering and as such has the benefit of an incredible and referential account list that we’ve had the opportunity to grow with in terms of the products and services that we offer, and ultimately the adoption of the technologies has really been championed by consumers. We’ve been able to spend a considerable amount of time developing new and interesting ways for buyers and consumers to connect within the context of their environments.
A: What have you learned from this experience so far?
JF: Well one, I’m privileged to work with the kind of people eStara has. The development and the customer service teams are absolutely extraordinary. You don’t, as a relatively small company, create the kind of customer list that we have without those assets. What I’ve learned is the power of making sure that your offering is easily demonstrative thought leadership, and that because you enter into a client-based relationship with thought leadership, it gives you an opportunity to be much more of a partner in terms of how you iterate the product and deliver an even better product for the customer experience.
A: What does the increased adoption of the click-to-call technology and the pay-per-call model say about the direction of our industry?
JF: I think the industry itself is maturing to a point where we’re all recognizing that it’s much more important to create a product and a solution that responds to the way the customer wants to communicate. So, rather than being so focused on this has to be a pure online transaction or this has to be a pure offline transaction, the reality is that as products become more complex and price points continue to go higher, often it’s going to be a hybrid. And the lesson I think we can learn is you need to be able to give the right method of contact, for the right customer, at the right time. And that’s where we play a pretty important role.
The other thing I think is important to note is that click-to-call and pay-per-call are often put into the same bucket and the words are used interchangeably and in fact they’re kind of different. Click-to-call is the underlying technology and pay-per-call is simply one of the business pricing strategies rather than a technology.
A: Do you think this technology answers that cross-channel gap we keep hearing about?
JF: Very much so. You could look to the way that one of our partners, Verizon Super Pages, uses us. They use both in their print ads to act as a source as call tracking and they use both the call tracking and the click-to-call in their online and the thing that both of those things try to respond to is 1) creating a demonstrable ROI, and 2) creating an opportunity for the data and the time investing online that translates to an offline experience. We’ve all had that experience where we talk to an airline, we put our time in and we filled in where we’re going to, and when we’re going, and all of that and at a certain point for whatever reason we feel the need to talk to someone live.
We’ve already invested 15-20 minutes into the process and there’s nothing more frustrating from a consumer perspective than getting someone that says “who’s this” and “where do you want to go” so to be able to take that experience, translate it and have a cross-channel date of passing—so, the online experience translates to a phone conversation—that from a consumer’s perspective demonstrated not just a great continuity in the experience but it demonstrates the respect for their time.
A: What sorts of changes do you see for this model and technology?
JF: I think the most exciting changes are that so much of what companies in this space and specifically served and talking about are actually happening. We’re seeing a lot of adoption relative using the power of voice from within a web-based experience that builds a lot of velocity behind the category. We’ll see more collaboration with CRM tools probably. I think you’ll probably see a better understanding of how to dynamically present these opportunities, so rules-based opportunities.
A: What is unique about eStara against its competitors?
JF: I think the most important thing is that we’re a pure wholesale provider. We don’t sell directly to the small media match presses and that’s true certainly in the media space. The other distinction is that we also have a very robust marketplace service the enterprise marketplace and so what one of the things we feel uniquely [able] to do is to take that experience of what we’ve learned through customers like Sears and Dell and HSBC and Allstate Insurance and others and translate that to the world of directories and online media. We sort of understand how to respond, so for instance, Amazon who has been a partner of ours for some time now.
What they’ve done almost entirely is taken down their 1-800 number because they want to be able to control not only the volume that goes into their call center but they want to be able to proactively touch their high valued customers. It’s no different than when you and I walk into a store that we’ve bought a bunch of clothes at in the past. It feels good when that clerk comes from behind the counter and says “Hey John, how are you. Nice to have you back here. I found a suit that I think would look great on you.” By being able to combine the power of data mining with dynamically offering the opportunity to have a personal voice-based conversation, a lot of lessons have been learned.
A: What are you goals for the company and for yourself?
JF: It’s really to have eStara fulfill its destiny, and that sounds clichÃƒÂ© but its having been in the space early, having been a loud and proud proponent of voice within the world of ecommerce, we’re just excited to see that the marketplace is embracing what we’ve felt so strongly about for some time. Our goals for eStara are simply to live up to the promise and deliver back the value that our incredible development team has created and the good news is we should be right on track.
As eStara’s Chief Executive Officer, John Federman is an experienced leader who has helped three high-tech startup companies achieve scale, and he has extensive experience in online and print media.
John was president and CEO of Adsmart, a CMGI company, and took the company from 8 employees and $65,000/month in revenue to 140 employees and over $7M/month in revenue prior to its sale to Engage for $437M. He successfully repositioned Newmediary from a destination site to an ASP supporting a private label directory network, raised $15M in investment capital with GE Capital as lead investor, and sold that company to CNet Networks. As co-founder, president and CEO he led Dotomi in establishing its US operations, raised a $10.5M series C investment, and guided the rollout of its first product which enables advertisers to display personalized banner ads.
John spent 12 years at PC Week, rising from regional advertising manager to publisher of the #1 trade publication in the world. He managed all aspects of this $100M+, 150-person enterprise and established personal contacts with marketing executives from leading global technology firms. He launched PC Week Online, PC Week’s highly successful web partner.