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Small Businesses Get GotVMail

When Jonathan Meersman started a Web hosting company called The Hosting Spot in October 2003, he knew he needed to offer customers a toll-free number for technical support. Meersman began doing research and quickly discovered that buying an 800 number from a conventional telco was cost prohibitive. As a sole proprietor, he also had another problem. “I didn’t want people to know my company was as small as it was,” he says.

Meersman found the answer to his problems when he discovered GotVMail Communications, a start-up company out of Newton, Mass. GotVMail offers hosted VoIP services, including toll-free numbers, auto attendants, multiple mailboxes, live call forwarding, voicemail with notification, messages via phone or email, and fax services. Meersman signed up for an 800 vanity number (888-4MY-SPOT), an auto attendant, call forwarding, voicemail and fax service and spends only $25 per month. “The telcos were charging something on the order of three to four times that amount for less service,” says Meersman.

GotVMail’s service works particularly well for small companies with distributed employees that want to create the impression of a single office. GotVMail says its sweet spot is the under-50-employee company. “GotVMail targets the small business, entrepreneur and home office,” says Siamak Taghaddos, company CEO. “Our customers don’t have central locations,” he says. Instead, a company might want to effectively tie together several home offices and make it look like a larger company by using a toll-free number, auto attendant and call forwarding.

The service offerings range from $9.95 per month for a toll-free number with five mailboxes to $39.95 per month for a toll-free number with 20 mailboxes. GotVMail has garnered more than 10,000 business customers since it was founded in 2002.

Demand for hosted IP services isn’t very large compared to the demand for premises-based systems. But what demand there is comes mostly from small businesses, reports Frost & Sullivan. In 2005, there is expected to be a 2 percent penetration of hosted IP telephony and VoIP access services in the total business lines of small companies. However, that percentage plummets to .7 percent for medium businesses and .3 percent for large businesses.

GotVMail is a bit different from other hosted IP service providers in that it does not offer VoIP access. Customers bring their own access, whether it’s a circuit-switched phone line, a VoIP line or a cell phone. The Hosting Spot’s Meersman has added a handful of part-time employees to his company, and the GotVMail system can easily handle the changes. Employees can log onto the Web and determine where they want their calls sent, whether it’s a landline, VoIP line, home phone or cell phone.

This feature proved especially useful for Carl Tyler, the chief technology officer of Instant Technologies, a 10-person software company that creates enterprise instant messaging applications. “I was in Paris for a few months on business, using GotVMail in combination with Vonage,” says Tyler. “I plugged into the Internet connection and GotVMail redirected my calls to me there.” Tyler says that all of the employees can log onto the Web site and manage where they want their extensions to ring. “We’ve found that to be a big benefit,” he says.

Tyler says that Instant Technologies came across GotVMail when the company began looking at purchasing a PBX (private branch exchange). Tyler came across PBXs that cost between $2,000 and $3,000. As a start-up, Instant Technologies tried to conserve as much cash as possible, so it decided to use GotVMail instead. Now the company pays between $20 to $30 per month and a couple pennies for every toll-free call it receives. The upfront costs are minimal because GotVMail charges only $25 to activate the service.

Both Instant Technologies and The Hosting Spot signed up for the fax service, which allows them to receive faxes at their toll-free numbers. The service converts the fax to a PDF and employees can access them via email. The Hosting Spot’s Meersman uses his tablet PC in conjunction with the fax service. “I just built a new house, and I needed to sign and fax back a document. I was able to do that from my computer without ever printing the paper out,” says Meersman.