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Virtual Phone System Gives Entrepreneurs a Professional Face

Grasshopper Group, provider of the highly popular Grasshopper Virtual Phone System, is unusual. To date, the company—which in 2007 was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of 500 fastest growing companies in America— has helped tens of thousands of companies with their small business communications, but not a single one of Grasshopper’s 40 or so employees are in sales.

“We have no sales people,” said Jonathan Kay, who holds the title of Ambassador of Buzz for the Needham,  Mass.-based Grasshopper. “Approximately 40,000 customers, with more than $10 million in annual revenue, and we have no sales people. That’s on purpose. We understand our market. We target entrepreneurs specifically and aggressively because we know and understand people who self-identify as entrepreneurs.”

Kay believes that “entrepreneurs do not like to be sold to. They appreciate word of mouth and referrals. We’ve taken this expert marketing approach. We go to conferences and speak. We do it for free. We throw networking events and speak on panels.”

Instead of seeking to sell a product, Grasshopper Group seeks to connect with entrepreneurs on a personal level. An example is the BarCamp Tour, an effort by a group of small businesses— including Grasshopper Group—to support BarCamps’ ad hoc “unconferences” for entrepreneurs that have begun springing up across the country since 2005.

By connecting with entrepreneurs, sharing experiences and helping them overcome the stumbling blocks associated with getting new businesses off the ground, Kay explained that Grasshopper Group demonstrates that it understands entrepreneurs and startups. This allows it to form deep relationships with potential customers.

According to Kay, the inspiration for the Grasshopper Virtual Phone System came to co-founders Siamak Taghaddos and David Hauser in 2003 in a Babson College dorm room while they were working on starting up another business. The spark of inspiration came from a vexing problem: How could they present their nascent startup as a professional business worthy of confidence when their phone line ended at a dorm room, and both of them had busy class schedules that took them away from that phone?

Realizing that the problem of presenting a professional appearance in communications was a common one among entrepreneurs bootstrapping early-stage startups, Taghaddos and Hauser scrapped their original idea to focus on helping entrepreneurs with their small business communications.

“Most entrepreneurs aren’t starting up a business out of an office,” Kay explained. “Office space is expensive and you don’t necessarily have a lot of people, so you don’t need an office. But you don’t want your first interaction with a customer to be unprofessional.”

He added, “If you’re starting up a company and you’re working out of your basement in your boxers, you need a way to mask that.”