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Mining the niches: GotVMail grows

A small Massachusetts company is discovering the joys of mining the niches of the advanced services market, delivering a virtual PBX service to small businesses that is good enough to sell itself.

GotVMail Communications, based outside Boston in Weston, Mass., has been selling its service to small and home-based businesses and mobile professionals since 2003, and counts among its partners FedEx Corp., which co-markets the service to its small business customers at a discount, and the National Association of Realtors. But 20% of the company’s 40,000 customers are attracted by word-of-mouth advertising from existing customers, said David Powers, vice president of communications for GotVMail.

The service is straightforward and automated to the extreme. Customers sign up via a Web site and are assigned a toll-free 800 number, for which they can create a customized greeting. Multiple extensions can be assigned such that incoming calls can be forwarded anywhere, either to multiple sites within a distributed business or to multiple devices including PDAs, cell phones or VoIP phones. Callers can also leave voice-mail messages, which can be delivered as MP3 attachments or text messages to a cell phone or PDA, and can be viewed on line as well.

“The idea is to give a small business the chance to look like a big business,” Powers said. “Most of our customers have one to five, or one to 10 employees. They may all work from home or they may be dispersed.”

One major customer, Designscape.com, has landscape architects in multiple cities but can use one number to support its on-line sales, he said.

For the most part, GotVMail.com competes against incumbent service providers and their voice mail products, Powers said. Its service packages start as low as $9.95 a month, however, which is much cheaper than even residential phone service. Calls cost as low as 4.8 cents per minute. One booming market for the company is eBay power sellers, who often operate out of their homes but can manage transactions more professionally and efficiently with a business telephone service. GotVMail allows them to accept calls, with no busy signals, around the clock, giving callers a customized menu of options that can include specific information about a company’s products, location or hours, and the chance to leave a message.

Advanced features include follow me capabilities which allows calls to be routed based on the set preferences of the customer, from an office phone to a home phone or cell phone.

“We look at this as being a lot like the ASP [applications service provider] model, but profitable,” Powers said.