Interview: Lyn Chitow Oakes, SVP Marketing, Jingle Networks on free directory services

September 11, 2007 at 11:54 am

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Jingle Networks is the provider of the 1800-Free-411 directory service in the US. Carrier provided directory services cost anywhere from $1.50, however Free-411 provides users with a free service by serving an advertisement before providing the requested directory number. We spoke to Lyn Chitow Oakes, SVP Marketing about the recent deal with Skype, calling statistics, revenues, costs and got some refreshingly open answers.

Can you provide any details of the commercial arrangement of the recent deal to provide Free-411 to Skype users in the US? For example for each advertising dollar received by Jingle from a Skype initiate call, does Skype get any share?
Oakes:
Skype and Jingle Networks are both dedicated to providing information services to their customers for free. As part of our relationship a portion of the advertising revenue generated by a Skype caller will be shared with Skype.

Do you know the split between fixed line and cellphone originated inquiries? i.e. is the average customer at home (assumed fixed line) or on the move (assumed cellphone)? Since Skype is mainly used from a home PC is the recent Skype agreement a push into the non mobile market?
Oakes: Our caller base is both wireline and wireless. As the number of callers utilizing mobile phones as their screen of choice, the number of 1-800-FREE411 callers who are calling from wireless devices also grows. Today, wireless or mobile callers represent 65% of 1-800-FREE411 callers.

Is the plan to always keep the service voice based? any plans for a cellphone text based application?
Oakes: We are consistently looking at ways to make our service easier to use and accessible to our callers, so we explore all types of opportunities to deliver information to our callers. Today, a mobile 1-800-FREE411 caller can have the number they are requesting sent to them via text message and many of our advertisers are providing additional information to callers who opt in to receive it.

In an interview last October with Techcrunch a few stats were provided: “Jingle currently has costs of around $0.25 per call, and revenue of $0.20, although Garrick feels that potential revenue per call will approach $0.50 as the market matures”. It was also mentioned to aim for a break even by end 2007. Are there any fundamental changes to these stats?
Oakes: George was misquoted back in October since we did not have .20 per call in revenue. We would say that in the last year we have engineered our cost structure and service offerings to result in a cost per call that is significantly below .10. With respect to revenue, we would say that our revenue continues to grow and we believe that our revenue per call will exceed our cost per call in q4. We would also say that in the last year, we have learned that both revenue and cost per call will probably come in at about half of what was originally projected. So the margin opportunity is the same, just at lower revenue and cost per call levels.

In the October interview with Techcrunch the free411 live operator backup was viewed as a key differentiator against search engine companies launching their own directory services such as Google. I note this has been discontinued in some areas. What is the key differentiator now, and how is projects such as Google’s directory service Goog411 viewed by Jingle networks?
Oakes: Directory assistance is 7 Billion dollar industry, large enough to support multiple players and there will be many solutions providers. Over the past year or so, Jingle has been defining a new approach for DA and the entry of additional companies like Google confirm that we have been on the right path all along. Goog411 does not offer residential listing, unlike Jingle which offers both residential and business listings. Additionally Jingle supports live operators to circumvent the voice recognition system when it does not understand the request, preventing users from getting stuck in a frustrating loop within the system.

Any plans for expansion beyond US?
Oakes: We have no immediate plans to deliver a service outside the U.S but we are open to discussions with others who are interested in leveraging our platform to create offerings.

Richard T.
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Entry filed under: 1800free411, chitow oakes, directory services, goog411, jingle networks, mobile applications, mobile content.

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