SunRocket generates more interest dead than alive. The VoIP pure-play’s skulking exit has garnered attention from MSNBC, the International Herald Tribune, The New York Times and the Washington Post, just to name a few.
Other VoIP companies are wasting no time offering special packages to stranded SunRocket subscribers. Vonage is offering two months free service. Nuvio today announced a special $199.99 plan for former SunRocket customers. As I wrote yesterday, VoicePulse has been quietly helping SunRocket subscribers stay online.
Packet8 is also rolling out its own “no startup cost” plan for SunRocket customers — offering equipment, start-up, shipping and one month of service at no cost with its $24.99/month unlimited calling plan.
“We think we can port those customers fairly quickly because we use many of the same underlying carriers,” says Huw Rees, Packet8 Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
I confess, I like this story because it contradicts the Silicon Valley catechism, where it’s an article of faith that the race is to the swift despite the received wisdom of our ancestors.
In fact, it’s looking more and more like our ancestors were right, and the fastest and most aggressive don’t necessarily get the trophy. And they don’t for reasons that are yawningly simple and straightforward.
The first is that other people’s money is not a substitute for revenue — you need to sell your product for at least as much as it costs to deliver it. The second is that controlling your own product is a more secure foundation than reselling other people’s technology.
VoIP pioneer Packet8 presents an object study in these pedestrian principles, and it’s apt that SunRocket’s sunset coincides with the dawn of Packet8’s 20th year in business and its 10th year as a publicly traded company (NASDAQ (CM): EGHT).
A longtime developer of communications chips — Packet8 components were used in AT&T ’s Picturephone — Packet8 offered one of the first consumer VoIP services in 2002.
“Since we launched our service, we charged customers a fair price, one that lets us cover our costs and make a small profit,” explains Rees. “We priced it so it’s a self-supporting business.”
Faced with cut-throat competition like SunRocket’s $199 pre-paid two-year service deal, “we decided not to compete,” continues Rees. “We know the costs of delivering service and it was obvious that the costs were greater than that.
“We focused more marketing effort on the small business market. Once you get that right, it’s a higher margin of profit. It really bolsters the bottom line.”
That strategy paid off. With about 8,000 Virtual Office subscribers, Packet8 is the number one U.S. provider of hosted PBX services for small businesses, according to a 2007 study by telecom analyst AMI Partners.
At the same time, Packet8 never lost sight of the consumer side of the business.
“We have 100,000 consumer [accounts] and those are key because that base provides us with economies of scale — for example, PSTN termination.
Internally-developed technology is another key to Packet8’s stability — a contrast to SunRocket which licensed its technology from other companies.
“We have 68 patents in this [VoIP] technology,” Rees explains. “We co-invented the technology. Because we control the technology, [we control] quality, reliability, scalability. Over the long term, it’s helped us reduce our cost base because we don’t have to pay anybody for anything.”
All of which leaves Packet8 sitting pretty. “Last March we were close to cash flow breakeven and we’ve been improving that quarter-by-quarter,” Rees reports. “We’ve got over $12 million in the bank, $54 million in revenue last fiscal year — 67 percent over the previous year.”
Even with the SunRocket promo, Rees adds, “we’ll still make a profit and that should be good news for customers because we’ll still be in business.”