A Conspiracy of One

I like the pic Doug Mohney runs next to his FierceVoip column because he looks just like my dad.

ooma, but definitely no Thurman

ooma, but definitely no Thurman

He sounds just like my dad too. Both men seem to function under the assumption that facts and logic should just not stand in the way of the story they want us to believe.

For my dad, it was constantly repeating that Reagan was the greatest president in all of time because he “he had the cajones to bring down that wall and the Soviets too,” as though Pepsi, Levis, the Stones, the bald guy with the red state of California on his forehead that ran the politburo for 15 minutes — not to mention the Germans and the Russians — had nothing to do with it.

For Mohney, the story is perhaps less of a historical (even hysterical, given that dresser drawers — what the Spanish cajones means — hardly seem to endow any special powers) whopper, but definitely a tall tale in the context of the teeny tiny world of VoIP communications. The headline kinda gets it started: “The ooma conspiracy — or why Vonage is ultimately doomed.

As Jon Stewart, my favorite news anchor, likes to say as he lowers his bottom lip and slowly flicks his right hand at the camera: “Go ooooonnnnn.”

It turns out that Mohney had a phone conversation with the CMO (yes, my dad is also impressed with three-letter acronyms, even if he doesn’t know what the letters stand for; Chief Malarkey Officer?) of ooma, and came out convinced that the company’s model would soon put Vonage out of business. 

You may have heard of ooma, and if you have it’s probably because, for some reason, Demi Moore’s boy-toy hubby is a big part of the company’s business plan (or at least he shows up in a lot of the company’s photos). The company story is (at least this week, because it’s changed a few times since hoisting itself on dozens of tech journalists and few yawning others a couple of years ago) that you go to Best Buy, put down $250 for a box with wires and tubes (and, yes, Asterisk, which you can put on that old computer in the garage for $0) inside, and make phone calls for the rest of your life for free.

Now, I don’t know about Vonage’s long term viability. I’ve been reading the company has been going out of business since I was fresh out of high school, and it still has a pulse. What I’m relatively certain of is that if Vonage does the Circuit City dance, it ain’t going to be because of ooma, no matter what Ashton and company conspire to do.

Mohney’s logic goes something like this: Vonage will fail because they don’t collect for calls until they are made. ooma’s biz plan rocks, Mohney tries to convince us, because we are going to pay for five years worth of phone calls before we make them. At an average of 300 minutes of outgoing calls per month, the ooma flack told Mohney and Mohney dutifully reported, even if the box lasts five years, the company can do no worse than break even.

Aha!  And if I trade in 40 quarters for 100 dimes, even I could do no worse than break even, which in this economy is a really good margin.

In Mohney’s analysis, this is a “simple — yet game changing — business concept,” which is like saying a little league pitcher who can strike out 10-year-olds with both his right and left arm is changing the entire game of baseball.

ooma is banking on being a sort of hardware version of Skype, where ooma users calls that go over other ooma users hardware are basically of no cost to anyone. And here’s the clincher: Mohney reports that ooma has “sold ‘north’ “of 20,000 units to date.”

If you’re keeping count, that’s fewer than 1,000 units a month since the device first got blogging ink in July, 2007. Which roughly means that the chances of any single ooma user arbitrarily phoning through another ooma user is probably somewhere “north” of one in 50 million.

Now, if you’re gamey enough to battle these odds, and to spend $250 believing a machine manufactured by a company made famous to tens of people by a sitcom actor who married a really hot strip-teasing mom is actually going to deliver a lifetime of free calling, let my dad tell you all about the Berlin Wall and how the Gipper kicked Commie butt. 

Vonage, it’s fair to say, has real conspiracies to worry about .

Comments

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