We take a look at a cloud-based collaboration platform that allows voice recording of Skype calls for free, and intelligently offers an interesting suite of other related value-added services for a premium.

call_graph_logoWhen Call Graph launched its free voice recording plug-in for calls made over Skype, it had meticulously laid out its ‘freemium’ business strategy, keeping in view its other soon-to-be-released offerings. This revenue model clicked and set the ball rolling, putting the firm on a quick-growth trajectory, merely within a year from inception.

Call Graph has bundled its bouquet of services interestingly, some of which are free, while some are for a premium. Its recording plug-in for Skype, which allows users to record and share Skype conversations in MP3 file format, is offered for free. “The motivation was to simply provide a free alternative to all the paid recording plug-ins for Skype, and build allied services around it, to be offered at some cost,” says Rajiv Poddar, CEO and founder, Call Graph.

For example, value-added services like the transcription facility, additional online storage for enterprises, online collaboration tools where five to over 250 Call Graph users can collaborate and share conversations, are all provided at a premium.

 

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The business model of Call Graph is one of the most innovative, believes Poddar. “We went into a niche market with lots of competitors. Our premise was that we could make an impact if we offered more value than our competitors. There are several Skype recording solutions in the market, but no one offers transcription and collaboration tools for it. So we offered the product for free and monetised it by providing value-added services around it.” Owing to this strategy, the firm has reached the ‘cash flow positive’ stage in less than a year’s time.
Rajiv_Poddar
“We went into a niche market with lots of competitors. Our premise was that we could make an impact if we offered more value than our competitors.”

Rajiv Poddar, CEO and founder, Call Graph

A multi-faceted offering
The platform is not only relevant for Skype users who want a free and easy way to record their conversations, but also for professionals like journalists and researchers, who may find the transcription service very useful. As regards the accuracy of the transcripts, Poddar says, “Call Graph has developed a meticulous combination of automated and manual processes, which it uses for transcription. It reduces the effort required to generate the transcripts and hence we can offer a faster, lower priced service than our competitors.”

Apart from these services, the collaboration tools offered through the platform also enable geographically distributed teams, in functions like telemarketing, e-learning, customer support, sales and marketing, to collaborate by sharing Skype conversations.

The engine that powers the transcription service
With transcription at the core of its paid services, the Call Graph team focuses intensely on achieving perfection in this function. Whenever a call recording is uploaded to Call Graph servers, these are first screened for quality checks. This is done by the Call Graph speech-to-text engine that generates a machine transcript. Poddar explains: “We use Linux for all our speech-to-text processing functionality. The engine used is called Sphinx, which is an open source project developed at the Carnegie Mellon University. We have developed the acoustic models ourselves.”

Keyword mining is performed on this output, which is then used to index the file. When an order is placed for the transcript, the Call Graph team manually proof-reads the machine-generated transcripts and fixes the errors, if there are any.

In the coming months, the company plans to add several additional features to its offerings. Poddar shares: “One big feature would be opening up the API (application programming interface). This would enable integration with third party Web services.” The firm is currently focusing on improving its indexing and search technology to enable easy cataloguing and access to the transcripts’ database, and is also in the process of filing a few patents.

Call Graph timeline

March 2008: Call Graph launched at DevCamp, Bangalore
August 2008: Public beta of transcription and online collaboration tools
November 2008: Launch of paid plans; started generating revenues
March 2009: Crossed the one-year milestone.
Listening to customers is crucial
So, what keeps the team focused, charged and on the right track, despite the challenges that invariably come in the way of a start-up? Poddar says: “For us, innovating has always been the best way forward. As regards problems, we try and think out-of-the box and then solve the common issues that an early stage start-up is faced with. Starting from resources and testing the new features that go into our product, to the pricing of our services, we rely a lot on users’ feedback and interact with them closely. That is why most of our users come to our site via referrals from Twitter, blogs, social media sites or from Google.”

With more than 100 hours of transcriptions, 3000 registered users, and 50,000 downloads to its credit, Call Graph’s growth trend looks promising. With the correct mix of technological innovation and business acumen, the team looks
all set to make it big, and that too, in no time!