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March 13, 2008

Vontoo gives voice to messaging service

Indy-based business increasing clients, staff, funding

By Erika D. Smith - The Indianapolis Star

Indianapolis, IN -- (March 13, 2008) -- Dustin Sapp always knew Vontoo could make a name for itself. He was confident his upstart software developer could one day attract household name clients and the backing of a venture capital firm.

Today, his company finally is walking his talk. Indianapolis-based Vontoo is growing rapidly with a bigger, broader range of clients — nearly 800, up from 60 in early 2007 — buying its over-the phone voice-messaging service.

“We expected aggressive growth, and we got aggressive growth,” said Sapp, Vontoo’s president and co-founder.

Sports teams and entertainers turn to the company mostly for marketing campaigns, but Sapp said he plans to branch out into customer service and automated messaging.

Vontoo recently landed a nearly $2 million round of private funding. A significant portion of that is from EDF Ventures, a venture capital firm known for investing in early stage technology and healthcare companies.

Most of the $2 million will be used for hiring. The plan is to more than double the company’s staff of 15 by the end of the year.

“We’ve got an institutional investor, which is a major milestone,” Sapp said. “That kind of investor — they’ve validated (us) as an organization.”

Mary Campbell, managing director and founder of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based EDF Ventures, has joined Vontoo’s board of directors. She said she has watched the company for about a year and a half and is convinced the market for voice- messaging services is poised for growth.

Unlike e-mail, voice messages convey urgency and emotion, she said.

For example, Boston Celtics player Kendrick Perkins recorded a message urging fans to renew their season tickets. It was sent to thousands of people, and on that day the Celtics nearly doubled the number of renewals over the same day the previous year. Other recent clients include the Portland Trailblazers, Cleveland Browns and country singer Keith Urban.

“I think the desire of companies to have increasing degrees of one-on-one contact with their customers is growing at a rapid pace,” Campbell said.

Voice marketing isn’t new. So-called voice blasts, often of political messages, have been around for more than a decade.

What is new is being able to mix voice messages with the tracking technology of e-mail and the Internet. For example, Vontoo’s clients can see how many people listened to the messages, how many hung up and how many went to voice mail.

Sapp notes that such tracking is possible because Vontoo’s service is permission based, meaning customers have to opt in to receive a voice message.

It’s the same strategy Indianapolis-based e-mail marketing company ExactTarget uses.

“The same way ExactTarget changed the market of e-mail marketing from spam is what Vontoo has done for voice,” Sapp said. Last year, Vontoo and ExactTarget teamed up to sell their respective services to a combined list of clients. Sapp said the partnership has been beneficial, and he would like to do similar deals in the future.

“Companies now realize the value that voice messaging can generate,” he said.

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