Most executives who think back to the financial crisis of 2008 remember widespread panic.
For Ari Rabban, it was a golden moment that helped launch his company.
Phone.com, formed in December 2007 to provide Internet-based telephone service for very small businesses, was busy planting seeds of growth during a time of economic ruin. Rabban, its CEO, said his company benefited from two key trends — high unemployment and high technology — that emerged from the recession.
"We could not anticipate that we will be heading into a rather long period of economic downturn," Rabban said. "I believe that to some extent it actually led to more interest in our service, given the growth in new business formations happening."
Those businesses were formed by entrepreneurs who were laid off from big firms when the crisis hit. Coupled with technological advances now taken for granted — the growth of smartphones, broadband, wireless Internet and cloud-based applications — and the company had a recipe for growth.
Phone.com, which reported $362,000 revenue in 2008, is now projecting $7.5 million in revenue for 2013, and serves about 25,000 clients.
Its niche is providing voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, service to businesses of up to 20 employees. The company provides a phone number, extensions and forwarding options, and the ability to link employees to one another. Services typically cost between $15 and $25 a month.
Rabban said VoIP is ideal, as it enables flexibility that caters to user preferences. Phone.com's next frontier is providing service known as API, or applications program interface, which will enable users to integrate with apps — think calling a restaurant from an app. That could come next month.
Rabban said as people become more technology literate, it frees the company to experiment in the range of options it provides — though "a plumber or doctor can do this," Rabban said. "You don't have to be an Internet guru or call your son to do this."
Rabban sees a future where phone numbers are decoupled from the device, and the user, not the phone company, decides how they want their service. That suits Phone.com just fine.
"Phone service is really becoming an app, not a service," Rabban said.