Update: CellBreaker founder Jon Colgan appeared on ABC World News Tonight on Friday, September 5. Check it out here.
So, this is pretty awesome.
Durham’s own Jon Colgan will appear on ABC World News Tonight with David Muir as early as tonight, helping a high-profile Philadelphia-area blogger and her family get out of their cell phone contract using CellBreaker’s proprietary algorithm.
The year-old company has generated a lot of buzz in recent months, first by winning a local NC IDEA grant, then as Colgan won interviews with WIRED, Time, MSN and Yahoo.com. And the full product hasn’t launched yet. Colgan expects that to come in October.
I caught up with Colgan last night to chat about the interview, and the ways he’s prepping for what’s likely to be a boom in traffic to his site and anticipation for the product launch. Check out the highlights of our interview below.
Also, how we know he’s going big time? He only got bumped last night because Joan Rivers died. We’re definitely sad about Joan, but pretty happy for Jon’s television debut. Stay tuned for confirmation of air time on ABC.
EE: Wired, ABC/David Muir How did you develop these media relationships? Did you have a specific strategy?
JC: David Muir pursued us. An ABC reporter read several pieces, at various publications, one of them WIRED, that cited me as a source and CellBreaker as a thought-leader in the contract-breaking space – a space we created; so “thought-leader,” by default, was ours. Why not the thinkers who first thunk it, the first doers to do it?
EE: Any advice for others trying to get national press? How do you know when the timing is right for it?
JC: Our strategy for going from pursuer to pursued was a response to a failed partnership with an local MVNO we had pursued this past year. That conversation, over many months, went something like this:
THEM: “What!? You can get people out of contracts and thereby make the world a better place? Awesome!”
US: “Yes, it’s true. Want to partner up?”
THEM: “We love what you’re doing, but no, too risky. Safer to always do what’s always been done. But hey, if/when you do succeed, we’re happy to get on board.”
It’s a fiscally conservative region where chances are seldom taken on hard-to-believe innovations like ours, and this potential partner introduced us to the worst part of that reticence: folks self-identify as “innovative” and “bold” but simply are not; they’re just the ones holding the cash and the ones whose buy-in early founders might mistakenly think they need. Lesson here? You don’t need anyone’s cash or approval to move forward unless they’re a paying customer. Cash can certainly help pick up the pace, but don’t build your house on sand by depending on someone else’s cash if your model affords you any other alternative.
So following that lesson, we stopped qualifying CellBreaker according to the opinions of folks in this area alone. For us, what that looked like was explicitly deciding to invest our efforts in primarily two things: stellar customer service and PR, the two heartstrings of public sentiment. We started to expand the reach of our press relationships, and a slew resultant press served as much-needed (even if indirect) proof points for fence-sitting customers. So, our customer base started to swell rapidly. Then our stellar customer service combined with the efficacy of our model to reinforce our newsworthiness for fence-sitting reporters, not to mention new fence-sitting partners and investors from other regions (we’re in the finals right now for the October batch of 500 Startups). Result: more customer, more press, more partners, more investor interest. Thanks to: that failed partnership with a local MVNO. Lesson here? You don’t need tons of cash to deliver stellar customer service and to do something noteworthy:
This is how ABC’s David Muir came to pursue CellBreaker. We stopped pandering to Luddites and started being more awesome.
EE:What’s it like to be interviewed by a national TV journalist?
JC: After the interview, on my way back to the airport, my brother called and asked if I was excited. “No. I was excited when I found out we landed the interview. Now I’m in execution mode, and the goal is to not squander this opportunity.”
EE: What do you expect to happen when the interview goes live? How did you prepare?
JC: Earlier this week I emailed some folks to tell them about the ABC interview, and I shared a word of caution the show’s producer had sent me: “Uh, can you guys handle an uptick in traffic? Because this segment will air on all ABC properties, TV and online, and on the front page of Yahoo. We’ve actually shut a few startups down.” Two colleagues emailed me back to confirm the reality of that threat. One recounted how his former client had been featured on the Today show and got pounded with traffic all of a sudden, and his site just couldn’t handle it. Another said simply” “we were one of those startups,” and he included a link to his ABC segment a couple of years ago that shut his site down.
To prepare for the onslaught, we addressed problems of server capacity and sales funnel optimization. We beefed up our back-end, adding servers, New Relic, and Olark’s biggest live chat package. We pushed some sales copy changes to optimize for conversion and preempt (potentially) thousands of customer inquiries. Defensively, we want to (1) handle the traffic and (2) maintain our stellar customer service; and offensively, we want to add as many customers as possible–we expect so much traffic that if our conversions are half-way decent, we could potentially self-fund ourselves deep into 2015 with just this month’s worth of revenue. Big opportunity, to monetize or squander.
Another problem was man-power. Our plan is to be available to live chat with as many folks as possible for several hours during and after the show. To do this, we called all hands on deck–that is, team members, plus spouses, plus some guy I randomly met at ExitEvent 2 weeks ago, plus my mother (BTW, we’re still recruiting mothers, if you know any).
EE: How will you keep up the momentum after your product launches? What you have you learned about yourself and CellBreaker as a result of this media attention? Anything about your company or messaging that you’re changing as a result?
JC: A big part of our recent press success, I think, is our new and improved strategic messaging. We stopped saying what we thought investors and partners wanted to hear, and we started speaking directly to customers. We’ve seen interesting CellBreaker metaphor’s before, like “the Napster of the wireless industry,” but here’s another one: in choosing to tailor our message to customers, we’re like “the FUBU of the contract-breaking space.”