GrandCentral Homeless Stunt Worked So Well It's Time For An Encore

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Most companies target early adopters with their new products, hoping those users will tell all of their friends all about it. But not GrandCentral, the company Google acquired for $50 million in July 2007. They’ve gone after the homeless demographic. Twice.

Two years ago they offered to give homeless people free access to their (already free) service. It worked so well (4,000 signups) that yesterday they announced it all over again.

This time Mayor Newsom threw in a bunch of sound bites about how this will “empower” the homeless, improve their morale, etc. (last time they were only able to get Newsom’s deputy chief of staff to comment).

To be clear, I think it’s great that Google is trying to help out the homeless. But what I really applaud is the marketing audacity it takes to announce that you are making an already free service free for the homeless. And then do it again two years later. And to do it even though homeless people already have access to free voicemail through at least one nonprofit organization.

I wonder if Google can pull off the same stunt in the future for new products. Free cloud storage for the homeless, anyone?

Update: Good comment by Scott Rafer below with a different viewpoint:

Please check with local experts when they are available. It’s all about SF politics, and the gimmick is Mayor Newsom’s not Google’s. I’m generally a supporter of this mayor, but his terrible Care-not-Cash program ripped prepaid mobile phones out of the hands of many working homeless — the people who have the best shot to get themselves out of trouble. They are often doing day work for employers who know the phone numbers at the homeless shelters and will not call them or accept calls from them.

GrandCentral and similar services provide the Mayor with some air cover and are at least a mediocre replacement for prepaid phones in this use case.

Update 2: GrandCentral cofounder Craig Walker responds in the comments.

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