GrandCentral A Little Too "Beta" For Some

New telephone management startup GrandCentral is off to a solid start. They showed a preview of the service at the DEMO conference last year, and we gave GrandCentral a solid review, as did Rafe Needleman and others.

The idea is simple, and compelling for many people with lots of phone numbers. GrandCentral will issue you a new local phone number for free. You then connect your existing phone numbers to the GrandCentral number in your account, and give the new number out to all of your contacts. When someone calls your GrandCentral phone number, rules that you set determine what happens to the call. If it’s someone you’ve whitelisted, they’ll go right through to you. If not, they record their name and you listen to it before deciding whether to take the call or send it to voicemail. Also, GrandCentral will call all of your old phones simultaneously, so you can choose which one to pick up.

GrandCentral came out of private beta a couple of weeks ago and got great mainstream press coverage. David Pogue at the New York Times may have doubled the valuation of their next venture capital round when he he wrote “It’s a rather brilliant melding of cellphone and the Internet.” In a private message to Tim O’Reilly, Pogue said “I’m using, of course, GrandCentral, which was the topic of my column today. It’s pretty awesome–I’d think you might be a prime candidate, too!” O’Reilly then went on to say “Web 2.0 Address Book May Have Arrived” in describing the service.

That NYT article convinced a lot of people to try it out. Over the last week, I’ve had ten or so contacts email me with their new GrandCentral number, and asked me to use that going forward. But there’s a real cost to getting everyone to change their phone numbers for you. And there are other costs, such as re-printing business cards, etc., that have to be considered as well. So while I continue to test the service, I haven’t started asking contacts to use it.

GrandCentral May Have Some Kinks To Work Out

I was surprised when two of the people who sent out their new GrandCentral number to me and other contacts sent a follow up email a few days later, asking everyone to ignore the phone number and go back to the previous normal cell or other phone. I followed up with both of them to ask why they were abandoning the service.

One person, who uses his desk and cell phone “constantly” to do business, said that it only worked properly about half the time. When you whitelist phone numbers, they are supposed to ring right through without having to record their name or wait. Even with their caller ID turned off, callers on his white list said they were still being put in the queue. Important clients, who were supposed to bypass the review, were getting pissed off. “I just couldn’t afford the risk” he said. “When I kept hearing the recorded name of my most important client and realize he’s waiting on hold while I stumble for the “1” button to put him through, I knew I couldn’t keep using it.” he also said that clients were complaining that calls weren’t picked up at all and they were being put through to voicemail. “These guys don’t do voicemail” he said. “They simply call my competitor.”

The other contact also complained that the forwarding and review services just didn’t work all the time and he was missing important calls. He also said that the call transfer service, where you hit “*” and the call is transferred from your desk phone to your cell phone seemlessly while you run from your office to your car, didn’t really work at all. He also said that when he picked up one phone, say his cell, his desk phone often kept ringing and had to be picked up and then hung up again for it to stop.

Both of these guys rely heavily on their phones and can’t miss calls. They may not be appropriate users of GrandCentral during the open beta period. Both said they’d change back to the service if they knew it would work properly.

In theory, GrandCentral is awesome. But this is one startup where the “beta” tag needs to be taken seriously.

If you have your own positive or negative experiences with GrandCentral, please share them.