Yahoo’s Shopping Spree Continues With Conference Calling Startup Rondee

Thought Yahoo’s acquisition spree would culminate with a $1.1 billion deal for Tumblr? Nope, not so much. In fact, the buy-happy company just quietly made its second acquisition in 24 hours — in two different markets, no less. Yes, Yahoo followed this morning’s purchase of iOS photo app maker, GhostBird Software, by making a play into the enterprise conference calling space. Wait, what?

Yep, users of six-year-old free conference calling service, Rondee, were tonight informed via email that the startup has been acquired by Yahoo for an undisclosed sum. It will also suffer the same fate met by other recent Yahoo acquisitions — like MileWise, Astrid, GoPollGo and Loki Studios to name just four — in that it will soon be going the way of the dinosaur. After June 30th, the company’s website now reads, users will no longer be allowed to access their data or create new conference calls.

The startup will continue its progressive shut down from there, officially closing operations on July 12th, before ultimately cutting off user access to their calling data on July 30th, the startup said in an email to its customers today (copied below). However, to avoid stranding its users completely on such short notice, the company said that it’s arranging for “user Login ID and on-demand pins to work with InstantConference,” a company (and, previously, a competitor) it describes as a “highly reputable conference calling service.” Not sure that’s much consolation. “Hey, we may be forcing you to leave … but at least the place we’re sending you has electricity, right?”

What’s A Rondee

Rondee, for those who haven’t been following the crowded and congested conference calling market, launched in 2007 on a mission to build the “Evite for conference calls.” The startup set out to lower the barriers to entry in the conference calling arena and make it accessible to the masses. Today, that means it offers basic conference calling capabilities around the clock (for free) to anyone with an email address.

Granted, for those looking to get “fancy” with call recording, like having access to audio, custom tones, call directories and call scheduling, some account setup is required. But that’s about it. Users can choose between free, on-demand conference calling, or free, “Scheduled Rondees,” in which users can pick a future date and time to schedule a conference call and let Rondee send out email invitations to which invitees can respond to and use via the company’s website. Straightforward, easy to use and free.

Of course, while those are traits every company should shoot for, the VoIP market looks a little bit different than it did six years ago, becoming nearly ubiquitous thanks to companies like Skype and Google, meanwhile, startups like UberConference have moved onto free visual conference calling to compete with Hangouts et al. Today, Rondee’s basic VoIP model sounds very familiar.

So Why Did Yahoo Just Buy This?

While Yahoo nor Rondee has shared any real details on the terms of the deal or the motivation, we do know from a quick Google search (and a look at its press page) that the startup has been pretty quiet of late. Sure, it’s likely this wasn’t an exorbitantly expensive buy for Yahoo, but this also hasn’t been an area of strength (or focus) for Yahoo for a long time, which starts to make it seem like there isn’t really a good explanation for this one.

Maybe Yahoo wants to integrate Rondee into its internal conference solution, for internal IT use, seeing as it’s cheaper than buying an enterprise solution? Probably not.

Er, Maybe Because…

What may be more likely (and hopefully is the case) is that Yahoo liked the team and was eager to make use of its talent, so Marissa Mayer pushed Yahoo’s Acme Acqui-hire Button so that Rondee can join it in re-building Yahoo Messenger. Maybe? After all, on its website, Rondee says that it will be joining Yahoo’s Small Business Team, so while it may be a stretch, motivation could lie in the company’s has-been messaging client.

Marissa Mayer has made talent acquisition one of her top priorities since becoming CEO, and mostly her shopping spree has targeted mobile — in other words, showing the company understands that its mobile strategy and products have to evolve if Yahoo ever hopes to be truly relevant again. (And, really, it’s probably a little late, but…)

Right now, it’s easy to take a look at Yahoo’s product portfolio and sigh. Case in point: People used to Yahoo Messenger as their go-to chat app. (Well, some people did, somewhere. We’re still trying to find out who they are exactly.) But the point is that Yahoo’s messaging client used to be enormous, and now it’s about as cool as the Macarena. Meanwhile, sadly for Yahoo, gamified and chat-ified messaging apps are all the rage and continue to proliferate, especially in emerging markets. In some Upside Down World, this could mean that there’s still opportunity here for Yahoo.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger?

Though with Google’s assets like gChat, Google Voice, Gmail and Hangouts, just to name a few, Yahoo has a long way to go. A pretty long way. Sure, if anyone knows how to get Yahoo up to speed using Google’s playbook, it’s Marissa Mayer. But then there’s WhatsApp, iMessage, Viber and too many more to name. Google launched free voice calling from Gmail nearly three years ago, and adding similar capabilities and enhancements to Yahoo Mail would make sense — and wouldn’t hurt. Of course, even if it were somehow able to pull it off, weakly copying Googles Roadmap doesn’t do Yahoo any favors. It’s dangerous and, well, just sad.

Or maybe not. Maybe Yahoo will use Rondee as part of a foundation on which it will build a Hangouts competitor. Why the world needs that, of course, is another question entirely — sorry to say, Yahoo Mail diehards.

These are a few possible explanations for Yahoo acquiring Rondee, though I’m not sure they’re particularly satisfying. To this point, it’s worth reading this post (really, lament) on Yahoo Messenger from Yahoo’s former director of global tech initiatives. Marissa Mayer seems to be making an effort to address some of the internal idiocy Smith cites as contributing not only to the downfall of Messenger itself but to the downfall of products subsequently created (internally!) that might have saved it or at least prolonged its life.

Mostly, Smith attributes Yahoo’s struggles to crappy leadership, a management focused on preservation rather than trimming-to-grow or innovation, the ole “it’s hard to get stuff done at a big company” line and a lack of a unifying product vision. The latter of which, at least, fittingly smacks of the very product strategy currently at work in Google Land.

This seems to be a familiar tune at Yahoo, though it is heartening that some of that stuff is fixable. However, watching Marissa Mayer acquire all these startups that are on their last lifeline or just keeping their head above water is suspect. Now, it could be questionable in a good way, provoking media attention, buzz and providing a (relatively) cheap way to bring in quality talent. And maybe we’re watching a grand vision unfold, with Marissa acting as the Great Unifier it sounds like Yahoo desperately needs.

Sure, this could be akin to watching Tony Stark miraculously build an Iron Man suit from spare parts and scrap metal … or this turnaround strategy very well prove to be suspect in the same way that a bunch of bricks painted yellow does not gold bullion make.

For more, find Rondee’s email to users below:

Dear Rondee User:

We thank you for being with us over the last six years as we grew Rondee’s free conference calling service. It has been a privilege to work with you.

Yahoo! has just acquired Rondee, and we will be joining Yahoo! Small Business to continue innovating with technologies that help small businesses and groups.

Starting July 12, 2013, RONDEE WILL NO LONGER BE OPERATIVE. To minimize inconvenience to you, we have arranged for your Login ID and Rondee On Demand PINs to work with InstantConference, a highly reputable conference calling service. InstantConference has created a special free plan for Rondee users with unlimited minutes, unlimited conferences and up to 150 callers per conference.

You’ll do On Demand calls with InstantConference the same way you did with Rondee:

If you want to use advanced features such as audio recording, call scheduling using the Outlook add-on or real-time monitoring, you’ll need to log in to the account created for you at InstantConference.

There are three main differences between advanced features on Rondee vs. InstantConference:

Call recording works differently on InstantConference. Instead of activating audio recording in advance online, the organizer does it on the call by pressing *9 and entering the 4 digit code shown above, or by turning on audio recording through a moderator control panel. Learn More

InstantConference has a fully featured moderator control panel. You can monitor call attendance, mute, disconnect, or lock the conference in real-time. Learn More

InstantConference has a different way of handling scheduled conferences. Rather than the web-based format used by Rondee, InstantConference offers an Outlook Add-On which is convenient and easy to use. Learn More

CLICK HERE for Terms and Conditions.

CLICK HERE for Privacy Policy.

For Premium users with balances in their PayPal account, we will be refunding those balances right after July 12, 2013. InstantConference also offers toll-free conferencing with plans as low as 2.9 cents a minute.

PLEASE NOTE: The Rondee service will soon no longer be operative and will no longer accept new sign-ups. Current users will be able to continue using Rondee for conference calls through July 12, 2013 and log in to access account information through August 12, 2013.

For questions about the Rondee service or your Rondee account, click here.

For questions about InstantConference, click here.

Thank you again for your support,

The Rondee Team