No one feels special for following their favorite musician on Facebook or Twitter. Social media has become impersonal mass media. But Phonio wants to make the celebrity-fan connection as intimate as a call with your best friend. Phonio launches today to let stars ring the cell phones of all their fans at once and talk to them, heart-to-hearts.
Celebs offer up their Phonio phone numbers that anyone can dial to sign up for free to receive their next call. Phonio also lets public figures randomly call one lucky fan at time for a true two-way conversation.
Lil Wayne and musicians from his Young Money Entertainment record label, non-profit NextGen Climate, and the Sacramento Kings basketball team will be amongst the first big names to start blowing up people’s phones with Phonio. And if the whole thing sounds silly, remember that a similar company called SayNow whose apps let fans hear recorded voice messages from stars had 15 millions users before it was acquired by Google.
“We’re in a day and age where it’s important for artists to make their relationship with fans as direct as a possible” Lil Wayne’s manager Cortez Bryant tells me. “We’ve had a lot of problems in the past with the traditional press outlets and magazines. The words get misconstrued. [Phonio] lets you say exactly what you want to say.”
You can give Phonio a try by signing up for calls from one of these VIPs:
- Young Money Records & Lil Wayne: (857) 216-6736
- Chris Daughtry (857) 216-6739
- NBA’s Sacramento Kings (916) 245-9325,
- Musician and actor Drake Bell (310) 504-3963,
- Non-profit organization NextGen Climate (857) 216-6735
Here’s a clip of Daughtry singing a cover song to his fans over Phonio. “If my voice sucks, oh well, it’s raw”:
Phonio sprung from the mind of Dan Soha, who after seeing a tweet from President Obama thought, “it would really be cool to get a phone call from him”. Investment fund Bee Partners connected Soha with seasoned entrepreneur Matt Caspari and CTO Conrad Decker 18 months ago. They raised an undisclosed-sized funding round somewhere in the ballpark of $750,000, and built out the call-routing technology.
How To Phonio
Celebrities share their Phonio phone number via social media, on big-screens at the concerts, or however they want. When fans call in, they get a little audio menu to sign up. There’s no app. No website. No text codes. Just a little old-fashioned phone calling. They register, and immediately get the option to hear the celebrity’s last message.
Influencers using Phonio can dial their own number from a pre-authorized phone to start a call. They either call all their fans at once and speak in almost-real time, record a message that they can then review and send to everyone, or randomly call one fan who can speak back.
“Fans are sitting on the couch and their phone rings. That’s something that doesn’t happen much these days” says Caspari. Next thing they know, they’re hearing the favorite rapper thanking them for their support, discussing their innermost thoughts, singing a cappella, or playing them a preview of an unreleased song.
Phonio tested its service with American Idol star Chris Daughtry and Disney heart-throb Drake Bell. Daughtry, for example, dug deep into his hopes and dreams on a Phonio call, offering an inspirational message that wouldn’t have felt real through other mediums. Caspari tells me Phonio saw fans on Twitter saying they burst into tears when they heard their hero talking to them through their phone, even though it was just a one-way call.
“We give you a communication channel that’s much more intimate and exclusive than someone following you on Twitter or Facebook, where it’s not clear how many people are seeing your messages” says Caspari. Artists can use Phonio to promote albums, concert tickets, merchandise, and then send text message follow-ups with links to purchase pages. By creating a Phonio line for his label as a whole, Bryant will be able to cross-promote Young Money’s artists to each other’s fans. Eventually, Phonio hopes to recruit politicians, activists, financial gurus, and more types of public figures.
SayNow proved there was a market for this vivid connection before getting snatched up by Google to reinforce Google Voice. It had a publisher’s app for VIPs so they could avoid annoying audio menus, But Phonio feels less canned since the calls are effectively live.
With trend setters from Young Money onboard, Phonio could quickly attract other influencers if fans keep finding it fun. The startup may need to give VIPs a little tutorial with best practices for engaging calls, as a few I listened to were kinda awkward. Celebrities definitely worry about sounding dumb, so Phonio will have to convince them of the value of a raw, unfiltered line to their fans. It will also have to remind them to make the calls, otherwise stars might forget to send one out every week or so.
The open question is monetization. For now, Phonio is free to both stars and fans. Soon it plans to roll out ads delivered by text to users, but it will have to be careful not to annoy them too much. It’s considering a subscription model for ad-free connections as well. That could help it offset SMS charges it’s sure to run up. It will also have to outcompete other startups trying to connect artists and fans over the phone like Hushed and Upfront.
Celebrities will have to see if Phonio is worth their time, but whatever happens, Lil Wayne’s manager tells me it’s “another way for fans to feel a little bit more special.”