Monday, December 04, 2006

Cool, simple mobile product

I just heard about Teleflip, a new service that lets you send a text message to any US phone by emailing [mobilenumber]

I bring this up because it reminds me of a little story. At Yahoo a few years ago we were working on a project to allow users to register for Yahoo over a mobile device. Believe it or not, this service is still not available. It's been *years*.

Anyway, I had this clever idea: just give everyone in the world a yahoo account by making every phone number a yahoo account. If you phone number is 1-555-1212 then your yahoo ID is You send a password txt to your number to confirm your account and that's it.

The service would spread virally when people sent messages to friends. We would convert any email to txt for free, and when users replied we would get a cut of the mobile-originated txt message fee. If it was a landline we could place a voice call and read the message with text-to-speech. We could put ads in any un-used space (i.e. a 10 character txt message has 150 characters free for ads). Users could opt out any time, make black/white lists, forward messages to an email address, etc. We'd have to build a good anti-spam system, but we already had the carrier relationships and most of the technology to make it work.

I still think this is one of the best ideas I had while working there. Actually, thinking about it now, this was one of the best ideas I've ever had. But I couldn't get anyone to go with it. Maybe I'm wrong and it's a dumb idea, or maybe I just did a bad job of promoting it, but mostly I think it was just too bold. It was an end-run around the mobile carriers, and it was a huge, market changing concept. Yahoo couldn't handle that kind of thing.

Around that time all the talk was of "game changers." Each group was challenged to come up with some really huge ideas that would change a whole market. This was one of mine. (The other was a totally free ad-supported mobile carrier.) Neither of them were seriously considered by anyone but myself.

It's fashionable to criticize Yahoo this week, so this is my contribution. These were two bold ideas promoted by a low level employee that were dismissed immediately. Maybe they would have been huge money sinks, but maybe they would have been real game changers. Yahoo (and I) will never know.

I'll keep my eye on Teleflip and see how they do. I wish them the best. And if they want a couple hours of free consulting I'm available; I'd like to meet some people who are thinking big.


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