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THE CN INTERVIEW: Hang Ten Ben Lillienthal of Vapps

The CN Interview with Ben Lilienthal, CEO of Vapps

1 June, 2006

The CN Interview with Ben Lilienthal, CEO of Vapps
Surfs up. Skypes Up. Ben's Up.

Ben Lilienthal is the co-founder and CEO of Vapps, Inc. He previously founded Nascent Technologies which developed and licensed carrier-class, enhanced services software for web-enabled email. Nascent licensed its products to service providers like France Telecom, Belgacom, Hong Kong Telecom and Singapore Telecom. Nascent was sold to CMGI in 1999 and then to Sendmail in 2001. Mr. Lilienthal is a graduate of Amherst College and received his MBA from the Stern School of Business in 2004.

Conferencing News: Yo Ben, what is new with Vapps since we last interviewed you in March of 2004?
Ben Lillienthal: We are excited that our VoIP audio conferencing platform, the Conference Bridge 1000 (“CB1000”) is being used by callers in over 50+ countries around the world.
CN: If a lone caller on a cell phone falls off a conference call in the woods, is there sound?
BL: There are many ways to configure the settings on the CB1000, so one may have sound or silence.
CN: That's the best philosophical response to that Zen koan we've ever heard of.
BL: That was technical response. I don't answer koans.
CN: Neither do we, that's why we only ask them. But please, continue. Tell us more about your progress at Vapps.
BL: Vapps is continuing to invest heavily in R&D to maintain our technology leadership within the VoIP audio conferencing category. We are focused on innovative extensions of our core conferencing platform, the CB1000, to make conference calling more efficient and cost-effective across the board.
CN: Such as...
BL: Specifically, several “new and cool” features we have brought to market include web-based Q&A where conference organizers can run question and answer sessions from their web browser without the need for an operator and an ANI Blocking feature where organizers can block certain callers from their conference. The tight integration of web access with our conferencing platform makes all of this possible.
CN: That is way cool. We know some ANIs we'd block right away. Please, continue...
BL: Well, we have just released the Beta of our Operator Interface. This real time system gives operators and call centre personnel full control over the bridge including the ability to handle customer support requests and escort people into operator assisted conferences.
CN: What else is new? We hear through the grapevine you quit surfing.
BL: Not true. This industry has too many false rumors.
CN: Ok, we're hear you're in managed services.
BL: Who told you that?
CN: You did a few minutes before this interview. What, it's a rumor?
BL: Vapps launched a managed services business at the beginning of this year and it is continuing to grow quite nicely. We took a look at the market and realized that there was a few segments that we were not getting traction with. These were service providers and large enterprises that wanted to deploy the CB1000 but did not have the expertise and/or the capital or personnel to actively manage and maintain the bridges. So, we took it upon ourselves to run the equipment for them.
CN: Doesn't that put you in a competitive position with your customers?
BL: We provide a platform that enables services to be delivered to end-users. As our customers tell us all the time, there is much more to the business then just having a platform in place. We think that the differentiators come in customer service, marketing, sales, billing, etc… Furthermore, most of our customers on the managed services side provide their own telecom access. Our managed services business helps us to penetrate the enterprise segment and we view it as an extension of and complement to our product licensing business. Some things about our managed services offering is that we generally quote a fixed monthly recurring price for the bridges and let the customers bring their own access via telecom partners. Also, we have a 24x7x365 NOC in event of any technical problems. And, we can deploy as little as 100 ports or as many as 5,000+ ports for the customer depending on the requirement.
CN: Tell us about your partnership with Skype and your big announcement today.
BL: Our partnership with Skype is a prime example of our efforts in the managed services category. Skype is the leading VoIP service provider in the world. They were interested in adding a converged conferencing service to their offering but did not want to deploy the Vapps equipment themselves. So, we have been working very closely with them over the last 6 months to bring this offering to the market and we are excited by the opportunity it presents on a world wide basis. If specific managed services businesses like gain traction in the marketplace we would consider spinning them off as their own businesses to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest.
CN: Groovy. What about your bread-and-butter business segments?
BL: On the Vapps infrastructure and licensing side, we have won a number of deals for VoIP “hoot and holler” systems. This is a subset of the bridging platform but our appliance focus has made us the go-to vendor for this application.
CN: We thought Darome was the go-to leader in this space.
BL: Who?
CN: Darome. Half-duplex hoot-and-holler vendors.
BL: I thought they made bridges by hand.
CN: Nevermind. We're getting old. Tell CN something shocking.
BL: We have just been GSA approved so look out Washington, here we come. By the way, can you make an introduction to Jack Abramoff for me? Wait, we’re still on the record. Seriously, look for some more exciting announcements from us on this in the 3rd Quarter.
CN: Ah, shocking mystery! Do give CN the breaking news. What about the longer term. What's in your crystal ball?
BL: We are keeping our heads down, continuing to invest heavily in R&D to maintain our technology leadership and leveraging our business partnerships. In the last year, some of the largest Fortune 500 companies and the largest VoIP service providers have selected Vapps and the CB1000 to provide audio conferencing services. We feel this is because of the investments we have made in technology and personnel and the decision to maintain our niche focus on this product category. We will continue to execute in the same manner for the foreseeable future.
CN: Thanks, Ben. Congratulations on the Skype deal, continued success with Vapps, and hang ten this summer, dude.


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