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The Sunday Morning Post - You Can't Run A Business On Free

The Skype black-out of last week proved something I have been saying all along. You can't run a business on FREE.

For me, I saw first hand what happens, as my team and I were on a client call using HiDef Conferencing (a client), which provides both dial in and Skype In options to reach their bridge. The result was proof positive that having a dial in option saved the day. Had we all be conferencing via Skype or Skype Out the call never would have continued so the $40.00 per month we pay per bridge is clearly money worth spending, even when Skype keeps improving their multi-party calling capabilities, and at some point will likely roll out their own "pay" conferencing service as a "business" or "Connect" service, the fear of what happens when you use "free" is too great.

Ironically, the one service that's sort of "free" our email, which is hosted on an Exchange server, became the equivalent to the emergency phone in the elevator when it stops running and you're trapped behind the closed doors.  Email became the route that got the call restarted by reminding everyone about the dial in number so work could continue without interruption.

This same issue of "free" could apply  to any service, like GoogleVoice for example, where nothing is really paid for, so there is no assurance of "uptime." Of course if reliability falters then your audience goes away, something GoogleVoice has not suffered from, as Vincent Paquet and his team have proven they can build something that scales. But reliability comes at a cost, and the cost of reliable Telecom and IT services is not free. It's like the difference between "amateur" and "professional."

Ken Rutkowski, with whom I co-host the World Technology RoundUp likes to say this. "A professional's expensive, but an amateur costs you a fortune." The Skype black out just proved that free is for amateurs and pros pay for the tools they need. Will I keep using Skype? Sure. Will we keep bridging in using it to reach the conference bridge? Sure. But we've got back ups with for pay mobile phones, landlines and all the things a real business needs to operate. It's called a back up plan.

Does your business have a telecom back up plan in place? If it's based on FREE you may want to think about it again.


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Frank Bulk

Just because it's paid, doesn't mean it will work, either.


Andy, I have to disagree. What happened to Skype as far as we can tell -- a bug in their relay node code which took down many supernodes and thus crippled their network -- could have happened in paid-for relay nodes or Skype's use of user computers just as easily. It had only a little relation to the fact that Skype doesn't pay people to be supernodes. (This may have affected how quickly they could come back.)

And I think that "Run high quality 99.9% of the time for free but fall back very rarely to a paid lower-fidelity service" is a great model and I think it counts as running a business on free.

I'm not saying there aren't reasons to use paid services, but I don't think this speaks to whether a fremium system like Skype isn't a success and something that you can use and rely on in business. The point is you do have many backups available, and the reality is that in Skype they are called upon quite rarely -- perhaps more rarely than many of the commercial services I have used. And you want a fallback for your commercial services too.

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