Ottawa startup capitalizing on desire for discretion
Many a university student and bargain hunter will tell you: Second-hand e-commerce websites such as Kijiji or Craigslist are a great way to shop. But when creating or responding to a listing, a phone number is often required. That means broadcasting one’s phone number to a stranger – not to mention the entire World Wide Web.
© Joël Côté-Cright
AffinityClick CEO Justin Shimoon
Justin Shimoon, CEO of AffinityClick Inc. and a past OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient, has faced this problem in the past, and it’s where the idea came from for his newest app, called Hushed.
The software allows users to purchase disposable phone numbers and corresponding usage plans for as little as 99 cents for a three-day plan.
Customers can link their everyday cellphones to the temporary numbers, which run independently from the telecom provider on the phone’s Wi-Fi or data connection.
“You can’t go to Rogers today and get a second line and bind that number to your phone. This addresses that market,” Mr. Shimoon says. “It also addresses people who have some requirement to be anonymous.”
WHO NEEDS ANONYMITY?
Imagine giving a personal phone number on a dating website to someone you’ve not yet met. Perhaps your profession requires you to place anonymous phone calls, as with investigators or law enforcers. These people are great candidates for disposable phone numbers, Mr. Shimoon says.
Large enterprises have purchased bulk packages of numbers for employees who travel for work. Those doing business in Canada but living abroad can purchase a Canadian number to make cheap calls to local customers. Expats can purchase numbers from their former countries so family members can easily get ahold of them.
“You’re paying six bucks for a phone number for 30 days,” says Mr. Shimoon. “It’s ridiculously cheap, and it’s disruptive.”
Not long ago, AffinityClick was working hard on a different app called HeroButton, which linked users to local daily deals. But then the Hushed concept arose, and after doing some market research, Mr. Shimoon realized there was nothing like it on the Google Play app marketplace.
In the quickly changing mobile development world, first-mover advantage is a huge boon, Mr. Shimoon says, making the first app developer the de facto “standard.”
About 5,000 users are downloading the app daily. Although Hushed is free to download, consumers pay for usage packages and can buy additional top-up minutes. The recurring nature of the transactions are what will make the model profitable, Mr. Shimoon says.
Some individuals may need anonymity, however, to engage in illegal activity.
The company isn’t responsible for the way individuals use the numbers, Mr. Shimoon says.
“We don’t know what people use the numbers for,” he says. “But if they were with Rogers and they’re a drug dealer, how do you think they were doing it before?”
Hushed numbers can be used by any device with a Wi-Fi connection, meaning users can turn tablets into phones.
Some would argue this service already exists, and it’s called Skype. But the mobile version of the popular software is heavy, draining the battery quickly and using a lot of memory.
Hushed users can have a 10-minute conversation that takes up approximately three megabytes of data. Plus, it’s easy on your battery.
“My goal is that if you have a requirement to own a second number, you use our app,” Mr. Shimoon says.
SIDEBAR: JUSTIN SHIMOON BIO
Prior to founding AffinityClick in 2009, Mr. Shimoon was the founder and CEO of Sitebrand Inc., an online marketing company based in Gatineau. He took the company public on the TSX Venture Exchange in June 2008 after founding the company in 2000.
After Mr. Shimoon left the company, Sitebrand filed for bankruptcy in February 2011, and was purchased by Gatineau-based e-commerce firm Cactus Commerce shortly thereafter.
Mr. Shimoon raised more than $1 million in funding for AffinityClick in 2011. AffinityClick currently has five employees and plans to expand its development team later this year.