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AOL Fishbowl company Speek brings conference calls to the web

John Bracken, CEO of Speek at the company’s offices in the AOL Fishbowl in Dulles. - Times-Mirror/Ben Hancock
"Hello? Who is joining the call?"

"This is Jim."

"Jim, welcome, great to hear from you Jim."

Generally, that's the first few moments of conversation of any large conference call, repeated for each new member who joins the conversation.

Each member must dial a phone number, enter a double-digit long access code and are then thrown into a virtual space.

John Bracken, the CEO of Speek, an online conference calling platform, hopes to use a recent round of $5.1 million of Series A venture capital funding and a simple pricing structure to bring conference calling into an increasingly mobile world.

Working for years in a corporate environment, Bracken became increasingly frustrated with older, more antiquated systems.

So one day he asked himself, "Can't we just bring this to the web?"

He used the experience he had with tech start-up Evite.com and saw an opportunity in the market to make his vision a reality.

Speek works on desktops, laptops and other mobile devices. Even flip phones with no mobile telecommunications plans like 4G or 3G service are able to use Speek.

Bracken began by stripping out the complicated task of pins and code numbers.

Instead traditional phone numbers are dispatched in favor of Speek IDs, which are akin to a Twitter or Instagram handle.

Brackens' Speek ID is simply John. If he wants to call someone he finds their Speek ID.

Speek allows its users to immediately see who just joined a call, displaying their name. It also shows who in the discussion is talking at any given moment.

The Speek team, which is quickly expanding, works out of the glass confines of the AOL Fishbowl in Dulles – a long work surface flanked by a ping pong table, plush chairs and HD televisions showing the latest sports highlights.

With the venture capital money Speek raised in March, Bracken hopes to soon hire salespeople and work on expanding services.

The Speek customer base, according to Bracken, is predominantly Canadian and American small businesses, especially consulting firms, digital media companies and law practices.

Bracken explains that in the beginning, Speek was put onto the web in a start-up fashion and the wants of the customer base dictated much of the innovations.

In essence they modified their brand to the customers' wants and needs.

Speek naturally lends itself to viral marketing. People need to recruit friends in order to use the service, in much the same way your friend must be on Facebook or Twitter in order to communicate with them.

As the business grows, Bracken hopes to expand the services Speek provides and grab larger corporate clients. He recognizes however that those businesses have decidedly more "boxes to check," so he's doing what he can to make the core service as strong as possible.

Speek has three separate account options: Speek, Speek Pro and Speek for Teams.

With Speek Pro and Speek for Teams accounts, users can record conversations, make international calls and supports up to 100 callers.

In lieu of the price per minute or pay for what you use model some companies use, Speek streamlined their pricing to $10 a month for Pro or $50 a month (for five accounts) for Speek for Teams.

Bracken said Speek will eventually have a speech to text feature, effectively making transcription services available.

It will also eventually allow the company to expand the analytics it delivers to customers on data points like length of conversation, who joined, when and for how long.

With speech to text, Bracken said the service could some day allow users to search their conversations by keywords.

When asked why he decided to call the company Speek, Bracken said he wanted something unique that clearly states the company's core focus.

Unlike Google though, who turned its name from a noun to a popular verb, Speek hopes to take a verb and turn it into a popular noun.


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