Interview with John Skorick (MyAKA)
MyAKA is a mobile phone privacy protection service
I interviewed John Skorick, MyAKA founder to find out more. This is the hundred and sixty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to John!
How would you describe MyAKA in under 50 words?
MyAKA enables customers to protect their private information by adding a second number to their phone. This number is not tied to their personal details and can be used publicly or in situations where they do not wish to use their real number.
Tell us the MyAKA story, why did you decide to launch early 2012?
My background is in eCommerce and I had several clients who ran online dating sites. Eventually I began attending online dating conferences as I saw it as a growing and interesting market. I was at a conference in January of 2011 when some colleagues invited me to sit in on an app development meeting with Brendan O’Kane, the CEO of messmo and OtherLevels.
Following the meeting, Brendan and I spoke in more detail and I learned that messmo had created an anonymous text messaging solution which used short codes. I’m a very private individual. I do not care for the intrusive nature of Facebook and even less for the many sites collecting data and selling access to it to anyone with a credit card. But, I digress.
My curiosity was piqued and over the next couple of months we exchanged ideas for taking a short code texting application and turning it into a full blown privacy product. We moved from short codes to real numbers, added calling in addition to texting and several privacy features such as number blocking and do-not-disturb.
How long did it take to put together the initial version of MyAKA?
Due to the pre-existing text messaging functionality, some of the technology already was already in place, but we started the enhanced system, web development, affiliate and billing systems in April 2011 and entered beta in November 2011.
Do you target individuals or businesses? How are you reaching them?
MyAKA is certainly a B2C company. I was recently approached by a colleague to create a spin-off which targets enterprise level customers but we felt that there are already companies operating in that space, whereas options are limited to non-existent in the B2C privacy market.
Additionally, while I would be more than happy to outfit a large companies entire sales staff with MyAKA numbers, for example, a big part of our product is the message and cause behind it. We work to raise awareness to a number of privacy and safety issues and I feel that is certainly a individual based approach.
As for reaching individuals, we have direct integration with dating sites, affiliate marketing campaigns, social media with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest, and also work with a company who writes our privacy news section. This section helps our goal of raising awareness to privacy and safety issues and is highly valuable for our extensive SEO efforts.
In addition, in January of this year we partnered with Break the Cycle, a nationally recognized non-profit which works to end dating violence and domestic abuse through youth education and peer support. Our respective audiences were a natural fit and we work together to raise awareness to these issues and MyAKA donates $1 from every sale to Break the Cycle.
Did you have two mobiles before launching MyAKA?
Actually, I did not. We have a large number of business professionals who use MyAKA to manage business calls vs. personal. Not only do they want the privacy of giving a second number to clients, they are able to place the number into do-not-disturb mode when they wish to not receive business calls, such as during family time.
eCommerce never sleeps so coming from that background I simply had it ingrained to always have my phone on. However, I now have a MyAKA number which I use in any situations where I believe my information could be made public (business cards, filling out online profiles, press releases, etc…)
Has MyAKA got the feedback and growth you expected since launching in January 2012?
When we launched in January 2012 we immediately targeted strategic partnerships with online dating websites. I had solid contacts in this industry and it seemed like a natural fit but we found that there was a lot of hesitance to add a “safety” product on the part of the website owners/executives.
Although we were successful in integrating with some dating sites, the hesitance we met from others did set our projections back and caused us to quickly change our marketing approach. We moved to a heavy focus on the privacy news, SEO and social media marketing efforts, while at the same time maintaining an affiliate program and working direct integration here and there.
We also found that there was a bit of an educational process with customers, as MyAKA was a foreign concept to most. It took us some time getting the message across properly and in late 2012 we changed our model to allow a free 7 day trial without entering a credit card number. Naturally this resulted in a tremendous increase in adoption and usage and also gave customers a no commitment opportunity to learn about the product.
That is a long way of saying growth has been slower than expected but feedback has been tremendous. We work with a call center which handles all billing inquires but I receive and respond to everything sent to the feedback loop. We have integrated new features due to this feedback and I have also had customers tell me how helpful MyAKA has been for them.
How have you funded MyAKA?
MyAKA has not raised any angel or VC funds. We are 100% bootstrapped, as they say.
Do you have any competitors?
There are a few apps which offer some services similar to MyAKA and we are often compared to Google Voice but there is a myriad of differences between our two solutions. There are similarities but many important differences as well.
We are the only second number solution which does not require an app or calls to forwarding lines in order support incoming and outgoing text and call protection.
What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?
We have several new features in the pipeline but it seems new priorities are constantly popping up. Such is the nature of technology.
We just released enhancements to our voice mail system, are working on an incentive program to encourage and reward customers for referring their friends and we are overhauling our mobile tour.
Many immediately think of MyAKA as a product for mobile traffic. I understand why this is the case, we are enabling mobile privacy after all, but due to the fact that this is a new concept to many, we are much more successful at converting customers on our web tour, where there is more real estate. This led us to focus on the web tour and web traffic and our mobile tour is mostly a landing page to convert trial users. Our mobile traffic is growing and this is not effective. We will be launching a new mobile tour within the next two weeks.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
I think the biggest hurdle is the fact that there is so much saturation with new products and technology that it can be difficult to standout and get attention. This is true for both consumers and traffic partners or journalists we want to work with.
Saturation is only going to increase but the best products will get discovered eventually.
What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?
I don’t know that I’m in any position to give others advice. There have been more than a few moments where I’ve wondered if I were a few bricks shy of a load, so I’d be hard pressed to tell others I have all the answers.
I believe people know themselves best, need to trust themselves and their instincts. And be passionate because once you start down the path you’ll need that passion to drive you.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I’m excited about the fact that I look forward to Mondays. I don’t have a traditional weekend as there are no days off at this point but Monday is still Monday and I’ve come to be excited to start a new week, take on whatever challenges come our way and, with luck, hear from a customer or two about how they feel about MyAKA. Sometimes I should be careful what I wish for but the vast majority of the time these are very positive interactions.
One of my mentors, who is now a close friend, ran the company I first moved to LA to work for. He would tell others that if they ever woke up and dreaded going to work to talk to him and he would personally help them find other employment if they were unable to resolve the situation. He’d say we spend far to much of our lives working to be miserable at work and it’s something I took with me and use to this day.
Can you convince the reader to start using MyAKA in under 50 words?
I would simply suggest that they Google their phone number and take stock of the number of companies who provide personal details based on phone number searches. Our goal is to render these companies non-existent.
Finished reading? Check out MyAKA!