As Sign-ups Surge, FreeConferenceCall Scrambles to Expand
Rachel Uranga covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
Dave Erickson, head of the nation's second largest telephone conferencing company, knew he had to do something to expand his services when he saw 3,000% growth in some Asian countries hit by the novel coronavirus.
Then COVID-19 hit Italy, spiking sign-ups there as well. The founder of the two-decade-old Long Beach service began putting together a plan to expand their service.
This week FreeConferenceCall announced a group calling number where people can access a dial-in number to share with friends and coworkers. The access code will be the original caller's mobile.
"This will provide conferencing for everyone in the country and give everyone an account," he said. "If the National Guard came in and locked down a one-mile radius around you, my guess is that some people would like to know they had a conference call line."
In the United States, demand for the service has spiked 2,000% over last year as anxiety wracks the country and more people are forced to work at home.
The altered reality has put companies like messaging service Slack and teleconference video company Zoom, which offered their services free to K-12 schools, at center stage as employers send their workers home.
Erickson said he is talking to undisclosed government officials to see what they can do with the lines.
Teleconferencing services like FreeConferenceCall have long been used by megachurches to hold marathon prayer sessions. They've been a lifeline for some during disasters like Katrina, Erickson says. They're even favored during presidential campaigns to gather large numbers of people on the phone, in part because it's free, unlike Zoom and other services.
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Despite — or in many cases because of — the raging pandemic, 2020 was a great year for many tech startups. It turned out to be an ideal time to be in the video game business, developing a streaming ecommerce platform for Gen Z, or helping restaurants with their online ordering.
But which companies in Southern California had the best year? That is highly subjective of course. But in an attempt to highlight who's hot, we asked dozens of the region's top VCs to weigh in.
We wanted to know what companies they wish they would have invested in if they could go back and do it all over again.
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