Voqel and its Go to Market Strategy

Voqel logo

I recently sat down with Chris Russell, founder and CEO of Voqel to discuss their go to market strategy.

About Voqel

Voqel is a mobile platform for spoken expression. The world is full of amazing stories, but we rarely hear them. Instead, our experiences are often conveyed through text and pictures, which can lack richness and authenticity. Imagine hearing epic travel tales, cherished family stories or a favorite blogger, all in sound of a familiar voice. Voqel helps people capture the important narratives that enrich their lives, and rediscover the sound of a great story with all the warmth, passion and personality that only the human voice can convey.

Chris Russell

Chris is founder and CEO of Voqel, a social media company that enables people to connect through their stories, all in their own voice. At Voqel, Chris sets the overall vision and guides day-to-day operations. He has a well-established track record of launching new ventures. As Division President of Oracle On Demand, he launched Oracle’s Internet business. He subsequently helped conceive and grow a number of innovative technology companies, such as ArcSight (IPO in 2008), WageWorks (IPO in 2012) and TRUSTe. Throughout his career, Chris has engaged on strategic initiatives with top consumer and media companies, including The New York Times, Facebook, Sony Music, Wolters Kluwer and others. Chris holds a BA from University of Washington and a MBA with Honors from the University of Chicago.

Chris Russell Talks About Voqel’s Go to Market Strategy


Hugh: Chris, nice of you to join us. I sure appreciate it.

Chris: Hi, Hugh. Nice to chat.

Hugh: Listen, I want to start . . . let’s start right from the beginning. Tell me what Voqel does, who you sell to, and what its value is. What makes it special?

Chris: Let me do that with a short story. A couple years ago, my son graduated from high school. We told him we weren’t going to get him a graduation gift, but he could go anywhere he wanted in the world. He called me a month later and said, “Dad, I want to go to India and I want you to come.” How often do you get invited by your kid to go travel? I had to do it. We traveled for a month together, and I learned India is an incredible place, incredibly diverse. I never would have appreciated it without hearing the stories directly.
I get back home, and I was contrasting our travel experience together with back-to-school night for my other son, and just watching the kids text and message each other, and they’re communicating through status updates. I thought, “Wow. That doesn’t capture the richness of our experience. Where are our stories and where are our voices?” I couldn’t let go of that idea. I got together with some friends and we decided to build an application that would allow people to connect directly in their own . . . with their own stories, and in their own voices. What we’ve built is a personal publishing platform that’s entirely in voice. You can record stories, a kid’s music concert, a travel blog; whatever you want, you can put it in your own voice, and then people on the other side can use the app to listen to your stories and the stories of other people. It creates a self-curated radio station. At that’s what the . . . so that’s what we do.

You asked about what’s the value of it. The value of it is to help promote a more authentic style of connection between people on the one hand, and at the same time, help people unleash their innate creativity. People have an impulse to create, we’re all natural storytellers. Let’s enable that. How fun would that be?

Hugh: That’s great. That makes a lot of sense; enabling storytelling, creativity. Chris, tell us about how you go to market or plan to go to market. How are you going to get the product in people’s hands, so on?

Chris: We’ve been about 1 1/2 years in development, and it’s been very much product-focused. We’ve built the product both as a mobile app downloadable through the Apple Store, but we also created a website with all of the mirror functionality. We did that so that bloggers could edit and upload their audio using a computer, which is a little different than speaking directly into a mobile phone. It took some work to pull that together. We launched our test version in August and did some debugging, and then re-launched a more market-ready version in November. We’re just now getting to the point of content, customer acquisition, and distribution. That’s the year ahead of us. It’s an exciting time.

Hugh: Sure. Actually, let’s talk about perspective. Let’s talk about your plans. How are you planning to acquire customers? How are you going to distribute? What’s your . . . what you got laid out before you?

Chris: I think of it in 3 buckets. The first one being individuals, the second one being groups or communities, and the third one I call brands, and we’ll think of those as company or corporate initiatives. On the individual level, it’s largely driven through word-of-mouth. You talk to friends, you talk to family members, they pass along the good news about what we’re doing. The fun thing about storytelling is it’s naturally viral. As soon as you tell a story, you want someone to hear it.

For instance just when we were doing our test app, I had a mom record her young child singing his ABCs for the first time. She took that little audio clip and posted it to her Facebook, and a month later, it’s been listened to over 100 times. I view each of those listens as a potential user of Voqel. It’s not a huge mental leap to figure out, “Maybe I could do this, too. I want to share something with my kid reading a book so grandma can hear it, even though she lives on the other side of the country,” kind of thing. At the individual level, I really do think it’s building a product that’s of obvious value, and then word-of-mouth is the most powerful agent for recruiting folks.

On the second bucket, which is groups and associations, that would be where we have a community manager going out and working directly with nursing homes, churches, non-profit organizations, universities, and so on down the line where there’s already communities aggregated, and work with them to help them understand how they could use Voqel as a tool for helping people within their community connect in a neat way. That’s maybe a more a direct sales, marketing outreach, phone calls, visiting with people, emailing, and what have you.

In between those two, I would say there’s a huge sub-market for us called bloggers, and these are folks that they like to get the word out about what their ideas are, and a lot of it’s done in text. What Voqel does is it allows them to put their existing blog entries in their own voice, which is fun and interesting. More important, for the folks that follow their blog, it now allows them to listen so that they can absorb the blog content while they’re driving. We have a targeted initiative to just get out to bloggers and let them know, “We’ve created a free radio station, if you want to share your content via audio.” That’s what . . . we’ve done some of that already, and it’s working pretty well.

Then the last category is brands. By that, I mean a company. There’s a nice movement afoot for a brand to say, “Let’s put our product experience into a narrative because that’s how people absorb it.” It’s not features, functions, and price point that they’re interested in, they want to know how this can bring something valuable to my life, and you do that through narrative. Brands already get this. Usually when I go talk with somebody trying to get the word out about our product, they’ll tell me how they want to use Voqel. I don’t need to share ideas with them. That’s an exciting segment for us because that’s how we’ll monetize this business, is through advertising. It’s a good idea to help brands tell their story. It’s easier to tell the story with some words attached, and it’s more emotive when the words are put to the beautiful sound of a human voice. That’s what our approach is, Hugh.

Hugh: That makes a lot of sense, Chris. I appreciate that. If you had to tell us, if you have one big takeaway from launching . . . getting a company started, being a founder, and launching something you’re excited about over the last couple of years; what’s the one thing you’d like to leave us with?

Chris: Doing something like this from scratch is hard work. It’s a roller coaster. You . . . definitely things that you hoped would have happened, and even people that you hoped would have helped, might not be there for you. At the same time, there’s wonderful things that happen that you didn’t even expect, and people come out of the woodwork and help that you never would have guessed. When it’s . . . when you’re involved early like this and you’ve got, in a sense, your name on the business and you feel a lot of alignment with what you’re trying to do, it’s a wild roller coaster ride.

Hugh: That sounds like a good learning. That sounds like a good takeaway. Chris, thanks for spending time with us. Great to hear about Voqel. I look forward to how you progress this year and how you launch. Best of luck to you.

Chris: Thank you, Hugh. Appreciate it.

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