Old dog, older tricks

Jeffrey Citron, the maverick founder of Vonage, might be taking a page out of his online trading playbook again and using it to manage and run the fast growing, cash guzzling VoIP service provider. Bill Burnham, who used to track online trading business as an analyst before switching gears and becoming a VC draws the parallels in this excellent post.

In that industry, Ameritrade, Datek and E*Trade were able to pull away from the competition by dramatically ramping their customer acquisition spending and that appears to be exactly what Vonage plans to do in the VOIP space. In fact, the financial language that Vonage is currently using to talk about their business where they claim to be “cash flow positive before customer acquisition costs” is a carbon copy of how many online brokers talked about their own financials back in their heydays of online trading.

So what does this all mean? Bill says that the cash being spent on customer acquisition is a way to “get big fast,” just like in the online brokerage days. He argues that Vonage actually might be able to do well, if history is any indicator. I don’t agree. Unlike the brokerage industry, here the incumbents are not sitting on their haunches, and are actually moving forward with remarkable alacrity. I think Vonage is hoping to grow really fast, go public, and perhaps cash out before people start asking those pesky questions about profits.

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