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Say Tello For Presence

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Jeff Pulver, wireless pioneer Craig McCaw, telecom banker Michael Price and former Apple CEO John Sculley have teamed together in a new VoIP focussed start-up called Tello, based in San Mateo, California. Doug Renert, a former executive at Oracle Corp heads up the start-up.

Tello is the brainchild of Jeff Pulver, and was founded in late 2004. It has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding in second quarter of 2005 from Eagle River (Craig McCaw’s investment arm), Evercore Partners (Michael Price’s investment vehicle), Rho Venture, and Intel Capital.

The company, The Wall Street Journal writes, is going to allow users to “workers see on their computers or mobile devices whether the person they are trying to reach is on an office phone or cellphone or is logged on to instant messaging.” [Read how it works over on Business Week.]

That is an apt description of the hot new buzzword, “presence.” Skype is an early and a rudimentary example of “presence” client, though it is limited in its role – it works only with Skype IM and Skype Voice, along with wireless and wireline PSTN services. Buzzwords, and pedigree of the investors might help ensure headlines, but it is hardly a slam dunk. Tello would need a lot of things to go right before it can be declared a success.

The WSJ report indicates that the company will work with Cisco and Avaya, and ensure that its service works with their IP phone and PBX systems. Still, Cisco’s Call Manager offerings is also headed down the same road Tello seeks to travel. Tello’s biggest competitor is going to Microsoft, which has a surprisingly strong and coherent strategy around its Microsoft Live Communication Server. IBM SameTime, Verizon (MCI) and SBC (AT&T) are also thinking along the same lines.

Tello is essentially composed of three part – a database server which has directory and rules information; a SIP proxy server and an IM Proxy server. In its most audacious form, Tello could allow large corporations to simply bypass PSTN all together, and make SIP-based free calls over the Internet as easy to initiate as the 10-digit calling of today. At some point in the future it could initiate calls to PC-IM clients as well. The key to all this a desktop client, that for now works with Windows XP and Blackberry devices. The client, Tello claims will allow worker bees to collaborate and work on spreadsheets for example.

“What we are trying to be is the bridge between all these services,” says Renert, “making it as simple as email.” Having not seen, or used the client or the service, it is hard to judge Tello’s ease of use. The company has no plans to support Palm OS or Skype, though those two have considerable penetration in the corporate markets. My initial reaction to the service is that it might suffer from feature creep, and will be tough for actual users to adopt. And who really knows how well it will scale.

PS: Business Week had the same headline as what I had originally posted, so had to change it. Actually, great overview of Tello over on the weekly business magazine’s website.

25 Responses to “Say Tello For Presence”

  1. Hillrider

    It appears that Tello has bit the dust. The main phone line (650-581-2400) is permanently busied out and the website has not been updated in months. The website confirms that before winding down the company had no real management team left. The CTO, Alan Johnston, the VP Engineering, ?, the VP of Marketing, Kevin Gavin, and all the founders fled in rapid succession with the culmination of the CEO, Doug Renert, being asked to lock the door behind him.

    Apparently all Tello accomplished was cash burn and flowery PR.

  2. I’m sorry, but Tello bores me, and the only viable reason for the coverage they’ve received is their pedigree. Presence is not new. Their vision is clever (if a bit Orwellian), but the product doesn’t yet deliver on that vision. There are far too many disconnected pieces to achieve widespread adoption.

    A better solution? Provide a framework with an API for integrating everything (IM, VoIP, POTs, etc.). Parter with one or two key players, and provide incentives for others to develop plug-in connectors. This lets everyone take advantage of the concept without forcing them to switch tools (i.e. using Gizmo Project or Google Talk instead of Skype).

  3. hmmmm, they really coulda used some advice from a designer during this launch. While the technology behind Tello appears to have some merit the casual browser (aks, non-geek) is going to skip over this site before they blink.

    I like the concept, now let’s work on the communication.

  4. I think the cool thing about Tello is that it does not matter if you use skype or aol messenger, your local pstn, a blackberry (or your land line if you still have one in this new era of communications!) The Tello client allows you to “connect with eachother” through the federated services this company is providing. It enables communication across boarders no matter how you wish to “talk”.

  5. Jesse Kopelman

    I don’t think they have to worry about competition from Microsoft. The last thing corporate IT people want is another Microsoft application to manage. Now if Microsoft gives the finger to antitrust and bundles this with Outlook, that may be a problem.

  6. michael, good point. i think on the flip side, there is the option of people not being able to find you. so i am sure that is an upside of this technology. which by the way, i make full disclosure, i have not used it so don’t know first hand if it works or not.

  7. john scully? as in john scully who killed apple by handing it to bill gates. he should be punshied and send to prison, not have a voip startup. i haven’t tried his services it yet, because i use the OS he tried to kill….so for now i’ll stay with skype….and he should crawl into a cave somewhere in a desert island and disapear. who would invest in a person like him….seriously…..hope he’s gotten smarter than what he used to be.