Startup Spotlight – Hookflash – June 2012

Startup of the Week: Hookflash

Co-founders Trent Johnsen and Erik Lagerway have vowed to democratize the telephone industry.  Armed with a force of 20 engineers, they’ve just launched hookflash, an app that integrates with LinkedIn’s directory, giving business users a free alternative for voice, HD video and messaging.

How did you come up with the idea? Was there an “ah-ha” moment?

My founding partner Erik Lagerway and I have been working with telecom technology for almost 15 years. Over the past couple of years we realized that the technology now exists to offer a new and better alternative to phones. Communications are rapidly moving to “the 4 screens”, mobile phone, tablet, computer, and TV. This trend is being driven primarily by three factors; social media, cameras and microphones in computing devices, and ubiquitous broadband and Internet connectivity.

So hookflash is integrating communications with social media on the four screens to enable “work, life, simplified.”

We started with the iPad because it’s today’s most beautiful combination of display, mobility, camera and computing – a near perfect device to replace traditional phones.  In a few months we’ll extend hookflash to the iPhone and early next year into the browser so hookflash will run on any device.

How to use it – Get up in the morning, grab your iPad, and open hookflash. There you’ll see the latest news and updates along with your complete professional directory in LinkedIn. Simply tap on a LinkedIn connection’s name to start messaging, voice or video chat. If they’re not using hookflash, just touch the blue invite icon to the right of their name to get them to join you.

Benefits – instant, easy, high definition video, voice and messaging connections with all your LinkedIn contacts anywhere in the world for free.

And this is just the beginning; our development team has been working hard on a lot more functionality that we’re excited about bringing to our hookflash customers to support our vision of “work, life, simplified”

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

In order to deliver High Definition voice, video, messaging and related services globally at no cost, we had to create an entirely new communications protocol. The Skype proprietary protocol stack is about 8 years old with development costs estimated at over $200 million. We’ve built our own new protocol, “Open Peer” and now have 20 patents. Open Peer has been a huge, incredibly difficult piece of software to develop from scratch. We’ve been lucky to have a world-class development team in Canada and Europe who got it built over the past 16 months.

Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great?

We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of:

-Our Investment Bankers at SoraGroup led by Rod Matheson.
-Our Business Advisory Board member Myles Hamilton previously of Spitz, Pepsi, Frito Lay.
-Our Technical Advisors, Cullen Jennings PhD, Senior Fellow at Cisco who currently Chairs the International Engineering Task Force (IETF) on RTCweb – “Real-Time communications on the web”, and Alan Duric PhD, Norway, who created the High Definition audio technology acquired by Skype in their purchase of his company Sonorit Camino.

What’s new with your startup that we can share?

We launched hookflash for iPad in the Apple App store on June 21.  We’ve received great reviews on several media channels like GigaomTechvibes, and WebProNews to name a few. We were also featured on LinkedIn’s company blog.

Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?

Definitely talent. Although raising capital can be challenging, it’s far more important and difficult to find and recruit the very best talent. And if you can do that, raising capital gets a lot easier. As Jim Collins stresses in “Good to Great” – 1st Who’s on the bus?

In terms of making it easier to raise capital, Alberta should follow BC’s example of their highly successful 30% technology tax credit to encourage people to invest in technology. Western Canada has small, young capital markets accustomed to energy and mining financing. Everyone from bankers to investors to startups to residents of Alberta will benefit greatly when we get the technology tax credit done here.

What has contributed to your success to this point?

I’m still working toward my vision of success and hopefully will be for a long time, as I love the work I’m getting to do.

Three things are key in entrepreneurship:

Put some serious thought and stay committed. It can be incredibly hard, risky and lonely, not just for you but for the people in your life as well. It’s kind of like trying to make a living as an actor or professional athlete. The odds are against you, the income can be unpredictable or non-existent, and occasionally there’s a shot at above average financial rewards.

The other two things you need are integrity and perseverance.

What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship? 

It’s personality for me; I meet very few people I’d ever want to work for. I should have one of those T-shirts that say, “You’re not the boss of me.” My education is in economics and I really like bringing new, better, often less expensive technology to market.

What are your thoughts on Calgary’s startup community? 

I think there’s a lot of talent and potential resources, but in general I don’t think the Calgary startup community takes itself seriously enough or thinks big enough and tech financing here is a joke. Until that changes, quality deals from Calgary will go to Silicon Valley to get funded and good companies that remain here will be at a disadvantage.

I’m spending some of my time lobbying the Alberta government to implement a technology tax credit so that other startups can begin to get what they need and that begins with capital.

If you are working on something that could potentially change the world, we’d like to hear about it. Send us a tweet at @startupcalgary or email us at info@startupcalgary.ca.

Startup Spotlight is covered by Boast Capital, a Calgary-based Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) consulting firm that helps companies secure and maximize government funding to advance innovation. For more information visit BoastCapital.com or @BoastCapital.

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