FreeConferenceCall.com owner David Erickson in a room of bridges at his company’s Long Beach headquarters. Photos by Sarah Bennett.
One day in January of 2003, David Erickson looked out the window of his Ocean Center Building office at Pine Ave. and Ocean Blvd. to see a bustling sea of pink across the street.
The Mary Kay Leadership Conference was in full swing and Erickson thought the saleswomen in attendance might be able to make use of his website, FreeConferenceCall.com—then a two year-old online service that offers exactly what it says. So Erickson grabbed a handful of business cards and ran over to the Convention Center to start handing them out.
Within a few hours, he was on the phone with a local printer placing a rush order on even more.
“People took to it,” says Erickson, who for years juggled being the company’s owner as well as its coding wizard, customer service representative and marketing manager. “After [handing out cards at the Mary Kay convention], we saw a 100 percent growth in one month. Two years later at another Mary Kay conference in Nashville, one of their main reps told me something. She said, ‘You know what you’ve done? You’ve changed the way Mary Kay does business.’”
Erickson hasn’t always been in the business of connecting people, but he’s always been in business. He started his first company at 16 year-old and spent the next decade or do doing everything from buying a landscaping businesses to starting his own investment annuities firm.
Freeconferencecall.com built the world’s first high-definition voice bridge, which sits in the company’s office near the Traffic Circle.
But it wasn’t until 1995, when he saw Intel’s ProShare video conferencing machine that Erickson found his calling. “It had full duplex voice capabilities and screen sharing—it was the first time I saw anything like that,” he says. “And I said to myself, ‘That’s it. That’s going to happen.’ I didn’t want to do anything else.”
A few months later, Netscape went public and the internet was unofficially born. But by the time the dot-com era had begun, Erickson was already manifesting his ideas for how to build devices like the one he first saw that would transmit voice data over the internet. He eventually did through the help of some connections in Ukraine and can claim ownership to the world’s first high-definition conferencing device.
These devices—called bridges—along with Erickson’s self-coded website are the core of FreeConferenceCall.com’s service. By allowing the website to patch users from around the world into a call that is hosted within a single bridge, this proprietary hardware sets Erickson’s website apart from the now countless other sites advertising free conference calls, who often purchase built bridges or lease them from other companies.
And with its bridges in place in 27 countries and counting, Freeconferencecall.com has a capitalization on the market unlike any other.
“My goal when I started was [to provide service for] 100,000 minutes of calls a month—because that’s just what I thought was possible,” Erickson says. “Then we got 120,000 new accounts in one month and I couldn’t believe it. When things started to pick up for the service, I thought maybe I’ll get one percent of conference calls, wouldn’t that be nice? Now we get 10 percent.”
Erickson’s company makes money both on up-selling to their premium services—such as the newly rolled out Start Meeting, an audio conference and screen-sharing service—as well as on the fractions of a cent accrued by phone companies through the long distance calls made into FreeConference- Call.com’s bridges.
Today, the company facilitates more than 6 billion minutes per year through its website and with calls coming from more than 100 countries, it is a 24 hour-a-day operation that is growing by the minute.
Last year—just shy of the company’s tenth anniversary— Freeconferencecall.com moved from its Pine and Ocean office into a renovated one-story building on the Long Beach Traffic Circle where Erickson and his now 60-plus staff continue to upgrade the site and generate new ways of providing voice, video and screen-sharing services for their users.
Recently, the company beat out more than 1000 applicants from around the world to win two Stevie Awards—the coveted awards for international business achievement—which Erickson will fly to South Korea to receive this month.
“No one is here for the money,” says Erickson of the employees that helped FreeConferenceCall.com earn the Stevies. “They just want to make this happen. If you look at us now, it looks like this company was planned out. But it wasn’t—the right things just kept happening with the right people.”
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