Free service in a time of crisis? It’s possible even for startups, shares OpenPhone

Jackie Gill - April 17, 2020 OpenPhone co-founders Daryna Kulya and Mahyar Raissi are giving back during COVID-19 by giving small businesses some of their services for free

OpenPhone’s name is no mistake. Since launching in 2018, they had a clear mission: to take what’s essentially a closed system between you and your phone and open it up for teams who want a shared business number so they can collaborate more effectively. No more giving out a personal phone number for work. No more relying on a handset that sits on your desk.

Now, in the wake of COVID-19 and a sudden surge in remote work that’s hit small businesses particularly hard, they’re putting every tool they have to good use, most recently announcing that they’ll port a business’ number over to their digital service for free, and give them three months of service for free as well.

OpenPhone co-founder Daryna Kulya shares how she and her team are helping us stand together against the crisis.

What inspired you to step up and help?

We’ve identified this unique segment of small businesses that are still relying on a landline because it’s just the phone in their office or on their desk. They’re relying on it to communicate with customers.

Very quickly, they realized that it’s not safe for them to go to work anymore. We wanted to specifically help them keep their phone number, so they can use it when they’re home.

We will do the port, we will give them three months free, and those people are usually extremely happy because their service works on their computer, on their phone. It’s mind-blowing. We love being able to say that we can make that transition super easy.

How do you balance offering a free service right now while running a startup business?

We’re a business, and we are a young startup. We need to survive and grow, and obviously, we want to be able to do a lot more.

There is actually increased demand for our services right now. A lot of it comes also from companies that are bigger. What we’re offering to small businesses switching from landlines, we’re able to do it because we also have a lot of demand coming from different segments of the market where they’re able to and very happy to pay for what we offer.

We have commitment to serving this community because, again, this is what inspired us to build the product. My goal and my hope is that, as we grow as a company, we’re able to do more to help.

How has your team responded to COVID-19?

Most of us are actually Canadians, and we’re a distributed team. We have a couple of people in San Francisco, we have people in Canada, as well as across the U.S. and in the Philippines. We’re obviously working remotely.

The fact that we’ve been a remote team, and we are obviously all impacted personally by what’s happening, it’s almost like this gives us a chance to sit down and think, “Hey, this is our time to deliver value,” first of all with the community in mind, but second of all as a chance for what we’ve been doing to actually be useful when used by a lot of people right now.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

Usage of our system has gone way up, and our engineering team is making sure we can keep up our service, we can stay on, all of our servers are operational, etc. We’re fortunate to be thinking about these types of things, but that’s what our experience is.

What advice do you have for other businesses right now?

For a lot of startups, I know it can be tempting to say, “Oh, we haven’t really made it yet, so we can’t help others.” I feel like you can help. Start helping people in a small way, even when you’re still startup. As you grow that, it’s like a muscle you develop.

I feel like a lot of small business owners need time to kind of like digest what’s happening and really see what their strategy should be for what to do at this time. We may not even know the impact of this yet. Fundamentally, I feel, for a lot of people in our community, they just don’t know yet how their business will fully be impacted. As a company serving this audience, we will be patient. We want to help.

Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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