Ray Ozzie’s Talko Wants Users to Pick Up the Phone

Ray Ozzie wants you to pick up the phone.

Three years after leaving Microsoft Corp., Lotus Notes creator Ozzie is back with the third major project of his 35-year career: a mobile application that lets teams collaborate using a mixture of voice calls and texts.

Called Talko Inc., the app is being released today for Apple Inc.’s iOS mobile software and lets users set up contacts or teams to reach via calls, recorded voice messages and texts - - as part of the same conversation. Participants can add images and tags for searching, and archive streams of audio and text.

Ozzie made a career out of developing software that helps people work together, such as Lotus Notes e-mail and Groove, a collaboration program. This time, he said he’s seeking to reinvent the telephone call -- which he says is better for some situations -- by enabling users to combine it with texts and adding a record of conversations. While the market for communications apps is a crowded one, Ozzie said that building Lotus Notes taught him that helping people work together can be a goldmine.

“I know that from experience that if you solve collaboration problems, there’s money to be made,” Ozzie said in an interview. “This is like the golden age of technology-supported interaction.”

While apps such as Yo, Secret, Twitter or Snapchat offer new ideas and methods of communicating for consumers, there aren’t many similar innovations for corporate users, Ozzie said.

“That innovation has not yet begun to touch business,” he said.

Making Calls

Ozzie, who joined Microsoft in 2005 as chief technology officer and was chief software architect from 2006 until his departure in 2010, said that while everyone carries a smartphone, many people -- especially younger users -- text rather than call. Still, some complicated or important conversations are better handled by a voice call, and that’s where Talko comes in.

“If the call had never been invented before the Internet and some little Y Combinator startup woke up one morning and said, ‘hey you can transmit voice over the Internet,’ it probably would have taken a different form,” Ozzie said. “So I challenged the team to think what is the best way to weave voice into the way people naturally work.”

Talko plans to make money by selling a version to businesses that stores message threads permanently. A free version will also be available and target a broad consumer usage. The Boston-based company hasn’t decided on a subscription fee, although it will probably cost $5 to $10 a month per user, Ozzie said.

Talk, Pictures

Walter Zimbeck started using an early test version of the app because Talko co-founder Matt Pope is a friend. Zimbeck, who manages the 3-D printing group at Technology Assessment & Transfer Inc. in Annapolis, Maryland, said the app came in handy when working with Honeywell International Inc. to develop printing techniques for ceramic components in jet engines. The two companies are using Talko to exchange messages, calls and pictures as they experimented, he said.

The company, which has 11 employees, will release an app for Google Inc.’s Android and a Web version of Talko within several months. The startup was funded by Ozzie and Mitch Kapor, who recruited him to Lotus Development more than three decades ago, as well as venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock Partners. The company hasn’t disclosed how much funding they’ve raised to date.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.

While testing Talko, Ozzie said he and his wife received a call from his daughter, telling them they needed to discuss something. Up popped an image of an ultrasound of his next grandchild. The audio of Ozzie and his wife’s surprised delight is now archived for posterity in the log of that call.

“There are some things that are just priceless,” he said.

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