#32: A new 411 service opens

A few weeks ago I met Andre Vanier, CEO of 1-800-411-SAVE (my friend Ajay, the guy with the cool geek car, introduced us). I was intrigued by his new business and he’s on the phone with me announcing his new service that turns on tonight at midnight.

It’s a 411 service. You know, you call his number as directory assistance. Boring, right? Well, as he educated me about how the phone companies make money off of this service, it got a lot less boring to me.

411 is a legal monopoly of the carriers, he says. The carriers are regulated by states. They charge $.40 to $.70 per 411 call in some states. In most states, he says, the carriers are unregulated on 411 and charge $1.25 each 411 call. Yeah, you might get some calls for free, but not always.

The situation is even worse with cell phones. Up to $1.75 on cell phones each call with no freebies on many carriers.

We are considerably cheaper, he says. 1-800-411-SAVE is  a free call.

His service is using the same database that the carriers use to provide 411 information. This service is using the latest data the big phone companies use (they are forced to share that data with other phone carriers), while many of the Internet-based services are using much older and less complete databases.

What’s the business model? 1-800-411-SAVE pays for the cost of the 411 call. The model is to recover the cost from advertisers. Not just any advertisers but specifically advertisers that fit into the overall concept of “save.”

“It was no accident that we picked the phone number 1-800-411-SAVE,” he says. What they found is that the idea is bigger than just saving the money on the phone call, but is also about saving on offers from great brands. They believe that people will use the service to get specials from retailers and other service offerers.

It is launching in the San Francisco Bay Area tonight. Working to get user feedback. Dramatically expanding this to the Bay Area. They are looking to get consumer reactions to what they like and don’t like. If you live elsewhere there’s still a way to participate.

Anyway, I do not receive any revenue or other considerations from this service (if I ever do, I’ll disclose that). It’s just a business I learned about over breakfast one day and wanted to share it with you.