Thursday, August 18, 2022

Alexandru Cebotari, founder and CEO of AVO

Interview with AVO app CEO Alexandru Cebotari
People depend heavily on roaming services when traveling from one country to another. Tell us about how you started the app in 2014?

I was working for a company as an out-staff telecom engineer and working for international projects in Romania, Saudi Arabia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique and others. During those trips, I used to buy local SIM cards for cheap internet connection, but immediately faced a problem related to receiving incoming calls on my home mobile number, thus having to use two phones. Even so, all calls were expensive because of roaming.

At this point came the idea to build a mobile app which will keep my regular mobile number alive while I’m using a local data SIM. Holding that idea, I went to the Startup Weekend event, and won second place. Afterwards, we participated at Yandex Startup Camp in Moscow launching the first app version. Then we participated in Startupbootcamp in Copenhagen, and things took off.

Now, our service is available for subscribers in 20+ countries, and we continue to expand and to offer new services. Recently we launched the AVO SIMFREE app, which provides data roaming at low prices, avoiding buying local SIM or carrying 3/4G Wi-Fi routers.

AVO app doesn’t only get you cheap outgoing calls but ones that are free of charge, how?

To be clear, the AVO app provides free incoming calls from regular numbers and free calls from AVO to AVO users. All outgoing calls to regular numbers are charged.

“Your number will be available for calls even if you put a different SIM in your phone.” How does the app manage to keep one number after replacing it with another?

It’s pretty simple, before replacing the regular SIM from the phone, the customer sets up call forwarding to our local gateway, and when an incoming call comes through, we deliver it to the AVO app over a VoIP connection. That way and after exchanging home SIM card with a local one for data, all incoming calls are diverted to the app. It’s not mandatory to use local SIM; it will work perfectly over any Wi-Fi connection. 

For each category – Base, Tourist, Business and Expat – there is a different offer with a different price and duration for each country, can you explain the benefits of each roaming package?

We designed our packages based on the fragmentation of our users. The main factors behind splitting the categories were the time of the trip and the average call consumption made by different categories. For example, the package Base is used by short-term travelers with low call consumption; meanwhile, the Business package is used by frequent business travelers for which staying in touch over regular calls are very important. 

How is privacy protected when the data is shared and exchanged between users?

We don’t have too much data to be shared between users. But for a few existing scenarios, we are using best privacy practices and GDPR recommendations.  

Should the users’ contacts have AVO as well, to be able to connect with them?

No, this is the beauty of the app. An AVO user could call and be called by anyone. He can receive calls even from a landline and make outgoing calls to any international landline or mobile number. You don’t have to invite anyone to the app to be able to have a call. The most appreciated feature is incoming calls from any phone or phone network.

How long will it take for messages to be included in your service?

At this point, we don’t see the customer needs to add a messaging feature in the app. There are so many on the market and creating one more is not adding value for our users and us.

Can you tell us about the feedback regarding the app so far?

As with any app, we have different types of feedback, positive and negative. And we appreciate constructive criticism which helps us better understand the needs of our customers and make improvements to our app. One of the main issues we see now is the call forwarding setup required for the incoming calls. But we are already working on this.

What is the difference between the actual roaming costs worldwide and the rates you offer?

For calls, the difference is huge. For a US subscriber, the cost of the call for roaming is about $0.20-0.25 per minute depending on destination and home mobile carriers. With AVO app, incoming calls are free and outgoing calls are for $0.08 per minute. And the same goes to all other markets where our service is available.

What challenges have you faced with the expansion of your app?

The main challenge is marketing. Telecom is a highly competitive market, and we have to be creative in how to engage and retain our customers. The second biggest challenge is the partnership with telecoms. We would love to have more integrated services and to become a bridge between regular and VoIP call technologies. Still, very often, mobile carriers refuse to collaborate because they are concerned we will jeopardize their roaming business.  

Tell us about your business plans and future goals? 

As I told you at the very beginning, we just launched the AVO SIMFREE app as a costless solution for mobile data while traveling. We will work on a consolidated solution which will provide customers with the full roaming service including data, voice calls and SMS. Our next goal is to reach one million customers and to expand in Asia and Africa.