Plaxo sees its Web-based address book service as the ultimate social networking tool. So why not fill out the rest of the offering with an integrated calendar feature?
Today, Plaxo did just that by purchasing HipCal, an on-line calendar provider that is perhaps little known outside the precincts of its founders’ family, friends and fellow students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Upstate New York.
The terms of the transaction were not made public.
Plaxo currently offers a Web-based service that allows users to keep updated contact information in a central location. Records are automatically updated whenever people change their contact information, and data can be synchronized with other popular electronic address books, including Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and the Yahoo address book.
Plaxo already offers a calendar function it has termed as “rudimentary;” the HipCal acquisition, it said, will allow it to integrate more advanced functions, such as enhanced appointment management and group calendars, by the end of this year.
John McCrea, vice president of marketing at Mountain View, Calif.-based Plaxo, said the company’s approach about a centralized address book puts it in a position to become as important in personal communications as Google and Yahoo have become in search.
“Other companies out there think of the address book in the context of their other services, whereas we see the address book in the context of all the services in your life,” he told internetnews.com.
Also like Google and Yahoo, Plaxo counts Sequoia Capital among its sources of funding, and legendary venture capitalist Mike Moritz sits on its board of directors.
Still, Plaxo is nowhere near either of those Internet behemoths in terms of either revenues or mindshare.
In fact, McCrea admitted that Plaxo is not even certain of how the company will ultimately monetize the eyeballs that it does garner. But he is confident that the money will flow from the service.
“Like the giants that have gone before us, we think that if you build something that is useful to people’s lives and build a large user base, there will be natural ways to monetize that.”
Plaxo is convinced that its core vision–that people’s address books belong to them, rather than to their companies, and should travel with them whether they change jobs, cities, or ISPs, will resonate with users.
“Your contacts are your contacts. Your ownership of your contacts should survive all of life’s transitions,” McCrea added.
The company has indeed demonstrated great popularity, going from 1 million users in November 2003 to about 10 million users in March 2006.
Most subscribers are using the company’s free service, but McCrea said that approximately 10 percent are already paying for premium services, such as eCards, mobile access, and VIP support.
He also said renewal rates of premium subscriptions are “very high.”
And if you want to pooh-pooh Plaxo, just don’t forget that on-demand customer relationship management software provider Salesforce.com began in much the same way, said Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies, a consulting firm.
“They can permeate the corporate market through adoption by free individual users,” he said. And, there’s a market for this. “It can provide better coordination and greater operating efficiency for a marketing organization.”
According to McCrea, a new partnership with AOL is also driving significant growth.
“We’re pursuing a unique pathway,” he said. “There is unlimited opportunity ahead of us.”