Burner App – Privacy and Flexibility in Mobile Telecommunication

Even though I was only going to be in Chicago for another seven days, I was nervous about giving him my phone number. I expected to find deals on craigslist, but $1,000 for 12 Montblanc pens was too good to be true. Was he setting me up to rob me?

Is this really the kind of person with whom I should be sharing my personal number? But if I don’t share a number, he’ll likely be thinking the same about me. I opted to share my number and despite my suspicions, he turned out to be harmless. He was a retired head of a private equity firm that was shedding some of his material things. I should be more trusting – or maybe I shouldn’t have to be.

Greg Cohn set out to address this problem back in 2012 with the Burner app (available on iOS and Android).

Burner provides a “privacy layer for your mobile phone that helps users take control of their identity in communications,” according to Greg Cohn, CEO of Burner, in a October 2015 interview with CNBC. His mission was to replicate the same flexibility people enjoy on the web on their phone. Just as people stand up and shut down email addresses for different purposes, he saw the same opportunity for phones.

With the burner app, you have the ability to create limitless new phone numbers for multiple purposes all for small fees. It’s a world where if you’re looking to keep various aspects of your life separate you can easily do so with different phone numbers, but without being encumbered by multiple phones. It might have been assumed that the true market for such a technology is limited to drug dealers, but three years into operations he has proven a sizeable market demand for this product.

In the early stages of mobilization, Mr. Cohn had a variety of strategies to consider. Should they focus on market penetration by giving away the app for free and allowing for free use of the app to accelerate market adoption? Such a strategy could prove effective if Mr. Cohn was looking for a quick exit from Burner, but he had other things in mind.

By 2015, Mr. Cohn was convinced sufficient demand existed for the product and opted to provide a seven-day free trial that would include 20 minutes of call time or 60 text messages to entice new users. After the short free trial, users would be charged tiered fees from $4.99 a month for a line that automatically renews each month to a variety of packages from around $2 to $5 a month for a variety of features.

But this wasn’t always the case, it’s unclear what may have been going on with Burner from 2012 to 2014, but in 2014, Burner announced they’d be providing one year free trials of the Burner app possibly due to an influx of funding and competition.

My own assessment of what was happened just prior to 2014 is Burner was reacting to fears of new market entrants and potentially looking at an exit. Such is based on Burner’s encounter with Hushed, a similar product that launched in 2013 threatening Burner’s market share with comparable pricing and mobilization strategies. In this encounter, Burner learned about the importance of protecting it’s intellectual property the hard way.

Hushed provides similar features with slightly varying back end functionality. Hushed utilizes data whereas Burner utilizes cell phone minutes for calls. The similarities are so striking that Mr. Cohn directly called out Hushed as a clone of Burner. In response, Hushed highlighted minor differences and stated firmly, “Burner does not have intellectual property rights in this area.” Battles ensued, but as evident by the current market penetration of both Hushed and Burner, there is plenty of market space for both.

And if there is one thing learned from the CEO of Big Skinny Wallets, you don’t have to be first to market to prove profitable. In 2015, there are so many competitors in this space on the app store, it’s surprising Burner was able to maintain a fairly dominant market share. In October 2015, Burner was the number one utility app in the iOS app store and in the top ten of utility apps in the Android play store.

Greg Cohn is featured in a variety of articles and was recently featured on CNBC where he “app developers recipe for success.” With multiple reports citing earnings in the seven figures annually, Mr. Cohn knows how to turn a profit. By focusing his launch strategy on creating a sustainable transactional business model, he’s established a profitable platform that he can continue to scale. With a strong mobilization strategy to gain market share, addressing people’s demands for privacy and greater options for telecommunication, Mr. Cohn has, indeed, found the recipe for success.

Thank you Greg Cohn, my craigslist ventures can continue unencumbered by my fears about giving out my phone number, but wait dangerous people have phones too. They could still be looking to rob me, what would they need my phone for anyway. Maybe I need to be more careful – but maybe I shouldn’t have to be – is there an app for that?

More data on Burner:

Burner is available on iOS and Android, and comes with a free trial that lasts seven days, 20 minutes, or 60 messages.

Pricing is as follows;

Premium line for 4.99 a month, unlimited texts, minutes, and pictures. Automatically renews every month. Buy Credits

3 Credits 1.99

8 credits 4.99

15 credits 7.99

25 credits 11.99

Packages :

Picture burner, Cost: 8 credits, includes 100 texts, ability to send pics, 50 minutes of call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Mini burner, Cost: 3 credits, includes 60 texts, no pics, 20 minutes of call time, and auto-burns in 14 days.

Text-only burner, Cost 5 credits, includes 250 texts, no pics or call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Standard Burner, Cost: 5 credits, includes 150 texts, no pics, 50 minutes of call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Unlimited burner, Cost: 8 credits, unlimited texts, no pics, unlimited minutes, and auto burns in 30 days.


Watch small video featuring CEO Burner Greg Cohn


Burner Website


Is Hushed app a clone of Burner – a column


About Burner Column


Trial and Free for 1 year announcement in 2014.


By: Randall Trani

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Over the past semester we have identified successful mobilization for new lines of business in tech incorporate backwards compatibility, complements that may be generated by third party developers or by the core business itself, and solutions to customer pain points with significant barriers to entry.  At the same time, core product offerings can provide stand-alone value to customers through simply streamlining the interface between software users and the data they use. While many large companies have adopted software to improve productivity of individual enterprise activities, it is the recent push towards integrating business technologies onto one platform in enterprise marketing software suites (EMSS) that unlocks the opportunities inherent in holistic marketing solutions. [1]

The beginning of the twenty-first century witnessed a revolutionary incorporation of the internet with everyday communications and transactions.  This in turn generated an unprecedented volume of information, or “big data”, encompassing how consumers make decisions and how businesses operate more efficiently.   Big data analytics now facilitate myriad entrepreneurial ventures that leverage niche markets and long-tail consumer demand into viable business models.  Consequently, traditional companies in established markets have had to redesign and streamline how they serve their customers to match changes in consumer demand and increased global competition.  Enterprise software has emerged as an answer for these established companies to utilize big data analytics to guide their business strategies.  EMSS  aim to integrate a diverse range of activities including management of ad campaigns, digital assets, web content, marketing and lead resources, as well as predictive modeling. [2]  

The complexity associated with integrating diverse marketing software solutions has left EMSS development to big software players such as Salesforce.com and Adobe. In fact, the magnitude of the opportunity to create value in this space is demonstrated by the “…$3.5 billion shopping bill as it positions Salesforce as a one-stop-shop for all its customers from the sales department to, now even more importantly, the CMO’s office.”[3]   Expected benefits from EMSS consolidation of current disparate marketing and tracking software are improved visibility and collaboration between all marketing channels resulting in clear resource efficiencies and reduced total costs of strategy implementation.  Additionally, strategy development should be of higher quality and larger impact due to improved ability to create holistic solutions aligning company offerings with customer expectations. As of yet, it seems that no one EMSS incorporates both best-in-class software and seamless integration [4].  It will be interesting  to watch how the current digital marketing integration leaders discussed above shape the convergence of real-time data analytics and holistic marketing strategies to transform online and mobile commerce as they further penetrate our global economy.

1. Teradata http://applications.teradata.com/Big-Data-Hero-eBook/Landing/.ashx (October 30, 2014)

2.  Teradata http://applications.teradata.com/Big-Data-Hero-eBook/Landing/.ashx (October 30, 2014)

3. Salagar, Serge, “Salesforce’s Reinvention as a Marketing Behemoth”, http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/29/salesforces-reinvention-as-a-marketing-behemoth/  (October 29, 2014)

4. Munbach and Warner,  “Forrester Wave: Enterprise Marketing Software Suites, Q4 2014” http://www.adobe.com/solutions/digital-marketing.html   (October 21, 2014)

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We live in a very interconnected world, such that we are simultaneous on several social networks and can reach each other through multiple channels. We connect with our friends on Facebook, our colleagues on LinkedIn, follow celebrities on Twitter, and contact our family and close friends via text messages and phone calls. Facebook and LinkedIn were originally created as a virtual rolodex of our key contacts. Overtime, because we have so many “friends” and “connections,” it became harder and harder to keep track of events in our friends’ and colleagues’ lives, especially those we see only occasionally.

As business students and future business leaders, we often have face-to-face meetings to catch up on our lives, to network, or jumpstart an important business relationship. Unless we prepared in advance, we usually spend the first 10 minutes in small talks, catching up on recent events and changes, or get to know each other better. Even though such information is readily available from our social networks, we don’t actively seek them out before meetings. A new mobile app aims to make us smarter conversationalists, more charismatic business partners and better friends by leveraging our existing social networks, as well as public information.

Refresh.io is a mobile app that aggregates useful information from our various social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Foursquare, and prepares a personalized dossier with conversation topics before each of our meetings marked in our calendars. This works for existing connections as well as people we are meeting for the first time, given there are public information available either in news or his or her public LinkedIn profile. There are definitely apps that act like social network aggregators, but the brilliance of Refresh is its execution and implementation.

Besides pooling all the relevant professional and personal information in one place, Refresh’s key value proposition is its ability to find commonalities to generate useful, insightful and interesting conversation topics. For example, for each person in the meeting, Refresh compiles a quick summary showing whether we have mutual friends, similar interests, or have overlapped either in cities we live(d) in, schools we attended, or places we visited. It also showcases unique interests or any public news the person has, such as authoring a book, being featured in TechCrunch etc. The app also keeps track of any previous meetings and interactions, again pulling data from our calendars, and prompts the user to enter insights, notes and follow-up items after each meeting. See illustrations below. Refresh’s interface is straightforward, simplistically beautiful, and easy to adopt.

Refreshs creenshots

Refresh launched this April, gained much publicity during the launch, ranked high in the Apple’s App Store, and then seemed to have trouble with growing its user base. Like most mobile apps, Refresh’s initial mobilization strategy is to offer this app to consumers for free. There is no network effect, and the app offers much standalone value by pulling data from our existing social networks. To gain traction, Refresh relied on words-of-mouth marketing and endorsement by online key opinion leaders. Apple featured Refresh as one of its “Best New App” in Productivity, Business and Social Networking! News articles and bloggers’ reviews online are also overwhelming positive. Refresh has been featured in reputable publications such as Forbes, Venture Beat, Wired and TechCrunch, has 4.5+ stars in the App Store, and deemed “one of the most useful apps” by several internet authorities, including the Business Insider. Refresh reached peak rank of #16 in the App Store right after its initial launch in April, but has since then dwindled and plateaued around #300 only six months after its launch. Although there is no public data on Refresh’s active user base, since Apple ranks its apps based on download volume and speed, we can conjecture that Refresh has not garnered a significant user volume, despite its free offerings and many endorsements. If anything, it seems that its user growth has significantly slowed and its user base seems to have plateaued or even decreased over time. Refresh is a great example that simply having a free and high-quality product with a clear and strong customer value proposition is not enough to generate significant user growth.

In the context of slowed user growth, Refresh’s recent pivot to partner with Salesforce makes a lot of sense. Just a couple weeks ago, Refresh announced a new product specifically designed for sales professionals using Saleforce’s AppExchange. Immediately, Refresh multiplied its user base by plugging this new product into Salesforce AppExchange dashboard, thus effectively acquiring Salesforce’s immense user base. More importantly, this partnership established Refresh’s first monetization strategy: Salesforce customers will pay $20 per user per month to access its data. While many consumers like you and me will not pay $20 for a personalized meeting dossier, the value provided to sales and marketing professionals easily justifies this cost for good relationship and conversation can lead to significant revenues. At the same time, Refresh’s mobile app is still available to casual users for free.

The questions facing Refresh now are two fold: should they pivot and focus on a B2B business model, selling to sales and marketing professionals, or should they pursue a dual B2B and B2C business? If they keep their consumer segment, what’s the best way to scale its user base? Should they start advertising, introduce new features with network effects to lock-in users and accelerate growth, or stay with its current organic, word-of-mouth growth strategy with a standalone product? On the B2B side, is $20 per user per month the right price? Would that hinder Refresh’s much needed growth? What other partnerships should Refresh seek beyond Salesforce? Having an excellent product is not enough to become a sustainable business.







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LINE may not be well-known in the US, but it has been exploding in Asia, Middle East and Europe since its launch in 2011. LINE is a messenger app with 300 million users worldwide and its growth is accelerating. The last 100 million users were added in mere 4 months. Some argue that LINE may replace Facebook or Twitter as the most popular social platform. LINE is expected to go public next year with an estimated valuation of over $10bn.

What is LINE?

LINE is somewhat similar to other messaging applications, including WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, or Facebook messenger. LINE allows users to send text, share photos/videos, and make phone calls/video calls to another LINE account(s) for absolutely free.

What’s different is that LINE also has a huge library of “stamps” – a small picture of a character that describes emotion, thoughts, actions, and objects. Stamps act as a way to mimic real human interaction by communicating very subtle points. Some of these stamps are sold for a price (usually $1 for a set of 30 stamps) and LINE shares revenue with its media partners. This has been the major source of revenue ($132M for 2013 Q2) since its launch.

Another difference is that LINE is quickly moving towards platform strategy. The initial version of LINE was only able to handle messaging, but now that LINE is installed in virtually everybody’s smartphone, LINE started to expand its offerings. LINE Mall offers online shopping, LINE Game is consistently topping ITunes rankings, LINE Camera competes against Instagram, and LINE Card is a dominant e-card service in Japan. All these services that be accessed thru LINE application and more and more people are using them.

Birth of LINE and its mobilization strategy

The birth of LINE is somewhat interesting. NAVER Japan, a subsidiary of Korean internet company, was in the midst of developing a photo sharing application when a big earthquake hit Japan in March 11th, 2011. As mobile network was disrupted, people formed lines in front of public phone booth (public phone act as emergency line in Japan and never gets interrupted).  Realizing there is a strong need for efficient and easy communication; the development team switched their focus and started developing messaging application. LINE was launched 3 months after the earthquake.

LINE faced a classic chicken-and-egg problem and tackled to solve the problem in two ways; technical and marketing. LINE has an auto-sync function that allows user’s existing phone book to automatically sync to LINE contact list. Even if I was the only one using LINE, I could still text my friends using LINE (my text would appear as a regular text on their screen). As I don’t have to bother importing phone book to my LINE account, once I started using LINE I had no reason to switch back. Because LINE texting was absolutely free, people quickly switched.

On the marketing front, LINE initially focused on high school girls because they are the ones who often start new trends in Japan. LINE created cute “stamps” that high school girls would love and solicit user feedback very frequently. Once high school girls adopted LINE, it spread to college girls, junior high school girls, boys, 20s, and the rest of the population.  LINE dominated Japanese market in less than a year.

 LINE’s future and competition

 LINE deliberately focused on expansion of its user base and not on monetization strategy. LINE is believed to be already making profit with its stamp and game sales, but the real monetization is expected to come after its IPO. LINE may start selling advertising space like Facebook or open its platform and charge a fee to whoever wants to access its user base.

LINE’s biggest competitors are WeChat (over 1 billion users, mostly in China) and WhatsApp (mostly in the US and Europe). As there is a strong network effect, messaging app is likely to follow the same path of SNS and one or two players will take the dominant positions. Demographic and social trends are in favor of LINE because LINE has a dominant share in Asian markets, where smartphone penetration is expected to skyrocket in the next few years. Whoever comes out as winner will enjoy the similar power as Facebook today.






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Chinese version of Microsoft Adcenter vs. Google – Who wins this time?

It’s interesting to see the exact same battle between Microsoft Adcenter and Google happening in China, but with a different result, at least for now.

Baidu (Chinese goggle) has long long been established as the dominant search engine in China, especially after Google exited China in 2010. It currently has 62% market share by 2013 Oct, based on volume of unique visitors. Qihoo 360 (Chinese Microsoft Adcenter in the sense of competitive position in this battle, not business model) with its major business in security software has 21% of market share in search engine by 2013 Oct. However, if you look at the market share back in 2012 July, you will find the data look like 81.5% for Baidu vs. 0% for Qihoo 360. Yes, within a little more than one year of the launch of its search engine, Qihoo 360 has amazingly taken 20% of market share, mostly from Baidu! Totally different story from what Microsoft ended up with! So what’s the brilliant mobilization strategy adopted by Qihoo 360?

As I mentioned, Qihoo 360’s major business was in security software provider. It disrupted the industry by providing free personal security software to consumers while all the major players back then were adopting the ” free trial and pay” model. So it quickly acquired customers and occupied more than half of the market share. Then by leveraging its large consumer base of its security software, it first started bundling the software with its own internet browser to compete with Microsoft’s IE browser in 2008 and after its browser became the No.2 in the market, it changed the default search engine of its browser from Baidu to its own search engine in 2012. After that, we saw the amazing data above that it quickly took over 20% market share from the once-unbeatable Baidu.

Despite all the charges against Qihoo’s “dirty” tactics, it indeed succeeded, twice, in beating the monopolies in two sectors. Now the question is: Is Qihoo 360 going to win at the end? My view is relatively pessimistic.

Customers that Qihoo won over by far are mainly non sophistic customers. They either don’t use search engine as often as the rest of the population or they do very basic researches. According to a few searching result comparisons I conducted, Qihoo’s algorithm is far less accurate than Baidu’s regarding relatively complicate searching need. So sophiscated users will easily find out which one is better.

Competing with traffic is one thing but monetizing the traffic is a totally different story. Monetization requires not only traffic, but also strong sales team, excellent customer services, and well-established bidding system that really helps customer track result and improving effectiveness. On those fronts, Baidu enjoys disproportionately advantage to its relative user base over Qihoo. Although Qihoo is the second in user volume but it only has less than 5% of the market in terms of value. There is a still a long way to go for Qihoo to enhance its monetization capability. Without strong revenue stream, it has less in return to invest in improving its search engine further.

Interestingly, one of the big barriers that Google enjoyed, the large number of affiliate networks doesn’t play out for Baidu. Baidu’s affiliate networks only contributed a very small amount of its revenue and it seems not dedicated to expand the affiliate network.

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