For those of you who might not have caught the news feed, SunRocket, the 4th largest voice over IP (VOIP) phone service provider, ceased operations Monday, July 16th. In itself, this is not a monumental event. Companies close their doors all the time. Sometimes it’s the competition, sometimes poor management and sometimes it’s just the right time to retire from the corporate battlefield, thank your customers and say goodbye. But sometimes, just sometimes you get to see a company miss the mark completely. If you couple that with a complete lack of respect for the marketplace and its customers, you’ve got SunRocket.
This Ain’t Your Father’s Oldsmobile
A few years ago, General Motors announced that they would be discontinuing the venerable Oldsmobile brand. They told their dealers. They told their customers. They sent announcements to the press. They let everyone know what to expect, what options would be available for ongoing service and support, all with over a year for consumers to make considered choices. It was a sad moment for anyone who ever sat in the back seat of an Olds ’88 or whistled down the highway in a Cutless 442 with a Hurst shifter, but it was a moment of quiet dignity and respect for both the brand and the customer.
But then….there’s SunRocket
SunRocket had been having a tough go of it for several months. They had gotten over $80 million in venture capital in their three years of existence, but they still weren’t able to make ends meet in a very competitive VOIP marketplace. There were a couple of rounds of layoffs, but whatever business model they were using had too many holes in it to stay afloat. It was time to wave the white flag and wind down the company.
SunRocket could have:
•Picked a final shutdown date
•Started negotiations with other carriers to transfer their customers
•Informed staff and requested that they assist in an orderly transition
•Sent out an email to customers (they all have internet by necessity) outlining what would transpire and what options and carriers were available to them
•Posted a notice on their homepage with the requisite tearful goodbye and links to necessary information and options
Instead, SunRocket chose to:
•Pick a final shutdown date that allowed sufficient time for all of the senior executives to leave the company and start to distance themselves from the debacle they were leaving behind
•Made no timely arrangements with other carriers to which the customers could transition
•Informed no one on their staffs in 2 facilities with the exception of final layoff notices
•Made no attempt to communicate with their 200,000+ customers
•Left in such a hurry that they didn’t even change their homepage which was soliciting new business (and still is as of July 19th at 12:30 PM EDST).
Where’s the right word when you really need it?
What SunRocket did is beyond arrogance. It showed no respect for their employees, the marketplace and worst of all their customers. I’ve been searching for just the right word, the correct term to describe this kind of behavior and frankly everything falls short. I tried hubris, arrogance, chutzpah, gall, nerve, impudence….you get the idea. The list got pretty long. Finally it occurred to me that we were going to need a new term or phrase to describe this kind of corporate contempt for the consumer. And so, I am proud to introduce ‘Pulling a SunRocket’. SunRocket (noun), any entity that exhibits complete lack of respect and absolute indifference to the needs of its constituency. As in, XYZ Inc., just left its customers high and dry. They pulled a real SunRocket.
So let’s Name Names
Certainly no one is going to be in a hurry to try to do business with SunRocket ever again. But it’s not the Corporation that did this; it’s the people who ran it. The ones who made the final decisions about how this disgrace would go down. So where did the buck stop? There’s no one left there to tell us, but let’s see who was running out the door before it could hit them in the butt.
First and foremost there was CEO Lisa Hook, late of AOL, who led the high level departures last Friday. I guess she knew. Too bad she wouldn’t share. Then there is Sonya Jefferson, a SunRocket executive of unknown title who had the dubious honor of sending out the email that said, "We have just been informed that any and all last ditch efforts to keep operations running as well as a potential sale of the company have not gone through and that SunRocket will cease operations at COB today. As such, today is my last day and everyone else you may have worked with at SunRocket." I guess that’s how they defined 2 weeks notice there.
Rounding out the executive team are: Mr. Paul Erickson, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, Ms. Joyce Dorris, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Mr. David Samuels, Chief Financial Officer and Mr. Robert Mainor, Chief Operating Officer.
Fool me once…..
So why am I bothering to mention these people by name? No one wishes them ill, especially at a time like this when many people’s dreams were so precipitously shattered. I do think it is proper, however, that corporate executives take the personal responsibility they are paid so well for and choose instead to delegate and avoid. It is a certainty that you will see these names again. On Boards of Directors and as executives of different companies. If seeing there names gives the consumer a moments pause, maybe to remember how they were abandoned so callously by SunRocket, they might think twice about doing business with the new company without some iron clad assurances.
A Voice at the end of the Tunnel
There is some hope for beleaguered SunRocket castoffs. More companies than you can track are rolling out the welcome mat in an attempt to attract those 200,000+ orphans. We spent several hours researching a sampling of these companies and came up with three (3) that we were reasonably comfortable with. This does not preclude or exclude the myriad of companies that we didn’t have time to contact, but these companies in particular helped to elevate our ‘warm and fuzzy’ meter.
We spoke with Joe Woodbury, Nuvio’s Director of Marketing, who, like the company he represents was quite personable. Nuvio has set up a SunRocket ‘soft landing’ program and taken several steps to help SunRocket alumni convert to their service including posting on-line instructions for unlocking the SunRocket Gizmos (the interface box that attaches to your network and facilitates the VOIP process). We tried this procedure on a Gizmo we had from a SunRocket test line and it worked perfectly. Joe told us that in addition to their regular support team, Nuvio has set up a special online process to speed up the activation and transfer process. In some cases, with unlocked devices, this can be just a matter of a few hours from application to activation. Nuvio is also offering both month to month plans and a comparable $199 for the year program. There are some additional fees involved so read all the information carefully.
Packet8, part of 8x8 Inc., a publicly traded company, struck a deal today with Sherwood Partners, the company engaged to handle the liquidation of SunRocket’s assets, and has been named as the “preferred replacement service”, according to Packet8 Media Contact Joan Citelli. In the press release the company stated: “Under terms of the agreement, Packet8 will waive all regular start up costs associated with its residential service plans plus offer one free month of service, a value of over $100. SunRocket will communicate with its 200,000 + subscribers via an email and voicemail campaign recommending they transition their service to Packet8 immediately.” (–Note that SunRocket will be sending out the emails. Looks like everyone is trying to keep this pariah at arms length.)
A real plus for people considering taking them up on the offer is that 8x8, Inc. is a 20 year old company with over $53 million in revenues and $12 million cash on hand. They also own the patents on their underlying technology so there should be little worry of those thorny patent lawsuits. You can check out the details of their offer here.
Thomas Nardacci, a spokesman for ViaTalk characterized the company’s management as ‘hands on’ and involved. ViaTalk is a division of the successful Internet hosting company, HostRocket.com (no relation to the other ‘Rocket’ mentioned throughout this article). According to Nardacci, Brendan Brader, HostRocket’s CEO has spent much of his time the last few days in chat rooms and online to help disseminate information and allay concerns of ex-SunRocket customers who are looking to transfer service and port their phone numbers. One of Brader’s first moves was to shift available personnel from the HostRocket side to help out with the huge number of inquiries and sign-ups at ViaTalk. Nardacci stressed that the same kind of nimble, hands-on, tech-savvy management style that has made HostRocket a multi-million dollar success is being applied to ViaTalk and its offerings.
An interesting and financially inviting twist being offered is a partial contract buyout of your old SunRocket prepaid service account. After signup, customer service will credit you up to 3 months of free service for leftover time on the old contract. Not bad when you’re counting the pennies you just lost.
Finally, lest you think I forgot them, Vonage is offering a whopping 2 free months and waived activation and shipping charges. I did not list them in the choices above for two reasons. They are not offering a comparable $199 plan as are the rest of their competitors and their current legal and financial situation is not helping my ‘warm and fuzzy’ meter at all. They are a good company with competitive products, but they don’t seem to be putting themselves out much to get SunRocket’s clients.
One Final Note
If at some point in this article you thought I was getting a bit harsh regarding SunRocket’s handling of their shutdown, try calling them at (800) 786-0132 and imagine you are one of the frustrated and panicked customers who gets nothing more than the following terse message:
“We are no longer taking customer support or sales calls. Goodbye.”