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Marcos Cunha: Business travel leads to his startup

Cunha had a hang-up about the cellphone roaming charges he paid traveling overseas for Goldman Sachs. He realized he’d have to invent the solution he was seeking.

Fresh off receiving his MBA in 2010, Marcus Cunha had an exciting job for Goldman Sachs, complete with international travel from his base in Miami. Soon after he started getting his passport stamped pretty regularly, he got sticker-shock from the roaming charges he paid overseas.

“I was blown away,” said Cunha, who received his MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “And I was paying those bills myself, too.”

He tried other solutions — Skype, for example. But he found it tedious and unreliable. The service itself, he said, worked fine. But he couldn’t rely on contacts taking his calls when they displayed an unfamiliar “Skype number” on the phone. And retrieving voicemail messages ended up being a four-step process: Find a Wi-Fi zone; use Skype to call his own cell number and push # to get the voicemail prompt; listen to his voice mail messages; call people back.

Even that only worked for people who bothered to leave a message.

“I scoured the Internet and tried to come up with a solution,” Cunha said. That was about two years ago. The problem was compounded by the fact that he worked from his home “and I had absolutely no cellphone reception in my house. How could you not be able to make phone calls using your own phone?”

Eventually, Cunha decided he’d have to invent the solution he was looking for.

The result is, a smartphone app that lets users receive and place calls from their cellphone number using Wi-Fi or cellular data. An overseas traveler with an international data plan can bypass roaming charges — ranging from 20 cents to $3 a minute — for a fraction of the cost. A homebound caller with lousy cell coverage can make Wi-Fi calls. Recipients see the caller’s actual cellphone number in their caller ID.

Since launching the service about a year ago, Cunha’s company has grown to 13 employees and just passed 250,000 registered users in 185 countries — all with about $10,000 in marketing. He bootstrapped the company until February, when a single investor — Telcom Ventures — added a small investment. Now based in Austin, Cunha continues to try and find investors for the company.

“It’s never easy,” he said. He also perceives a difference in what investors are looking for in the center of the country, versus the coasts: “Silicon Valley is all about growth and showing excitement about the product. Other parts of the country are very revenue driven. We’ve been focused on growth.”

Cunha’s business model has relied on a penny-per-minute charge for the service (free for app-to-app customers). He’s transitioning that to a monthly tiered flat-rate plan, ranging from the free option to $25 for power users.

Cunha knew he wanted to build his own company when he attended OP in 2008 in Charlotte. His memories of OP included the terror of speaking in front of 500 people for the first time, but also the opportunities laid out before him.

“I had accepted an internship before most others (at Kelley) had even interviewed,” he said. “It let me focus on networking and getting involved in studying. I had a real nice MBA experience without stressing about whether I’d have a job getting out of school.”

That internship with Goldman Sachs turned into a full-time job after graduation. He left to work full-time on His advice to others with similar startup ambitions? Start sooner rather than later — even before leaving school.

“They have access to a lot of tremendously smart people — even while they’re working on their MBA,” he said. “It’s always harder once you have a mortgage and kids and private school tuition.”

Still, he loves it: “It is the most rewarding, yet all encompassing, stressful and difficult type of job you could get.”

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