Siamak Taghaddos and David Hauser met as undergrads at Babson College while both were managing businesses they started in high school. One of their biggest challenges was how to answer work calls while in class. "If a customer wanted to place an order for a product, the only number I could give them was my house line," says Taghaddos. "I had my mom picking it up, and you could hear my sisters yelling in the background."
In 2002 Taghaddos wrote a business plan for a telecom company that would act as a virtual phone system for small businesses. It won Babson's 2003 Business Plan Competition and caught the attention of Hauser, who had been thinking about starting the same kind of business. The two teamed up that year to launch GotVMail, which gave customers a toll-free or local number to use for incoming calls. The calls were picked up by the GotVMail system, which played a customized greeting then routed the call to the appropriate person or sent it to voicemail.
Hauser, now CTO, and Taghaddos, CEO, estimated they would need $1.5 million to start. "We were $1.25 million short," says Taghaddos. They had a quarter million from their previous businesses and Taghaddos's father, who became the seed investor. "When you have a quarter million for something that requires $1.5 million," says Taghaddos, "you have to be very creative with hiring, working with vendors and investing in software."
The pair initially just repackaged existing telecom software; they have since created their own proprietary software. In 2009 the Needham, Massachusetts, company was rebranded as Grasshopper. "We were spending money on 60-second radio spots and half the time was used just spelling the company's name," recalls Taghaddos. In 2010 they formed Grasshopper Group, which will provide multiple products aimed at entrepreneurs.
Last May, Taghaddos and Hauser circulated a petition to create a National Entrepreneurs Day in the United States. Taghaddos says it wasn't just a novel idea, but the start of a movement to support entrepreneurs. Six months later, President Obama declared a week in November as National Entrepreneurship Week; the last day of the week is National Entrepreneurs Day.
Although Grasshopper's growth slowed from astronomical--1,983 percent in 2007--to 5 percent during the worst of the recession, the company is on track this year to grow 20 percent over 2010; revenues are more than $15 million. Next up? "We want to expand globally," says Taghaddos. "By 2015, we want to be a global phone company for entrepreneurs. We want to be their dial tone."