Last year my company raised a Series A funding round. When a company raises money and issues securities, it is required to fill out a form with the SEC called Form D. Form D filings are made public, and intrepid bloggers often use them to confirm funding rounds.
Ours was picked up somehow (perhaps automatically) by TechCrunch and posted on CrunchBase. Our lawyers, who had been using my cell phone to contact me for 3 years, used that number in the Form D. I’d looked over the form in advance and thought nothing of it. There’s no way I could have guessed what would happen.
I quickly discovered that salesman of software and hardware monitor Crunchbase and call everyone who raises money. I started getting multiple calls a day from reps who worked for companies like Salesforce, Dell and CDW. One particularly obnoxious one, Rad Game Tools, still calls me frequently asking for my cofounder.
I had no idea what triggered the sudden deluge, in fact because I’d gotten them on occasion before (who knows how they’d gotten my number) I didn’t even notice for a couple days that something was up. When you’re busy it doesn’t immediately occur to you that something that used to happen once or twice a month is now happening 5 to 10 times a day.
Then I started getting calls from irate Starfleet Commander customers. Starfleet is a very competitive game, and customers’ blood can sometimes run more than a little hot as a result. Customers can spend months (or even years) building up a fleet and then lose it in just one moment of carelessness. Many times when something like this happens, the customer contacts our support to try to convince us to give them their stuff back, which we don’t. Suddenly those people were calling me.
Curious why, I did a little search and found that Google had indexed CrunchBase. Now when someone went searching for our customer support number (which we don’t have, everything is via the net) they saw my cell phone number right there in the result. They didn’t even have to click through!
Between the salesmen and the customers I was quickly getting bombarded. I looked at my phone one night and saw over 50 missed calls, not one of them from a person I knew. I was on the verge of switching my number as I had done once before when it turned out that its previous owner didn’t like to pay his bills. (I not only got calls from debt collectors he owed, but even got hassled at a Wal-Mart when getting an oil change because he owed them too.)
But changing your number is a pain for everyone involved. So I decided to look for a better way, and I found one pretty quickly. I was using WebOS at the time, and it turned out that if you had your phone in developer mode you could, by checking a box in WebOS Quick Install, set up a tweak to block all callers not in your contact list.
A while later I switched to Android and there I discovered a couple apps. The one I’ve been using is made by EasyFilter. It’s missing a whitelist (I’d love to allow all calls from my area code) but other than that it does pretty much everything I want which, really, is just to block every contact number that isn’t in my list from calling or texting.
Unfortunately that’s only step one. While most of the callers will give up as soon as they’re sent to voicemail, enough won’t that you’ll get annoyed. (Well, at least if your number was publicly connected to raising a 7 digit sum.) So the next step is voicemail filtering.
For that I originally used Google Voice. It’s a free service that allows you to have all your voicemails sent to it. You can do that easily, every cell carrier has a number you can dial that will enable you to send your voicemails to a third party service. Why that exists I have no idea, but it’s fully automated and quite simple to use.
Using a third party service like Google Voice you can simply spam filter unwanted calls just like email. Just flag them as spam and future calls will go straight to the junk filter. This is especially nice because the people who leave voicemails tend to be salesman and do so repeatedly. You rarely get someone who does it once.
I’ve since switched to YouMail. Google Voice’s text transcriptions are comically bad, but for a small fee YouMail will give you human edited ones that, while far from perfect, are usually at least good enough for you to figure out who was saying what. Google’s text transcriptions are so far off that they’re largely worthless.
(I’m thinking about switching back to Google because though I’ll miss the text, I’m finding YouMail sometimes takes over an hour to notify me of my voicemails. That may be slightly more annoying than transcriptions are helpful.)
Either way, this two step solution has saved me from having to get a new number, and if you’re struggling with unwanted calls and have a modern smart phone it can work for you. (Unless you have an iPhone, since Apple almost certainly would reject such an app, though even then if you’re willing to jailbreak I wouldn’t be surprised if one exists.) It’s mildly annoying at times, when someone new is calling me they simply have to leave a voicemail once so I can add them to my contacts or I’ll never hear from them. But unlike email, where this sort of approach would fail miserably, I can block out everyone who isn’t a contact and miss very little.