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LI-based robocall blocker gets boost from Matt Lauer

Software developer Aaron Foss, who created a solution

Software developer Aaron Foss, who created a solution to block robocalls, will be rolling out a new business called Nomorobo to market the product. (July 2, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A Long Island startup's service for blocking "robocalls" has gotten off to a fast start, boosted by a Matt Lauer plug on NBC's "The Today Show."

Matt Lauer only spoke about the Long Island-made, robocall-blocking service Nomorobo for 20 seconds on "Today," but that was enough to send thousands of potential users to its website to declare their interest.

Nomorobo, the brainchild of Port Jefferson software developer Aaron Foss, works like a telephonic spam filter to block robocalls -- the automated messages that cause over 200,000 complaints to be filed with the Federal Trade Commission every month.

After officially launching Sept. 30, Nomorobo is now working on over 15,000 phone lines, and has up to 229,000 interested parties that have signed up to use the service once it becomes available for their telephone carriers, Foss said. "I figured I would get [to 15,000 users] in six to seven months," he said. "It took three weeks . . . it's blown me away."

Foss attributed the surging interest to the 20-second shoutout on "The Today Show" on Oct. 1, which boosted user sign-ups so much that his website crashed twice.

The Nomorobo service is free for customers and, so far, isn't generating revenues. Foss said he wants to find a way to monetize the data he is collecting on robocallers.

Nomorobo first took root as one of the winning ideas of an FTC competition for new technologies to combat robocalls. Foss took home $25,000 for the win, and decided to start a company in April.

The win "helps because of the indirect message that the FTC has given -- which is that the public wants this," said Irv Grousbeck, a professor and director at the Stanford University Business School's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. "He starts with a great advantage there in that he's filling a need."

Still, navigating the start-up world comes with its challenges and risks. Experts estimate that about half of start-ups fail within their first five years.

Currently, Nomorobo can only be used on phone lines that operate through the Internet. Foss said he is working with major carriers to offer the service on traditional landlines and cellphones.

Nomorobo uses a phone's simultaneous ringing function, which routes an incoming call to a second phone line. There, the service analyzes its caller ID, location and call frequency. If it detects a robocall, it will answer and hang up instantly, and the user's phone will never ring.

Since the launch, Foss has hired one employee. As he continues to develop his new company, Foss said he relies on his FTC winnings and on $200,000 raised in seed funding from close acquaintances for financing.See the Today Show plug:

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