WorldGate's Krisbergh sees ACN's marketing muscle as missing link

After closing a deal last week that could finally give WorldGate Communications Inc. the marketing oomph it needs, founder and CEO Harold M. Krisbergh resigned.

He may not be the father of the video phone, but few have been as zealous “as Krisbergh” about a technology that always seems just out of reach.

Sure, Skype’s video VoIP tools provide two-way, face-to-face service. But WorldGate’s Ojo system acts more like a phone than computer.

The problem confronting tiny WorldGate always was simple: Even if people wanted to buy a video phone, whom could they call? Only someone with a video phone.

It was a Catch-22 that had WorldGate on the edge for many of its 14 years. WorldGate actually shut down early last year when it ran out of cash amid a dispute with its biggest customer.

“The last couple of years have been really exhausting,” Krisbergh said.

As much as he believed in his product, Krisbergh could never find a way to get Ojo in front of a mass market.

Ninety percent of the phone calls most people make tend to be to the same five or six people, Krisbergh said. Who’d buy six Ojos and give them to their favs?

Well, they might if they’re part of a tight network represented by a North Carolina company that just took a controlling stake in WorldGate. ACN Inc. is a big telecommunications reseller that uses multi-level marketing, or direct-selling, tactics. And ACN views video phones as something that can make it stand out in the telecom field.

ACN has been selling its own video phones, having released the Iris 3000 in August. In WorldGate, it gets access to engineering and manufacturing expertise as well as Ojo. And ACN intends to expand WorldGate’s engineering operations in the Philadelphia area.

ACN brings capital, energy, marketing smarts and a commitment to buy 300,000 video phone units over the next two years. To Krisbergh, that also meant it was time for him to let go. “I’ve made my contribution,” he said.