Canada’s Answer to Google Voice: TellFi’s Free Phone Service

TellFi, a San Francisco-based startup, today expanded its existing intelligent virtual phone service by offering free calls and phone numbers for a year to Canadian residents. TellFi mimics Google Voice (s goog) in terms of some features, but has one key advantage: it’s available in Canada while Google Voice isn’t. The startup offers local phone numbers and a choice of four plans ranging from a no-cost, limited version to a $70 full-fledged monthly plan that could be used for an office of ten employees.

TellFi advertises a complete lack of fees for signup, setup, long-distance, switching, canceling or taxes, so the only costs involved come from the monthly plans. The free trial includes a local number (in Canada or the U.S.), five extensions for that number, and 50 minutes of voice service. For $10 a month, casual users gain 100 voice minutes with each additional minute costing $0.06, but lose the extensions. Larger plans of $24 and $70 boost the number of minutes to 450 and 1,000 respectively and add five or ten extensions, making them solid choices for freelancers and small offices that don’t use the phone too much.

About those Google Voice features that Canadians may want but can’t have — at least not from Google, that is — TellFi offers similar functionality. I signed up for the free trial and walked through the simple, web-based configuration for voicemail, call forwarding to my other phone and even an extension that set up to ring a totally different phone. Note that since I’m in the U.S., I don’t get free calls for year; that deal starts today for Canadian residents only.

In a press release today, TellFi Co-Founder Jason Corwin emphasizes the need and demand in Canada:

We know that a lot of people were upset when Google Voice dropped its Canadian service. In the last two weeks, we have been flooded with new Canadian users, so we decided to give away TellFi free to everyone in Canada. We think this is a great opportunity for businesses and individuals who want to take advantage of a virtual phone system.

Testing the service resulted in a transcribed voicemail sent to my email address in under 30 seconds, and TellFi did a pretty decent job with the transcription; plus, the email contained an MP3 file of the voicemail message. I also placed a call to listen to the voice quality, which was excellent, although one call alone isn’t representative of overall performance. One thing I noticed was no lag in the call; something that I often hear when using Google Voice for calls. It’s not enough of a feature to get me to move to Canada, but it does provide for a more enjoyable experience.

One other nice feature I noticed: the TellFi account site also provides simple, up-to-date statistics showing number of minutes used, minutes remaining, total number of calls, and call logs with incoming and outgoing phone numbers. Any voicemails can be accessed and heard through the analytics as well. Between the analytics, intelligent routing and now free service, it’s almost enough to get me to move to Canada. The biggest barrier to that is I’d have to listen to this guy in Toronto make fun of me because he got a leather Smart Cover for his iPad 2 and I didn’t.

With phone services spring up everywhere, I wondered why TellFi even entered this market. Co-founder, Conor Lee explained the reason for the service — mainly because free alternatives are geared for consumers and not small businesses — and what to expect in the future via email:

Jason Cowin (TellFi Co-Founder) and I originally built TellFi for ourselves. We were doing development consulting, and had tried lots of other phone systems, but found them lacking. They were either too bulky and required a IT guy to setup, or lacked the dependability, features and support needed for a business product (GVoice, Skype) so we built one that we wanted to use:  Easy to use, dependable, and well-designed.

In the near feature we will be rolling out a number of new features that Google Voice doesn’t have. We will continue to add easy-to-use, useful features on a regular basis. For example, we will be adding secure, private conference calling very soon, and have a number of features in development that one else in this space has.

TellFi has a $17,000 investment from Y Combinator and received $150,000 in funding from The Start Fund, which includes Facebook-backer Yuri Milner, and Ron Conway’s SV Angel.