Over the past 30 years, the number of phone numbers people have has shrunk down to one, explains Greg Cohn, cofounder of an app called Burner.
People used to have a separate work line and even an office-wide phone.
And that's increasingly become a problem in a world where you sell couches on Craigslist to strangers, give out your number to Tinder dates you've never met, let Airbnb guests staying in your home text you problems, or make a living selling crafts on Etsy. But it's not just a phone number like you use today."More and more stuff is just happening on one’s phone," Cohn said. Cohn and his co-founder Will Carter want to turn the phone number into a tool for more than just receiving calls and texts.It used to be that having a burner phone meant you were up to no good.The physical phones were bought to be discarded and used in all kinds of nefarious dealings (see HBO's "The Wire").Burner, the app, wants to turn that idea of a discardable phone number into a positive business tool — and a way to safeguard yourself when dating.
Carter and Cohn first hit on the idea in 2012 when they were building a different app that could show when people were available to talk.
Instead of posting a personal number to Twitter to show you could talk, the app had a burner feature where a fake number could be created and disappear right after the person used it.
The "talk when you're available" app idea floundered, but Cohn's friends latched onto the idea of being able to easily create a way to discard a phone number.
The first lesson they learned, though, was that people wanted a Burner phone number more than just once.
"We thought it was part of the fun, but you could almost hear the screams when people accidentally got rid of the number in the middle of a Craigslist deal," Cohn said.
The team initially underestimated how many different ways people would use a Burner number.