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Bootstrapping by Services from Wisconsin: SignalWire CEO Anthony Minessale (Part 3)

Posted on Saturday, Feb 15th 2020

Sramana Mitra: Let’s talk a bit about how you built the company. You started in 2002. How did you get your first customers? How did you acquire them? Where did you focus? What was the positioning? 

Anthony Minessale: When we worked on the open source project, our primary focus was providing functionality to the missing piece. Open source is not a distinction in that early stages between end user and a customer.

Sramana Mitra: Obviously, open source needs to be monetized. In commercial open source, you have to provide either support or premium services. My question is more around that. Where was the monetization coming from? Which customers were monetizing?

Anthony Minessale: What naturally happened as a result of our popularity is, enterprise companies were starting to have larger requirements. It created an environment to build a RedHat model. We maintained functionalities that companies depend on in exchange for recurring revenue. We got our first $2 million just from taking large enterprise companies and making sure they have the functions they needed.

Sramana Mitra: How many enterprise customers added up to the $2 million in revenue?

Anthony Minessale: Roughly a hundred. Before we started SignalWire, we had this consultant company. That is an okay way to be successful, but it doesn’t scale. In order to keep up with the speed, you have to maintain a large number of developers and engineering networks.

To make a real company, you can’t just be a mechanic for people. It doesn’t really scale. The whole premise of what we were trying to do is to reduce the requirement of having vast knowledge to be successful. That’s why we shifted from doing a consulting model to the cloud.

VoIP is the heart of what we do. That allows us to be able to use the internet as our network instead of having to have telephone poles. That needs to work in order for us to be successful. That requires the internet in the first place.

Our industry has been in the cloud since it was born. Moving it to the cloud isn’t that big a deal for us. We have been doing it the whole time. The rest of the world is slowly learning what it’s like to move away from that kind of thing. With the way that we built things now, you can start a new company that needs a million minutes worth of telecom to be routed properly and stored in a remote storage. That’s pretty difficult to build from scratch.

We do all the work for the customers. That’s the difference. It’s either helping people keep reinventing the wheel, or make a really nice wheel and sell that wheel.

Sramana Mitra: The first $2 million in revenue that you did was services revenue. Then you moved towards product?

Anthony Minessale: Yes.

Sramana Mitra: When you moved to product, what was the productization strategy? What did you productize?

Anthony Minessale: We productized the idea of manipulating telecom through APIs and making communications programmable. The idea is that you want to have a telephone embedded on your website so that whenever you click a button, you can call somebody straight from the website, or you want to be able to have a regular phone number that’s hosted by a server that can forward the calls or record the calls. You can answer the calls automatically. You write code in your language that will allow it to integrate. It can turn speech to text.

We have a partnership with Google where you can use their dial-up for AI engine. An example would be taking an order for something. If you want to place an order, you have to ask several questions to get all the info you need. You can train this interface that will ask the questions until it has all the answers.

Depending on how you respond with your voice, it’s still able to understand you. You can just talk like you would to anyone. The two most annoying things about telecom right now is robot calling and the other way around where the robot answers the call. That’s something we can automate. Someone can just press a button, buy a phone number, point at this Google engine, and link this conversational engine.

As data scientists and engineers, we’re trying to help with robot calling. There are new protocols that authenticate the caller ID so that when somebody calls you, you’re sure that they’re not trying to pick a random phone number. We also have customers that are trying to solve the problem on a commercial level. The mission of our company is to transform telecom in a high scale.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Bootstrapping by Services from Wisconsin: SignalWire CEO Anthony Minessale
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