SignalWire CEO Anthony Minessale is building a very interesting programmable communication platform company that has its roots in Wisconsin.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Anthony Minessale: I’m from the Midwest. I live in Wisconsin where I’ve lived all my life. I have been involved in computers since high school. After high school, I became interested in how the internet works. At that time, the internet was starting to take off. I started to teach myself programming.
I spent many years studying and trying to offer things like tech support. Sometime around late 90s, I started working with an ISP that was providing web hosting. It was a new idea of trying to consolidate web hosting into a more affordable price. I started this affordable $20 a month plan to host a website during the dot-com boom. We all know how that ended.
Throughout that period, I worked a lot on trying to figure out how to make the new invention of the web browser interesting.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking?
Anthony Minessale: This was late 90s.
Sramana Mitra: The dotcom boom is happening in Silicon Valley at this point. What form did all this take? How did you navigate beyond 1999?
Anthony Minessale: Towards the end of the decade, the company I was at decided to sell. There was a company that was going around collecting web hosting companies at the worst time possible.
At that time, we put the web hosting stuff on hold a few years before the bubble hit and started focusing on tech support. This was the pioneering time of remote call centers and using the internet to provide outsourced technical support in a call center type of product. We decided to try our hand at that and also got into web hosting.
During that time, I was trying to figure out how to leverage our experience in tech support for web hosting and bring it to all companies and make it into a product. Back then, there were very few options to be successful with anything other than an on-premise solution.
We wanted to be able to help people remotely connect or enable call centers to have internet-based software so people could see what’s happening in their regular web browser.
One of the things we really wanted to accomplish was allowing the agents that we employed to work on behalf of our customers. They would learn the materials and different metadata to tell them which third-party customers they’re calling. Doing all that required some finesse with telephony.
One of our bigger call center areas was in the Philippines. We had to get an international internet connection. Back then, it was pretty expensive. We were trying to decide what other things we could do. There wasn’t any product we could leverage so we started looking around in the open source community.
One of the first things they found was a software that runs in Linux and turns a computer into a small PBX system. It wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, but it was a software that could be manipulated. It was open source.
We started to prototype some stuff where you could basically go on to your web browser and see the call queue in real-time. Then we run the queue software in the platform and could tell what someone is after and how long they’ve been on hold for. These are all things that you probably have a hundred choices for.