It all started in 2004 when I came out of another startup. It was a company called ViewsCast and we were about three years old and we did call centre surveys fundamentally. It was using a similar technology to this and I exited from that as part of a takeover deal and started this.
But my history is as a project and programme manager for big projects. For example, I’ve worked for TNT, the parcel company, and before that I was at BT for a long time. This was back in the 90s and at that time conference calling wasn’t that common but in big companies it was heavily used.
For me, it was the norm to have a conference call for six or seven hours a week but of course you never saw a bill so you never knew how much they cost.
That was the interesting part. We weren’t really marketeers, well in fact we probably still aren't, the four of us are techies, finance guys and Andy was from a sales and marketing background. So our initial launch of customer acquisition through search engines so people would type in conference calling and find us.
That meant we learnt to be good at SEO and we learnt to be good at Google AdWords fundamentally. That was really our marketing strategy for a few years and during that time we just sold the benefits.
So it was more about why you would use a conference call and why we’re a good service to use. At that time there was no real brand and if you look at the history of the brand, you can see it has developed over the years.
It’s definitely about trial and error. We’ve tried lots of things, several of them have worked, others haven't, and really - you’ll hear me say this over and over again - but what this is about focus and momentum.
You have to pick what you’re going to do and put all of your effort behind it but then don’t be frightened to kill it off if it turns out not to work. Give it the best possible shot and if it’s wrong then make the decision to try something else.
There’s simple and difficult answers to that one.
The simple answer is fundamentally we’re a telephone company. When the traffic comes through our network we have something like 4,500 telephone lines attach to our network, but it’s all digital so you don’t have tons of wires all over the place. Those go into a bridging infrastructure which handles magically all of those in-bound calls.
The difficult answer is there’s a whole bunch of kit in there that does different things. There’s computers that load balances, there’s computers that receive the call, one that finds the pin, others that determine which bridge to send you to and there’s other computers that monitor everything is working properly. I think there’s something like 150 servers in a site and there’s two sites so it’s quite a technically complicated business to run that level of service.
If we were a town, in terms of phone capacity, we’d be one that has 2 phone exchanges so somewhere like Winchester or Shrewsbury. If you look at Powwownow as a costumer site that’s how big we are. Not a city but still a relatively significant small town.
Conference calling as such is a commodity. There’s no real differentiation in the service - if you call a BT conference number and a Powwownow conference number you won’t get a difference in quality. Once they’re perfect, they’re perfect. You can't make that better.
At that point, it’s about brand and having some confidence the service you’re going to use is going to work for you and that you trust them.
That’s really what we’ve built as a friendly B2B brand. We’re not all about trying to get every penny off of you, we want to give you a great service all the time at a fair price. As an ethos, that pretty much runs through everyone in the team.
Did you expect to grow this quick?
I suppose we did expect to grow quickly. Both Andy and I have come from successful businesses in the past so we expected to be successful.
I don’t think you can be an entrepreneur and not to be successful. You can’t really think you’ll be alright. I think that’s part of our DNA to say of course it’s going to work.
Inevitably we’re a glass half full type of people, not a glass half empty business. We probably didn’t expect it to get this big but equally when you’re on a good ride you hang onto it don’t you and keep pushing it.
A team is huge. The team is what makes it work or doesn’t. As a leader, your job is to pick the right people to go around you. Picking people who are better than you is always a good bet and people that know their subject area.
Right now, this company is run by four people excluding me. There’s an operations development guy, there’s a finance guy, a sales guy and a marketing guy. Somewhat unusual you might think that the latter two are separate tasks but in this company our marketing effort is much bigger than our sales effort.
How important is it to capture data?
You’re trying to do a business half blind if you can’t see where customers are coming from.
It’s essential to be a part of the conversation and without social media how can you be? We have a lot of our customers communicate with us through our social media channels. Of course being a B2B brand there are some channels that don’t work but it is still important to be in the space and have the visibility for customers and the public in general.
In terms of our profile and voice, it’s huge. We blog on Huffington Post, we have our own blog, we respond to press enquires and that’s all about building the image of the company. It has several benefits in fact. It means people have heard of you which builds the brand.
That then means when people search conference calling and see a list of providers, they’re more likely to pick one they’ve heard of. That’s human nature. There are also SEO benefits from being active on social media. Google will treat social signals as an indicator of the amount of voice someone has and the links from social sites to pages is also relevant.
So that’s the Powwownow story. It’s clear to see that experience and hard work certainly pays off!