Early in his career as an IT executive, Brandon Bazemore encountered a problem many business leaders face. He wasn’t satisfied with the telecommunications options available to him. But unlike many business owners, he decided to build his own solution.
The system he started building was a seed that would eventually grow into Audian, a Seattle startup that makes software-based telecom tools for businesses.
“I realized I needed a phone system,” Bazemore said. “After getting pitched these huge complicated systems by a number of local vendors, I could clearly see there was opportunity in the space. With the advent of software-based telephone switching and management, I could see a path where specialized proprietary hardware was obsolete, and where the customer could manage the entire telecommunications stack.”
Bazemore and his co-founder and COO Janae Smith officially launched Audian in 2013. The company has since grown to 14 employees and says client growth has increased by 393 percent year-over-year, due to an obsessive focus on customer support. Audian’s services included hosted voice, phones and hardware, and other telecom tools.
We caught up with Bazemore for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand: “Audian is a software company redefining the telecom industry. We’ve replaced the giant room-sized phone system with a handset that simply plugs into the wall and works without any extra on-site equipment. You never need to upgrade your system, and we include unlimited customer service. That combined with less than 60 second hold time for our fully U.S.-based support agents makes for happy clientele.”
Inspiration hit us when: “While shopping for a phone system ourselves as business owners, we were presented with incredibly outdated phone systems that were anything but scalable, outrageously expensive, and depreciated faster than the office carpet. We knew that by leveraging modern day technology, we could help simplify the complexities once associated with telecommunications. In addition, we knew we could step beyond others in telecom with a dedication for unmatched customer satisfaction, a unicorn in an industry known for customer frustration, long wait times and impersonal service.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap! Many startups begin with a great vision and idea, and then it is a race to get funding and build to get to a viable product. In our case, we’d been tweaking and using our systems for years as IT providers, and simply made the jump to a full-time focus on our voice services. Our SaaS model lends itself incredibly well to bootstrapping as revenues build slowly, but steadily. Additionally, we look at our business as long-term, not a quick growth and then sell operation. Each time we bring on a client we expect to keep them for decades, and by maintaining control of our company and growing on merit (not credit) our stability is assured.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We call it ‘Telecompetence’ — the outcome of our services for our clients so they can have reliable, easy and modern phone solutions, ultimately enabling them to ‘unthink telecom,’ so they spend less time on their phone solutions, more time on building their business. Telecompetence comes to fruition for clients based on Audian’s dedication to three core principles of Simplicity, Speed, and Service, each of which we push every day to improve on. Out of these three, our customer service is what our customers love, and what really sets us apart from our competition. Our partners and our customers can simply dial 611 from their phones and be speaking to a support agent within 60 seconds. This is unheard of in the telecommunications industry.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “We are firm believers that the smartest move any business can make is investing in their people. We have worked extremely hard to find and hire the best people that not only have the knowledge required, but the right attitude to fit with our culture and obsession with customer service.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Compromising on the people we hired in the beginning. The initial urge to see only the best in a person and not fully evaluate them is so difficult to avoid. In a tech-rich city like Seattle, you are competing with some incredible giants in the industry, so you have an uphill battle. We certainly learned the hard way.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner? “Tough question, but probably Bezos. I’m continually impressed with the way Amazon can be efficient while at the same time incredibly innovative. I love being able to see the evolution of their products from. ‘hey, this is something I’d like to see’ to a fully monetizable product that changes the way consumers and businesses exist. Selfishly, Amazon Web Services (AWS) was a game-changer for us, and the new server-less stuff they are doing with Lambda is very exciting. Side note, but I love the fact that two of these guys are from Seattle.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “We have had a great time with the Puzzle Room-style team building activities in Seattle. A lot of what we do on a daily basis is troubleshooting and problem-solving, so getting all of us in a room with a common goal where everyone is working together is a lot of fun. Luckily we’ve been able to ‘escape’ the right way and haven’t had to resort to lock picking, crawling through ceilings or other extreme measures.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Passion for their craft, and the ability to work well with customers. Ideally we want an employee that loves what they do, and isn’t just in here to collect a check. They should want to learn and be genuinely excited to see what we are doing. Realistically, we are a software startup in a growing space. Chaos and change are inevitable, and it is the love for what you are doing that is going to keep you going, not just a need to collect a check or do the same thing you’ve always done.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Don’t compromise on the people you hire, and if you make a mistake fix it as quickly as you can. Great employees want to be surrounded by great employees, and you’d be surprised at how quickly the dynamic can change with a bad hire. Also – and this is the biggest cliché out there – don’t give up. Every business owner I’ve ever met will admit that there were dozens of times they should have tossed in the towel. Most were just too crazy or stubborn to do it.”