eComm 2009 Podcast: Voxeo CEO Jonathan Taylor – The Origins and Near-Future of Voxeo

Breaking News: Voxeo CEO Jonathan Taylor is to make a significant announcement at eComm 2009. Click on the eComm logo below to register.

When Dan York had to find a new employer in the fall of 2007, he kept hinting he had found a great employer but could not reveal it until he started his position. Turns out that Dan had become employed by one of the true innovators and success stories in the voice applications space: Voxeo, a vendor of IVR and VoIP platforms and services.

I have previously had the opportunity to interview Voxeo CEO Jonathan Taylor for a couple of stories (see links below). I find that Jonathan always has an interesting and informative story to tell. Voxeo is a case study in innovation leading to business success and is a sponsor of eComm 2009 (which means their business must be accelerating). Last week conference organizer Lee Dryburgh interviewed Jonathan and has put both the podcast and transcript up on the eComm 2009 website. Jonathan goes back to his unconventional roots in learning about telecomm and information technology and subsequently contributing to their convergence.

Voxeo turns out to be the outcome of his lack of deep exposure to, or history with, the business side of either telecomm or information technology but rather a passion to figure out “how things work” and “what customer pain” can be addressed by new products and services in a convergent world. He learned early on that, if I solve someone’s problem, the business will come.

In the interview he talks about:

  • How he acquired, in one weekend, over 800 access numbers to bulletin boards in the days when “’We’re going to call your grandmother, but let’s only talk for a couple of minutes’.  Long distance was expensive.”
  • How his activity led to a visit from the Secret Service. Turns out the Secret Service got a lesson in new communications technology from Jonathan and some of his acquaintances.
  • His experience selling storage equipment and Novell Netware LAN’s to large BBS’s (including his first lesson on how  important email would become):

At the time, most BBS software was not multi-line, suffering on DOS, largely.  To build a large VBS [BBS?] was like thirty lines.  You would actually get thirty computers with one modem on each computer and connect them together with Novell NetWare.

  • Moving from Sound Blaster to Dialogic cards to solve his problem of “There must be a way to connect a telephone to a computer”. And how it resulted in his first experience with an offering called ”Unified Messaging”: “We accidentally built a unified messaging platform.  We had no idea that there was a concept called Unified…” He went on to build his first business that eventually got sold to MediaGate.

I was thinking about what I wanted to do next.  I kept thinking back to when we first started developing the phone interface for the IRDG Unified Messaging product.  I was remembering, especially as someone not from a computer telephony or telephony background, how unbelievably arcane and difficult it was to get the Dialogic card working right, getting it to work consistently, and then dealing with phone companies to get T1 lines and Wink Start, Loop Start signaling, and DID’s and literally all the stuff I had never heard about. ….

… Right, but I had never heard of before.  I would sit down to have conversations with people and I literally had no idea what they were talking about.  I would just pretend I did and take notes, and then go home and try to figure it out.

  • The other key learning from his first company: “’How is it that some of the largest companies in telecommunications don’t have enough people with enough experience to get all this stuff up and running?’  We’ve been doing telephony for eighteen months, now.”
  • The three key words that resulted in starting Voxeo: “computer telephony sucks” So how did they make it not suck (in 1999)?

We roughly divided the problem into two domains.  First, it was incredibly difficult, especially outside of telephony, to create applications for the phone, learning all these API’s and the terminology.  We said what if we take web technology and apply it to the phone so you can build a voice application the same way you build a web application.  What would that look like?

The second domain was deployment.  We said rather than selling a box or software to people, and then they have to go deal with carriers or their local phone companies and all that strange terminology and process, we will just pre-deploy it all for customers, in our own data centers, and they can access that platform over the Internet.

Essentially, it was XML-driven telephony development, hosted or what we would now call Software as a Service or cloud-based deployment.

Jonathan then goes on to describe the evolution of VoiceXML, CallXML (built a prototype while at home with pneumonia) and CCXML that became core to Voxeo’s services and platforms. He also talks about being turned down by VC’s because he was only asking for $3 million; his solution to get funding: same business plan, ask for $30 million. And he talks about how Voxeo has leveraged web services into a space that did not understand the potential and value-add of web services a decade ago.

Go to Lee’s eComm 2009 blog post with both a link to the podcast as well as the transcript of the interview to get the full story. It makes a great case study in how technology evolves into a very successful business.

In closing, two comments:

  • Columbia Data Products, where Jonathan was first employed, had tape drives that were a key module to a demonstration setup I used to manage for demonstrating graphics plotters for IBM mainframes and DEC/Data General mini-computers.
  • At BBS Con which I attended in the summer of 1995, Jonathan should have stopped by the Quarterdeck booth to solve his problem of having a separate phone line for each BBS computer. A significant portion of Quarterdeck’s DESQview sales were to BBS operators so that they could have eight lines coming into a single PC.

Finally I have just confirmed with Lee Dryburgh that Jonathan will be speaking at eComm 2009 and making a significant announcement at that time. Register here and use “one touch” for a 20% discount.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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