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Lessons Learned: Getting Started in the Billion Dollar VoIP Business

So you’ve built a few VoIP PBXs for your neighbors and your friends’ small businesses. And now you want to make a living doing it full time. After all, it wasn’t that hard to get started since all of the VoIP software was practically free, and the hardware investment was only a few hundred bucks. But now your friends need a way to make reliable phone calls every day, and they want someone to call when the phones don’t work. Welcome to the VoIP Business! Our objective today is to paint you a picture of what actually lies ahead in the Asterisk® and FreePBX® business so that you don’t get blindsided.

Lesson #1. Asterisk is a business run by Digium to make money for the corporation. FreePBX is a business run by Schmooze Com to make money for the corporation. Both companies do this in several ways. They sell hardware. They sell commercial software. They sell hosted phone service. They sell phone trunks to make and receive phone calls. And they sell support. The lifeblood of these companies is paying customers, lots of them. There’s nothing necessarily sinister about any of this. It’s the way all corporations work.

Lesson #2. You can’t do it all. You may be a super salesman, a talented programmer, or a great customer service guy. But you’re probably not all three. And, if you have a family, the rest of them probably don’t want the phones ringing off the hook starting at dinner time until 2 a.m. every morning. There’s a reason corporations charge a pretty penny for support. Somebody has to be there during dinner time and at 2 a.m. to answer the phone calls and solve the problems.

Lesson #3. Your friends are cheap frugal. They’d prefer to pay nothing for their phone system, and they’d prefer to pay nothing when they need to call you to fix it. You’re a nice guy so you don’t want to leave your friends in the lurch when you decide to take that Christmas ski trip. What to do? Hire an outside company to provide your support. Heh! Keep reading.

Lesson #4. The stark reality at the corporate end of the VoIP business is RECURRING REVENUE. They can’t stay afloat just selling hardware and software. Once folks have bought it, the company either needs new paying customers or a way to keep existing customers paying to keep the lights on. There are three options: hosted phone service, phone trunks, and support.

If you’ve done your homework, you know that you can buy incoming phone lines for your PBXs at a monthly cost of a few bucks. Or you can stick with Ma Bell for incoming trunks and up the monthly cost by a factor of ten in exchange for reliability and support. Outgoing phone calls can be made for a penny or two a minute to all but the most exotic and remote areas of the world. Or you can use trunks provided by Ma Bell or Comcast or Time Warner for ten times the monthly cost. Then there are the so-called unlimited trunks from companies such as Digium and Schmooze Com. For $20+ to $25+ per month, you get the ability to make or receive several thousand minutes of calls each month so long as the calls arrive one at a time. If you want to make or receive multiple calls simultaneously, multiply the cost for each simultaneous call by twenty to twenty-five bucks depending upon your provider choice. All of a sudden, Ma Bell isn’t looking that expensive, is she?

Lesson #5. When you’ve grown your user base to the point that you don’t want to lose your customers, be careful in choosing a company to provide your support. If they happen to be in the same business as you (and they probably are), ask yourself this question. Would you send your girlfriend alone on a two-week cruise with any of your male buddies? Didn’t think so. Reread Lesson #1.

To be continued… Happy New Year!!

Originally published: Monday, December 29, 2014

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