The next installment in our Leaders & Innovators series features a big mind from a likewise business VoIP provider - Wain Kellum of Vocalocity. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Wain joined Vocalocity exactly three years ago, and has made a positive, lasting impact that has been more than apparent in the company's progression over the last few years. Holding a unique background infused with leadership skills, technology know-how, and sales experience, Wain continues to aggressively scale the company to the next level. Vocalocity have been recognized as one of the Fastest Growing Companies in America for the second year in a row, and are set to celebrate a hat trick in the category for 2013. To boot, Vocalocity are a cornerstone in the Atlanta community, receiving the Inc. Magazine Hire Power Award for accelerating their hiring processes - a point I touched upon in my interview with Mr. Kellum.
The company continues to experience tremendous growth under Wain Kellum, perpetually improving their interface, support system, and the businesses who rely on them. Never satisfied with excelling in one focus, Wain is currently a board member of Venture Atlanta, connecting Georgia entrepreneurs with venture capitalists, bankers, angel investors, and others in the quest to bring enterprising businesses the funds needed to make their visions a reality [The organization has raised a billion dollars to date]. Vocalocity has excelled in providing cost and performance advantages to companies with an average of 25 employees or less, impacting small businesses considerably. Wain is a proven and effective leader, and has seemingly found his niche at Vocalocity, aiding them in discovering theirs, catapulting them into the stratosphere. Here's the interview:
Michael Roden: Hi Wain, thanks for being part of our series on innovators and leaders in the VoIP industry. Vocalocity recently won the inaugural Hire Power Awards for creating jobs. Can you speak on how Vocalocity is able to create those opportunities in such a grueling economy? In other words, is there a definitive correlation between development of solutions, customer growth, etc. when it comes to needing to expand your staff?
Wain Kellum: We are fortunate in that we offer a service that saves businesses money but also provides many additional features that help them sell more and service better. When you are better, cheaper and there is already an existing budget for your solution, you can grow quite quickly, even in a bad economy. The market has recognized that Vocalocity has a feature and quality of service advantage which has helped us grow faster than any other company we compete with.
MR: How would you describe the office environment and culture at Vocalocity? What key elements contribute to that essence and approximately how large is the team?
WK: We are very customer focused. We serve 20,000 unique businesses in all kinds of industries which really creates an interesting environment for us all to talk with and learn from each other. It is very fun to work here. Our daily interactions with customers and with each other sets the tone for much of what we do here. We are growing rapidly and currently have close to 225 employees, so I make sure I eat lunch with every team member after they have been on the job for a few months. We spend our time talking about our purpose here which is to help our customers be more successful.
We had been, according to Deloitte, the fastest growing technology company in Georgia where we are headquartered. We were displaced this year by a company called Contact At Once who is a customer and became the second fastest. We all felt that having a customer nudge us out as the fastest growing company in Georgia was even better than being recognized ourselves. We want to continue to add capabilities to our offering that helps our customers be more successful. We value growth for ourselves because we then have more money to invest in building out new capabilities for our customers.
We all share an excitement about our future.
MR: Back in 2010, you brought over a quarter century of experience with you, joining Vocalocity as CEO from Omnilink Systems. From both a personal and corporate perspective, how has your time with Vocalocity differed compared to everything prior?
WK: I really enjoy working at Vocalocity as much as any place I have ever been, although the hours are quite long. We have a fantastic team. Some of the features we have introduced have really been impactful to the companies that use our service and we have a long list of things that we have yet to build so the work is interesting and meaningful. In addition to a feature advantage, we have built a quality of service advantage that gives us lower customer churn than any company in our market. With all of that, there are close to 10 million businesses we can serve, so we have much work to do to educate them all on how they can benefit from all that we do.
MR: Vocalocity had a whirlwind of a year in 2012, with a slew of new releases, site/portal makeovers, and great additions to Vocalocity Desktop. What factors contributed to the company's affirmative drive for robust innovations in such a short period of time?
WK: When I travel, I have lunches with groups of customers where I ask, "How can we help you more?". The list is long so we are in a hurry to complete as much of the work as we can. As just one example, being able to pop up Quickbooks data when a customer calls in allows every business to look at outstanding balances while they have their customer on the phone. Those conversations can reduce collection cycles and increase in cash flow to make a real difference to a small business.
MR: I'm a big fan of taking my VoIP service with me, whether it be on a mobile phone or tablet. Although the current build is complete in terms of functionality, does Vocalocity have intentions on adding even more capabilities to their mobile application?
WK: Our customers expect to do more and more as they are mobile. We are finishing up the next version of our smart phone application that will have several new features. Key additions include a built-in soft phone as well as the ability to place all calls through our system, even if you are using your cellular minutes (instead of data plan). This is key to our customers for several reasons; the outbound Caller ID is the owned by the business, all activity is then tracked and available for analytic analysis and any call recording rules in place are enforced as well.
I like to use the mobile solution to look at call activity and call queue times to make sure they stay within our parameters when I am traveling.
MR: Vocalocity recently voiced plans to invest $10 million and add up to 100 jobs in preparation for growth. Can you touch upon the logistics/details of this expansion?
WK: We are adding people in every area of the company. More engineers, more care representatives, more testing resources as well as networking and operations staff.
MR: It's been nearly two years since Vocalocity merged with fellow hosted communications provider, Aptela. Being you have been part of the company since the dawn of that relationship, can you explain how it's helped Vocalocity to grow? What are your plans in conjunction with Aptela for 2013?
WK: The Aptela experience was a very positive one for all concerned. We migrated all 3,000 customers to our service where they benefited from higher quality, more features, better support. We had estimated a certain amount of customer defections and experienced almost none. Of the many dozens of capabilities, one of the features customers liked was our patent pending approach to addressing the issue when your internet provider is down. We look for your phone frequently and if it ever disappears, we assume your internet is down and handle the call differently. Most customers have the call transferred to a cell phone. Not missing that important call could mean a great deal to many companies.
MR: On the same wavelength, an article from Atlanta Business Chronicle documented Vocalocity as "planning to continue its acquisition-driven growth strategy" in 2013. Can you enlighten us on which technologies and/or companies Vocalocity is looking at in the coming months?
WK: We are actively looking at acquisitions of competitors like Aptela and also new capabilities that could help our customers be more successful.
MR: You mentioned long hours, so I must ask, what do you enjoy doing when you find free time?
WK: I have 4 children and love spending time with them. They are playing baseball, basketball, soccer and tennis which has taken all of my golf time away these days. My wife and I try to take two short vacations every year by ourselves so we can spend time together. Thanks in some part to Vocalocity's mobility strategy, last year we were fortunate enough to get away three times and I didn't miss a beat at work. I taught my youngest how to ski this season and as they are getting older, we can plan longer biking trips together.
MR: What can we expect from Vocalocity in 2013 in terms of overall industry presence and impact?
WK: We went from a small start up in 2007 to a company that is growing faster and has less churn than anyone we compete against. We are building on that success to invest and become even better. Our desire for constant improvement and advancement is probably a bit dysfunctional but is the common thread that holds all of the Vocalocity team together. We plan on becoming the clear market leader in a few years.
I want to thank Wain Kellum & Vocalocity for being part of our Leaders & Innovators series at GetVoIP.com. We look forward to seeing their collective visions come to fruition in 2013.