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The following transcription has been edited for readability.
Doug Green: This is Doug Green and I’m the publisher of Telecom Reseller. Today I’m with Christian Stredicke of Vodia. Christian, thank you for joining me today.
Christian Stredicke: Thanks for having me.
DG: This is an auspicious occasion – we are marking the tenth anniversary of Vodia as a company. Congratulations, that is quite an achievement. And that’s what our podcast is going to be about, marking the path from 2012 to 2022, quite an evolution, lots of interesting things along the way, not to mention the pandemic and hybrid work and a whole bunch of things.
Let’s start at the beginning, and even before that. What is Vodia? What are you today?
CS: We are a manufacturer of software for the telephone system, that’s in a nutshell what we do.
DG: You develop software to make phone systems run.
CS: Yes, they’re not falling from the sky, someone has to do it! We’re sitting here developing the server software, but increasingly also the client software.
DG: You guys started ten years ago. What was the vision? Is it still the same?
CS: Actually we started even before that. The history goes back to a company called “pbxnsip,” when we were in love with the SIP protocol – we had to have that in the name. We had already started working on the PBX topic before that. Essentially, there was a point ten years ago when we spun off, again, as a separate company, and I think that was a time when the industry was changing more to the recurring revenue model, I think that was clearly happening. The other thing was we were seeing SIP protocol get a little bit out of fashion, so we couldn’t use that name anymore! So we’re using a different name, Vodia, which has nothing like SIP in it, to also demonstrate that.
DG: So it basically sounds like you went from a vision based on a technology to a broader vision of what you want to achieve with the technology even as the technology changes.
CS: We were definitely happy the market took the next steps forward. I wish it would have happened faster, but I think sometimes in the telecom industry, things are a bit slower. We saw it was a good time to start a company that offers a different kind of mix in the telecommunications space, so we’re focusing more on the backend software, on the server software. And the clients, let’s say ten years ago, were still playing a big role as a desktop phone, there were lots of desktop phones already available, we were compatible with them…I think ten years ago it was also becoming clear the browser will take up more and more space, so the apps on the mobile phone will become more and more important. I thought it made sense to do that with a company that focused entirely on that topic, not just as part of another company that essentially derives revenue come from other areas.
DG: Who are your customers today?
CS: Mostly MSPs. They operate our software for their clients. We still have a few clients who operate the software on their own, so some people still want to have it on premise, but that’s clearly becoming the exception – most of our partners offer that as a service to their clients. They reduce the complexity to run it for them, so the clients can focus on what they do best, and then our MSPs, our partners, take it off their to-do list.
DG: You mention mobility. Mobility was on the radar in 2012. We did have iPhones and texting and so on, but it sounds like you’re telling me that’s more important now than it was then.
CS: The vision was there; however, if you think about ios 13 it was essentially the turning point when that became possible. Before ios 13 everyone was kind of tinkering with it to get it working somehow, but then apple made, for us, a pretty dramatic change – they offered the ability to have multiple voice applications running at the same time. So there is the “good old telephone” voice application that, still, every cell phone has, but there were more and more applications coming up like Skype and WhatsApp, so users are using multiple apps for voice and video calls, so the telephone system is essentially becoming one of those apps. That was a vision ten years ago – today it’s a reality. So the technology is 100 percent there and people are able to use that more and more and we see it happening more and more but we’re still not 100 percent there. We’re still talking about a few more years until this has become a “super-widescreen,” adopted reality.
DG: It sounds like from the beginning Vodia had a long-term vision the world almost caught up to. That is, you guys maybe didn’t see everything coming, but you did see a lot of change.
CS: Of course. We tried to estimate what would happen a few years down the road, I think one “a-ha!” moment was when someone talked about WebRTC, and essentially the idea is the web browser has killed so many industries already. If you think about CRM systems, if you think about many dedicated programs we were running on PCs before we moved into the browser, and telephony was always something a little bit behind, but the WebRTC suddenly made that possible. So today we see apps that run entirely on the browser, all these social networks, and they all have some type of real time communications built into the browser front end, so that has become a reality, and this is also happening for the telephone system now – you can use your telephone system just from the browser. I think that’s very cool and I think it’s something unstoppable. And we were jumping on that train pretty early, and I’m obviously very happy that we did that because now is the time it is becoming a reality and we’re part of that.
DG: Part of that journey is your partners, your MSP partners. That’s often a hard group to manage – they get used to selling the way they sell. How have you helped your partner companies sort of move on with the times and make sure the product they’re selling is unique in some way?
CS: One key word is patience – success doesn’t come overnight. Success in the MSP space takes a lot of time and a lot of experience, building up the team…and the other thing of course is listening. It’s a mistake to be ignorant about what’s going on in the market, so we’re always listening to what their customers need, the market requirements…and it’s not always convenient, but I think it’s very important to listen and see what can be done. What can we do to better fulfill the requirements our partners see in the market?
DG: Then, into our world of somewhat predictable, came the pandemic. So what happened to Vodia during the pandemic?
CS: Boston was pretty much in the middle of it so, personally, we got hit with it like everybody else, suddenly going home. We tried to promote “work from home” and “work from anywhere” for a long time, even longer than ten years. So of course, for us, that was suddenly a huge tailwind, because people were forced to work from home. We didn’t have to convince anybody, there was practically no choice – people were scrambling to get something working, anything working, and it was good we prepared for that, by example, by having the cell phone working, the apps more or less working…from a business point of view, it was definitely a tailwind. I wouldn’t say we were happy about the pandemic, but for us as a business it was something that helped promote our vision. People should be able to work from anywhere.
DG: A lot of people said it sped things up – in other words, the trend was already toward hybrid. We weren’t calling it that, maybe, but people were actually doing that, and now…it maybe has crystallized.
CS: The complication was the IT administrators had to work from home, and there was no migration possible overnight. I think the understanding was there overnight, but you can’t just switch your phone system from one day to another when the whole company has gone on remote work. So that was a lot of trouble, and I think it’s still going on. A lot of companies have realized they’re going to have to offer work from home, from anywhere, also with their phone system. I think it was good for the video conferencing companies because they could roll this out practically overnight. But the PBX telephone system? That took longer.
DG: So before we move on to the next part of the Vodia chapter, right behind you there’s a little bit of traffic. Where are you located?
CS: We’re in Burlington, Massachusetts. I think it’s kind of historic, from the 90s, a lot of IT stuff has happened here. The building looked pretty new to me, there were still some bulldozers! But I think we’re in a good neighborhood regarding technology – there are a lot of well-known technology companies in the area, and we love that.
DG: Were you guys there the whole time?
CS: We did a little bit of a lockdown, but I have to say our team mostly preferred to work from the office. It’s hard to say, maybe for personal reasons, but maybe the personal touch is something we still value a lot. We do have a lot of beautiful restaurants around here, something which is missing at home!
DG: Over the decade that’s come and gone with you guys, it seems to me a lot of companies came and went, including big companies.
CS: Yes, and actually the reason why we picked this area was a list of the top 100 web companies, and I counted them, and there were already like 40 or 50 in the area and I said, “this is where we have to go.” Okay, that’s a long time ago, but there was a lot of turnover obviously, but still I would say Boston is an area where server IP has deep roots. There are a lot of companies in the area.
DG: What does the next ten years look like for Vodia and, also, for all of us?
CS: Sorry, but I can’t come up with any big, breaking-news vision! It will keep going in the direction we’re going in now. I think the app stuff is going to play more and more, steadily, more of a role. Most people today move to the PCs, but I think in the next phase they’ll really go to the mobile phones. I think that’s a trend, and I think underneath it WebRTC is going to kill it, especially between the phone system and the client. An interesting question is what’s going to happen to SIP trunking, will it continue like this or will it be like WebRTC trunking? Can we peer into the big ecosystems like Microsoft Teams or whatsapp? So is there any new interoperability coming around the corner? We obviously would love it. I think these are the topics that are going to keep us busy for the next ten years.
DG: That’s interesting. We started out talking about PBX and SIP and we ended up talking about SMS and WebRTC, whatsapp – the nature of communications is changing, but it sounds like for people who are partnering with Vodia, you’re helping them keep up with the changes, just as they have to.
CS: That’s our job. First of all, we want to be living in the “today,” so we want to see what people are using and delivering today; at the same time we want to look into the future and see what trends are coming up, what we need to take a look at…sometimes we’re wrong, we’re expecting maybe people will do this, but they don’t. We’re trying to be right most of the time, at least at the important times. I think that’s the interesting part of being in the industry – the VoIP industry has always been very open-minded, a friendly industry, I’m talking about personal relationships. I really enjoyed the last ten years and the years before, and now we’re going to keep it that way.
DG: Now that’s coming all the way back to the human challenge, right? What you said earlier about patience, that you need to give your partners something to sell today, that they’re comfortable selling, but you also need to patiently goad and coax people to keep their eye on selling future products.
CS: That’s why the feedback is so important. We’re not really directly in touch with the end customers, so it’s important to have this kind of feedback loop and hear what they would like to see and then get that back to us. I try to see a couple of partners every year or so, and I sit down with them and just chat, how they see it, and it’s usually very interesting, and when I come back I say, “we should do this and this and this,” and we’re going to get busy again! Anyway, I think it’s very nice, I enjoy it a lot, and that’s why maybe, if we have another interview in ten years…well, I hope I can still say it was a very interesting time.
DG: Well, I certainly hope we have more interviews between now and ten years from now, but I know Vodia is going to be successful over the next decade. So I want to congratulate you on an excellent tenure, and also for all the contributions you’ve made to your partners and to the community. Christian, where can we learn more about Vodia?
CS: Well, we’ve got the Web, vodia.com, that’s our website, just use the search engine of your choice to find stuff about us!
DG: I’m looking forward to our next podcast, I hope it’s ten weeks from now, not ten years from now. So I’m going to see you at some conferences. I know you’re going to have a very exciting year with Vodia and all the things coming up, but for now, Christian, congratulations again and thank you very much for your time.
CS: Thank you!