In the crowded and competitive telecommunications industry, Audian’s business strategy is as refreshingly simple as it is innovative.
Imagine you are an entrepreneur looking to start a new company in the telecommunications industry — a marketplace crowded by deep-pocketed and well-known companies: AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Sprint, Verizon, and Wave. Even smaller players, such as Vonage, RingCentral, XO Communications, and 8×8, are formidable. Still, with a growing demand for — and competition among — service providers, it’s hard for a savvy businessperson not to carve out at least a small niche in the multitrillion-dollar telecommunications industry.
Brandon Bazemore and Janae Smith, CEO and COO, respectively, of Audian, an Eastside telecommunications startup, faced this scenario when they founded their company in 2013.
“It was much harder than we thought to break into this industry, that’s for sure,” Smith said. “Customers viewed us as the new kid on the block. That was one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. But over time, customers who passed on us because they felt we were too young, actually came back to us months later because they were so unhappy with the bigger telecom companies. That was exciting.”
How has Audian carved its niche?
First, Audian isn’t a traditional phone company. The co-founders think of Audian as a software company offering cloud-based telecommunications solutions. In Audian’s world, gone are the days of waiting for a technician to arrive at your business and set up your phone system, or even finding space in your office for a noisy phone room choked with cables, wires, and blinking lights.
“Basically, we move all the stuff (from) that closet and into the cloud,” said Bazemore, a former IT director who recalled starting out in the telecommunications industry 20 years ago, when he sold cellphones at a Qwest store in Bellevue Square. “We send you a telephone, you plug it into your wall, and — boom! — it works.” The solution isn’t just for traditional desktop phones. “Our system integrates really well with cellphones. We have clients that have our phone system, but the majority of their actual devices are mobile phones. We are just handling the routing and the integration of these devices.”
The company also offers a customer portal software platform that is agile, intuitive, and easily adaptable. Simple drag-and-drop features allow even the most tech-savvy or tech-phobic user to easily customize her phone system (modify call routing, add new phone numbers, change voice mail greetings) with the click of a mouse or the tap of an icon. If you want customer support, dial 611, and an Audian employee will answer your call within 60 seconds.
“Our approach is to leverage modern-day technology to simplify the complexities associated with telecommunications — something we call increasing our customers’ ‘telecompetence,’ so they spend less time on their phone solutions, and more time on building their business,” Smith explained.
Audian is a lean operation, with 13 employees working out of a small office near Interstate 405 in Kirkland. Bazemore and Smith said they have bankrolled the business themselves, without taking on debt or venture capital investment. Granted, CenturyLink Field won’t be named Audian Field anytime soon — and that’s just fine with Bazemore and Smith. In four years, they have gradually built a client base that includes Allstate, Super Jock ‘n Jill, and The Salvation Army.
Audian converted 80 Salvation Army branches in 11 states, allowing the organization to address outages, service issues, and even set up new lines in times of emergency or peak giving, without a technician onsite.
“Audian was able to provide a sleek, customer-driven web interface with an unparalleled level of support,” said Randy Haan, director of IT Infrastructure for the Salvation Army Western Territory. “Telecommunications has never been this easy in the 30-plus years I have had to work with it.”
Looking ahead, Bazemore and Smith have begun development of an app that sits on smartphones, Windows PCs, and Mac devices that will allow for even easier, mobile use of Audian’s services. And the duo is optimistic that Audian can go head-to-head against more formidable telecom titans.
“It all comes down to speed, simplicity, and service,” Smith said. “That’s how we’ve really set ourselves apart from the bigger telecom companies.”