August 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 8
Talking with Avi Lonstein, CEO, AireSpring
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
Whether you’re a large global enterprise, SMB or government agency that needs to send voice, video or data globally, or a service provider, local or long distance carrier, or cable operator wanting to expand your bundled service portfolio, there’s a “super CLEC” out there that has just the right product/service for you — AireSpring (News - Alert) (www.airespring.com).
A congenial, family owned-and-operated company that’s focused entirely on their customer community and superb agent channel, Los Angeles-based AireSpring continues to thrive in today’s economic downturn, offering VoIP/SIP trunking and various other converged IP solutions along with collaboration services (note their new “AireConference,” a revolutionary toll-free reservationless conferencing product) and even traditional voice and transport services. All of AireSpring’s offerings enable businesses and carriers of any size to interact seamlessly with their customers, employees, vendors and partners worldwide.
To fathom the continuing success of AireSpring, Yours Truly caught up with Avi Lonstein, AireSpring’s CEO and eldest of the three Lonstein brothers who run the company.
RG: I must admit, it’s unusual these days to find an amiable, well-run family organization in this industry that’s admired and respected by their own channel, and is doing well financially to boot. What’s the secret to your success?
AL: AireSpring is a carrier focused entirely on the customer community and agent channel. We are indeed a family-owned and managed business, and are proud of that fact. Perhaps that’s why we take a conservative approach so that, even in today’s tough economy, we continue not only to grow but remain cash-flow positive and profitable with no debt. We remain profitable without resorting to any leverage or any other outside factor that would get in the way of our continued focus on customers and agents.
We offer products in the area of voice and data services and we’re very proud of what we’ve done to build our VoIP network over the past several years. While there are many companies out there that have simply built VoIP networks, we’ve tried to concentrate on product sets that will meet our customers’ needs. AireSpring has several different product sets: We have a local product for local customers and our strength in that product is our ability to reach out to most markets throughout the U.S. by using the access networks of our underlying partners. We can serve places beyond the reach of our competitors. We bring the ability to tie together multiple, disparate locations, such as in multiple states, and put everything under one network and one invoice.
Our local product gives customers the ability to complete calls on-net at no cost. Obviously that cuts costs if a business happens to be a multi-location operation. It allows them in this harsh economy to find a quick and easy way to reduce costs and simplify their operations. We offer those services over our VoIP network but connections are made to and from the customer either via “pure” SIP trunks or via TDM or TDM/PRI connections. We’ve seen tremendous interest in the channel for our local product set.
We’re very excited by the extremely strong interest in the marketplace for our product sets both in the call center community, and for local products using our advanced VoIP network.
RG: I’ve heard that call centers are another AireSpring forte.
AL: The other big area that focuses on our VoIP network involves our high volume call center customers. AireSpring has excelled in that area for many years. Our call center customers have a unique set of issues and problems with which they deal in a changing environment. It’s tougher than ever for call center operators to negotiate the changes occurring in the industry. For example, there are new types of surcharges that many of the major carriers have levied, such as short-duration surcharges, and various fees. Essentially, it’s very difficult to find ways to complete those calls. We at AireSpring are very pleased to have built a product set especially designed for both high-volume inbound and outbound call centers, meeting their needs not only in terms of pricing, but also by avoiding any sort of short-duration surcharge. It’s able to complete a high volume of calls, not only on a per-second basis — as in traditional CPS metrics — but also in terms of supporting a large concurrent call capacity. We offer that with termination to major tier-1 carriers, so you can be sure that the service is of very high quality. We work with great interest and care in this area.
RG: So, AireSpring is a “super CLEC”?
AL: We’ve definitely built a kind of “super CLEC” model. Some say that our national local service offering makes AireSpring the nation’s largest CVNO [CLEC Virtual Network Operator]. Really, the beauty of what we’ve done can be described as follows: If you look at how most of the CLECs are built, they’re very much focused on specific markets. Obviously, there are both bigger and smaller CLECs out there. There are some, such as XO Communications (News - Alert) and PayTek, that have pretty wide coverage, but even then they can’t be everywhere and in every market. By tying together access networks from multiple CLECs and from IXC providers, and using IP as an underlying backbone, we’re able to get to places that, frankly, others can’t. We have a massive reach. So yes, we do have a sort of “super CLEC” model where we can go anywhere. Many of our customers have few or terrible options in some of the places in which they operate. We can offer them a different option that gives them a competitive advantage. For a pure-play, agent-focused company, we have a very strong reputation, a diverse product set, and we have the ability to use multiple underlying carriers for network access.
We’re now very attentive to the expansion of our super CLEC model with access throughout America, which is fairly new, but we’re doing a very good job. Frankly, I think many of our agents know us for our work in the long-distance market, though we are more well-known for our work with the big call centers. But I don’t think as many of our agents know that we’re a very strong local player and that we have such strong product sets. We can do things such as disaster recovery or Direct Termination Overlow [DTO] services that allow a local customer to be able to overflow or reroute their service to another location or even to TDM trunks in the case of a failure. We can support interoffice calling and conference calling, and in all we offer a really robust package at a very reasonable price. In today’s economy everyone’s trying to make sure that they can get the best value out of every dollar spent, and I believe we can help them achieve that.
RG: Tell me about your sterling agent/VAR community that I’ve heard so much about.
AL: We don’t sell direct. We absolutely sell through the channel and we intensely focus on it. It’s the core tenant of our business. We believe the channel adds a lot of value by building relationships with customers and servicing their needs. If you ask around I think you’ll discover that AireSpring is a very well-regarded company in the agent community. We do what we can to offer not only the highest and most lucrative commission and compensation packages to our agents. Agents like us because we can meet their needs, coming up with just the right solution for a particular customer’s needs at that moment. So we’re a little more flexible than the bigger guys. That doesn’t mean that other companies don’t have great programs, they do. But we’re completely focused on the agent channel, so if you look at another carrier you may see that they have conflicts among their retail, agent/carrier and even wholesale sales teams. There may be “protected accounts,” for example.
We’re very service-oriented and our hands-on management and ownership teams are heavily involved in ensuring that every customer gets exactly what they need and gets the service they deserve — service that they wouldn’t normally receive if they went to a major tier-1 carrier, unless they happened to be a significant customer with revenues exceeding several hundred thousand dollars a month.
Moreover, we offer agents a “pure evergreen contract,” which means that we will pay commissions to our agents, no matter what. [An evergreen contract is one that in principle must be agreed to regularly, but is always continued automatically.] There aren’t many evergreen contracts out there, but we stand behind ours and we would never adjust an agent’s commission downward for any reason.
We also recognize that sometimes AireSpring is just part of a larger solution, and so we don’t force agents into exclusive agreements with us. We’re a very good example of what I call a channel-friendly and channel-exclusive company. We’re there to meet the specific needs of our agents. They want to offer the most competitive product for their customers, they want to have a wide range of options, they need to be compensated, and we try to ensure that when they turn in an order it will be properly dealt with and they and their customers will receive the necessary support. I believe we do a very good job of that in an operation of our size.
RG: So there are no bumps in the road?
AL: We’re happy that our growth continues despite the current economic situation. That’s partly because of our continued focus on the channel, and partly because of our expanded product set running on our VoIP network, and our ability to offer products focused on specific segments of that market, not to mention our doing a really good job serving those segments. IT
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