Jim Sauter, founder and owner of Madison-based NovaONE Networks, had a front row seat to the eruption of technology firms that sprouted in Silicon Valley as he grew up in the northern California region.
Madison has some of the same elements that drove the tech sector’s emergence in that part of the country, he said.
“I’m extremely optimistic about Madison’s business future,” said Sauter. “Growing up and spending the first half of my life in the Silicon Valley during its boom period, I see a lot of similarities in Madison of what happened in the Silicon Valley.”
Sauter’s company, which was founded seven years ago, is like an independent insurance company but for telecommunications. The product portfolio consists of fiber, VOIP (phone) and cloud services from dozens of phone and cable companies, including ATT, Charter, TDS, Windstream, CenturyLink, Time Warner, EvolveIP and Earthlink. Clients range from private businesses to non-profit organizations.
Question: How did you get the idea for this spinoff business as an independent telecom company?
Answer: At my previous position at a large telecommunications company, I noticed several ways to improve the business customer’s experience. There are several industries that had independent agents — insurance, real estate, mortgage, for example — and I thought why not create a company that takes the complexity out of trying to figure out what is the right telecommunications solution for a business, as well as being the clients’ advocate to get them the best possible price. I noticed pricing was all over the board for the same exact service or product. One business may be paying significantly higher pricing than the one across the street. It was a matter of how knowledgeable or savvy a customer was with the telecommunications industry.
Q: You advertise “pro bono” services. If it’s free, how do you make a profit?
A: We get paid by the telecommunications and cable companies as opposed to them paying their direct-sales people if our client chooses to move forward with one of the options we present to them. We guarantee that our clients will pay the same price or better than if they go direct to the telecommunications or cable company. In most cases, we get our clients a better price because we use our knowledge and due diligence as leverage to negotiate lower prices. We do this every day and know what the real “street” price is. Due to employee churn in the industry, we are more knowledgeable on products from all the telecommunications companies and know what works well and what doesn’t. We don’t have sales quotas and put no pressure on our clients. We provide them with only solutions that work at the lowest possible price and inform them of the pros and cons for each solution.
Q: You’ve been in the telecommunications industry for about 20 years. Enormous changes have occurred during that time. What’s the change that’s most impacted your business? For example, 20 years ago, most people weren’t addicted to their cell phones.
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A: The change that has most affected our business is that organizations are moving to “the cloud.” Moving to the cloud drives higher internet speeds, especially on the “upload” side, and greater reliability. Internet has become even more important than phone service. In many cases, our business clients’ operations are run entirely from the cloud and need multiple internet connections from different internet suppliers.
Q: What about mobility? I would think most clients need increased mobility for their workspace.
A: Yes. Mobility has become increasingly critical over the past 10 years. Mobility from the standpoint of being on the move, working from home and the like means that cellular phone integration with VOIP (phone) services and systems has become extremely popular. One phone number and one voicemail box is much more efficient — it’s increased employee privacy, and offered better company control of what number is handed out to clients.
Q: When you are not auditing customers’ phone bills, what do you do for fun?
A: I’m a do-it-yourselfer, and I enjoy building and fixing things around the house and office. I attempt to golf but don’t have much fun at that.
Q: And what’s the next most significant thing coming down the line for private consumers of telecommunications services?
A: I have a couple of hunches of changes we’ll see in the next five years. We’ll see the consolidation of the landline and wireless carriers. What does that mean for consumers? Integrated services, lower prices and bundled billing. Believe it or not, I don’t see landlines going away and actually see them picking up in popularity in the next 10 years.
Q: What was the best business advice that anybody ever gave you—and who gave it to you?
A: Well, I didn’t personally receive the advice, but there is a quote from Ray Kroc that I try to live by every day. “If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.”