Interview with Jason Sommerset, Director of Product Development, Bandwidth provides Internet and telephony services primarily to business and government customers; for example, providing automated real-time pricing and procurement of business-class Internet connectivity.  It also offers hosted VoIP, SIP trunking and bulk origination and termination services. manages the assignment of telephone numbers for Google Voice.  And they offer Telecom APIs, which is the reason for this interview.  I think Bandwidth shows how Telcos can make APIs part of their core offer, and critically shows them who to sell those APIs as part of a total package of services to their customers.  AT&T and Verizon take note, the answer on how to grow you business using Telecom APIs is in plain sight.

Alan: Bandwidth has always seemed more about vanity numbers and number provisioning, but in the past few years I’ve seen you focus on offering a range of communications services. Can you explain what makes you unique in the communications industry?
Jason: What is unique is the range of how we provide our services to customers.  We like to talk about three different ways Bandwidth works with our customers.  As you mention, in the more traditional sense we have built and operate our own nationwide voice network and provide industry-leading portal-based access for number provisioning and 9-1-1 services to dial tone providers like Vonage or RingCentral with their own VoIP infrastructures. But we also offer fully automated back-office software for less telecom-focused providers like Google and Marchex to completely integrate into our core network.  We expose every aspect of service management to these customers via APIs.  It might sound like a small thing, but providing a real-time interface means customers can take resources and people that would otherwise go to administering telecom and re-purpose them to more mission critical aspects of their business, like the web and mobile end-user experience. It’s less about provisioning numbers and more about making it really easy to automate the process for speed and accuracy. The third way is well, where we do everything – providing a fully managed telephony technology stack allowing customers to build their business and develop their entire application using our APIs while we focus on the scale and complexity at scale for them.
But what is unique is that as a carrier, we offer all these technologies and the flexibility to work with us in these different models. We’re willing to roll up our sleeves and work with companies like Pinger to figure out what they need. At some point, some companies hit a certain scale and complexity that they can’t just ignore telecom.  We work with them along their entire growth curve.

Alan: GroupMe is a great example of this, is it not? GroupMe was working with Twilio, but started hitting big growth curves and really needed to operate the business and technology at a different type of scale.  Is that something you see occurring?
Jason:  Absolutely. We like to offer it all because there are a lot of great companies and successful businesses that want to work through APIs exclusively – but there are also many companies we work with at different levels of maturity.  They want flexibility in terms of technology and that often does change over time and with scale. Our entrepreneurial DNA, a product of our founder David Morken who still runs the company, lends well to these models. He values the startup spirit and that pumps through our culture.

Alan: Is your focus just the U.S., or are you looking elsewhere?
Jason: Right now just the U.S. and Canada.

Alan: What is your go-to-market strategy?
Jason: We have been around for a while and have been very relationship and word-of-mouth focused,  .That comes from being very customer-focused and has gone a long way for us.  We try to make it easy for the right customers to find us.  Plus we give our sales teams the tools and the flexibility they need to cultivate those relationships and understand our customers’ business and opportunities.

Alan: The core platform you’re running on – is it open sourced space, your own developed platform or something else?
Jason: To say that we have just purely proprietary stack and/or open sourced is too simple; we have developed a lot of solutions and products over time using both approaches and still do, but it depends on who we are servicing and why. As you might expect our engineers have quite a bit of history and expertise on open-sourced platforms and from those experiences have taken opportunities to develop proprietary stacks. That is what we think is unique about our approach to the industry.

Alan: What I’ve been ranting about recently is there are segments of businesses that really care about telecom. I divide it into three sub-segments: the first who want to build their own communications services and choose community-based open source software because it’s so much more affordable. Then there is another segment that has used open source and realized despite the cost effectiveness they still need to run their business on a platform with great scale, focus, and look to those platforms to manage the stack.  Then the final category is businesses building for the telecom network and technology. As an industry we’ve been obsessed with the bright and shiny mobile app developer but have been completely missing the businesses that care about telecom and are prime market opportunities to do it for them.  Its one of the the reasons behind creating the Telecom Application Developer Summit (TADS).
Jason: Absolutely. I think the “app developer” persona conjures up the idea of the hackathons and the weekend warriors, but there is a huge category of real businesses, businesses with real P&Ls, budgets and revenues, looking to launch new products and integrate communications services, maybe using the term “app developer” isn’t as accurate as “businesses developing the next generation communications.” Sounds like you have gone even further to categorize all those types of businesses. We think making it easy in all those models and more affordable and scalable is where we come in. One great example of this is Google’s work in click-to-call digital advertising.

Alan: Since Bandwidth is continuing to develop and build the company up, are you looking to exit into an AT&T or Verizon? To remain independent? What’s the overall corporate objective of Bandwidth?
Jason: The simple answer is no, Bandwidth has no plans to be bought out by AT&T, Verizon or anyone. Bandwidth is an ongoing endeavor.