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The CN Interview with Dana Bruttig Simons of Audio-Ex

15 March, 2004

Bonnie Belvedere, fresh off the ski slopes of Colorado, interviews Audio-Ex CEO Dana Bruttig Simons. Read below as these two power-women in conferencing talk about pennies, bundling, wine, and coding software while buzzed! Rock on and read on!

Bonnie Belvedere: So, Dana, tell us about Audio-Ex.

Dana Bruttig-Simons: Audio-Ex is an exclusive wholesale provider of turnkey, integrated Audio and Web conferencing services. The company's mission is to ensure conferencing service Resellers maximize growth and profitability. As you know, the conferencing Reseller market is in turmoil today. Retail prices are falling off a cliff and technology advances are increasing pressure on service providers to upgrade. Our whole focus is to navigate through those two major issues and help Resellers by offering simple to buy, simple to use, simple to sell conferencing products at an incomparable value. We want to deliver not just profitability and more efficient operations, but "stickiness" to the conferencing Reseller.

BB: Who have you assembled for a management team?

DBS: Audio-Ex has assembled a veteran staff that's the envy of the industry. Each of our executive team members offers an average of 20 years experience in hi-tech and telecommunications, much of that in the conferencing niche. Robert Hoitsma, our chief sales officer, is a conferencing industry veteran who led all sales operations for the Western U.S. for Voyant Technologies, the gold standard in bridging equipment. Steve Coon, our chief operations officer, was the former vice president of operations and engineering for ConferTech International, which ultimately became Global Crossing Conferencing. And Jonathan Sass is our chief technology officer. Before joining Audio-Ex, he was a top programmer with leading companies like Claris and Palmsource.

To give you my own background, I have led several startups that have focused on either software or conferencing, which fits in perfectly with what we're trying to accomplish with Audio-Ex, given that we're trying to marry the two. Most recently, I was the CEO of Accerra Corporation, a Web-conferencing vendor.

BB: So what's the value-proposition for Resellers to switch from their current service provider(s) to the Audio-Ex wholesale platform? How is Audio-Ex differentiating itself from the competitors.

DBS: There are several things that set us apart, but I would point first to two things. The first is that we are dedicated to assuring that our resellers get the lowest total cost of services so we provide a bundled offering for both audio and web conferencing with software tools designed to take a lot of the labor out of the areas like reporting, billing and provisioning. Second, Audio-Ex's position is that of an exclusive wholesaler of conferencing services. Unlike other conferencing wholesalers that also retail their services in competition with the companies they sell to, Audio-Ex assures customers they will not be undercut in the market by their own provider. Audio-Ex's people in Sales, Operations and Account Management provide a great deal of consultative ability, they make sure that all the elements are in place for a successful implementation, launch, and sustained excellence.

BB: Will Audio-Ex operate its own retail brand and compete with its Resellers?

DBS: We will not. Audio-Ex is devoted exclusively to Resellers. Our reason for being is to fulfill their needs.

BB: What audio bridging and web-conferencing technologies are powering the Audio-Ex wholesale offering? And how will you charge for each? And what's this "save a penny" promotion about?

DBS: Early on, Audio-Ex decided that to serve Resellers with the operational excellence they demanded, and to ensure carrier grade reliability at very low price points, we would standardize our services on the Voyant bridge and use only one type of equipment. Think Southwest Airlines. As other wholesalers struggle under the weight of legacy infrastructure, we keep things simple and streamlined. For Web conferencing, Audio-Ex has a three-tiered presentation product offering. We have bundled the most basic version of this push slide product with an audio offering at a price-point most wholesalers can't even meet for audio alone.

That brings us to our "A PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY YOU EARN" concept. We assure our customers that we will give them the lowest cost offering available in the market. In most cases, we can beat their current provider by at least a penny.

BB: What about operator-assisted conferencing? Will this be provided in the Audio-Ex wholesale service, and how does this affect the pricing?

DBS: We will offer operator-assisted conferencing for a fee and our price will be competitive.

BB: Billing requirements for conferencing can be quite complex. How does Audio-Ex provide billing and related account management functions? Who developed the billing software?

DBS: While most of our customers have their own internal billing system, what they do not have is a simple way to display billing information utilizing the web. Audio-Ex offers an online provisioning/reporting tool that is one of the key features of our offering. As strange as it seems, most conferencing providers today do not provide any layer of Web control or Web management. Our online provisioning and billing tool provides a clean, easy to use graphical user interface which allows Resellers to see all of their account activity, manage agents, calculate commissions and basically take total control of their administration. This online service layer is something we take great pride in. We also see our Resellers lapping it up.

BB: So how do you plan to market Audio-Ex as a wholesaler, and what's involved in the sales process?

DBS: We are aggressively pursuing a strong sales effort led by myself and Robert Hoitsma, and the response so far has been very positive. We are targeting small and mid-size conference service Resellers, as well as service providers, carriers, integrators and practically anyone with a desire to bundle Audio and Web conferencing services. We are able to show Resellers exactly what they get with Audio-Ex's products, because we can demo our product over the phone. The sales process includes a needs assessment and a shared statement of process and goals, all provided in a consultative approach to make sure that customers are well informed about the industry and Audio-Ex's process. All of this prepares the customer for implementation. Most importantly, we make sure they understand that we can get them up and running in less than 30 days.

BB: What about support services for your resellers? What practices will you have in place?

DBS: In addition to assigning customers their own account representative, we offer 24/7 phone support and assurances for Resellers that their Audio and Web services will always be there when they need them.

BB: Who are the investors of Audio-Ex?

DBS: We are backed by both private and strategic investors. Our largest strategic investor is Globalive Communications, who is also a key operational partner for Audio-Ex.

BB: So what is the relationship Audio-Ex has with GlobalLive?

DBS: Our strategic alliance with Globalive gives us a carrier-grade, rock-solid infrastructure that will allow us to evolve to IP-based services over time. That's a huge advantage. In addition, the Globalive network allows for the rapid scalability of ports, so Resellers can be assured of meeting customer demand when they have to.

BB: Dana, in your view, what will the conferencing industry look like in five years?

DBS: Audio-Ex is focused on breaking the paradigm in the conferencing market, and we aligned our business to lead in the direction we think the industry is going. We're already offering something unique - integrated Audio and Web conferencing for pennies - and we'll be following this up with a myriad of value-add features. Then, of course, will be the migration to IP services. Audio and Web on the same channel. No matter what, the key for Resellers is to make conferencing services, both present and future, simple to manage and use. If the future unfolds according to our vision, services will be cheap, ubiquitous and intuitive.

BB: You're the author of the popular book "The Days of Wine and Software." What's that all about? Should programmers be drinking Cabernet while they code?

DBS: Cabernet is a little heavy for morning, don't you think? Maybe a Sauvignon Blanc? It's a book I wrote that combined my experiences in starting up several hi-tech companies, then starting up a winery. As crazy as it sounds, the book doesn't vouch for drinking wine on the job, even though sometimes as the CEO of a startup you feel like it. Instead, it was about noticing a lot of similarities between winemaking, a craft that's been around since the start of recorded history, and building a software company, which is obviously something much more recent. You can look at both of them as organized around natural principles.

BB: Metaphorically then, how do the lessons and messages of your book apply to Audio-Ex?

DBS: Well, while there are many things in the conferencing industry outside the resellers control (like frost is to the wine grower), there are specific things they can do to assure they are protected from things like ongoing price erosion. One of those things is to put in the correct "frost protection system", which we would equate to the right wholesale provider. How's that for a self-serving metaphor? From RootStock to finished product, it is the human element, the art and human nurturing acting with nature, that produces the bottled Cabernet. At Audio-Ex, it is the art of creating a business with defined principles, and the nurturing of creativity that have given us the market lead.

BB: Will there be a sequel to your book called, "The Days of Cheap Wine and Cheaper Conferencing?

DBS: I don't know about the title, but TWO BUCK CHUCK is immensely popular! For now, we're focusing on remaking the conferencing industry. After we do that, I think I might want to do a movie instead. Maybe call Peter Jackson to do a follow-up to "Lord of the Rings." It's too bad that name's already taken. It would have been a good title for us!

BB: Thanks, Dana. Good luck with Audio-Ex.


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