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With the popular David and Goliath theme of a hungry tech startup looking to disrupt, Cape Town, South Africa-based VoIP (voice over internet protocol) service provider Euphoria Telecom hopes to change the way business owners think about and run their communications.
Business telephone systems are outdated, especially in South Africa. Making a conference call or setting up a digital receptionist can be strangely complicated and unintuitive; so much so that most people end up opting for Skype or just sticking with email. For business owners keen on cutting-down unnecessary costs and gaining insight into their daily operations in real-time, a PABX (or business telephone system) in the cloud is probably what you’re looking for.
The problem though is that most of the solutions available from telecom giants aren’t that accessible to businesses. Moreover, they tend not to serve the unique needs of your average small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) in South Africa. This, at least, is part of the problem Euphoria is hoping to solve.
“Cloud PABX solutions are not something that should be unknown to South African citizens,” Euphoria co-founder George Golding says. “We’ve tried to develop and add value to the system where there’s functionality that people actually need and benefit from.”
“The thing is, telephone systems are not a sexy thing. It’s been in your life all along — you pick it up and you make a call. People don’t really consider more than that in their lives. It’s almost like electricity which, until recently, most people take for granted,” Golding explains.
The co-founder compares Euphoria’s offering to everyday services like internet banking. How can people go back to having almost no no Internet Banking, no immediate access and control over their financials? Things need to be accessible as well as understandable.
Unique features for flexible business
The proudly South African dashboard feature works pretty much like Google Analyitcs, except for calls. Among the many features on offer, business owners can check their outbound costs from anywhere in the world, which the dashboard then summarise and present in a readable format. Businesses have access to important data such as call volumes per day, costs and credit status, and even a breakdown of numbers dialed by area codes.
Euphoria’s product also provides clients with detailed reports on their abandon rates, providing insight into where the company is losing its customers. Essentially, Golding explains that it will help streamline your sales and support. Some other standout features are the ability to transfer calls to anyone with an internet connection in the workforce. You can also get your voice mail emailed to your employees, which is far more efficient than dialing in to retrieve messages.
The included online management system tracks costs, transactional history, offers in-depth real time reports and total control over the customisation of your PBX. “Have you ever tried to get an invoice from Telkom, if it does not arrive in the post. It is often like drawing blood from a stone,” Golding quips. “We’ve made things easier, more intuitive” he says referring to the dashboard’s modern design and functionality.
The competitors, Golding argues, rely on imported technologies. They did not create them, they buy them and provide it as a service. These include corporates like Vodacom and Telkom which don’t provide the same type of dashboard access as Euphoria, which aims to be flexible and user-friendly.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the main defining ethos about the cloud calling service is the fact that it wants to empower its customers. Euphoria partly does this via its pioneered month-to-month contract scheme, which allows business clients to easily opt out when they want. “Usually SMEs don’t even know where they’re going to be in six months, how can they commit to two-year, three-year contracts that’s on the market today?”
“It’s a big deal. It’s not a sales pitch,” says Golding. “If a company has specific requirements, we can look at developing it into the system.”
With a setup cost of R1000, Euphoria charges a R65 license cost per extension for its Express PBX package. Euphoria also then wholesales voice networks from the likes of ECN and Internet Solutions which charge the startup a wholesale price. Euphoria then puts down a “competitive” markup for its customers.
In other words, customers aren’t tied to it. “Of the few clients that have cancelled 99% of the clients we’ve lost have either closed their doors they’re in an area with no connectivity,” Golding tells us. Not always the cheapest, Euphoria explains that it’s definitely worth the trade-off if you want to have full control over your business operations.
“With Euphoria you sometimes pay an extra R500 per month but your liability and service are there. You’re running a business which means that you’re going to recover that R500 in 20 minutes of downtime with the other service provider or lack of management reports. You need to look at the opportunity costs.”
Asked about whether internet connectivity is an issue for a VoIP service in South Africa, Golding says that it’s not an issue in most areas anymore. The company relies on technologies such as ViBE which allows business clients to plug into both LTE and broadband connections. If the one is interrupted, the other kicks in.
Expanding target market
Founded in February 2011, Euphoria is currently focusing on South African SMEs — businesses with 750 employees or less. Golding notes that its potential target market is massive pointing to an estimated 250 000 potential SMEs of which Telkom services about 80%.
Among Euphoria’s clients are these are online jewelry store Galaxy & Co, Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed Net1 and one of South Africa’s largest ecommerce stores Groupon which houses around 165 staff.
Asked about how Euphoria managed to land over 500 business customers in such as short space of time, Golding explains that having a good call quality, good customer service and a 30 day contract helped the brand gain credibility. From there it was word of mouth, business customers were desperate for solid system with good service. After the startup signed up Altech ISIS — which got married through the grapevine — traction snowballed from there. “Having a popular brands such as Altech as one of your clients creates trust,” says Golding.
Another factor that contributes to scooping up clients is having a informative and good-looking website. “We’re very focused on the design and user interface. We want to be in line with global trends and not local because we think local is years behind.”
The PwC Vision to Reality finalist broke-even in its third financial year (2014) and expects to “wipe out all losses” and be profitable by next year. The company’s shareholders consists of Golding and co-founder and CTO Conrad De Wet who’s largely responsible for product. The company also speaks of a local family trust that’s involved though it’s not at liberty to say exactly who.
Headquartered in The Woodstock Exchange, a few months ago the company opened up its Johannesburg branch and is planning to launch Euphoria as a white-label product in the UK by 2016, where it reckons it stands a good chance against other world-class solutions.
The problem with current service providers internationally, Golding argues, is that they manage to grow their customer base to the point where the need to innovate becomes less of a priority. Golding says: “In South Africa, businesses need to innovate in order to stand out more. This means that our systems far more capable than what’s being used abroad.”
“Because telephone communication systems have always been so ingrained in our daily lives, we don’t really question it. But now that there’s choice, people are starting to reconsider their options,” Golding says. “Businesses start to understand the value that it can actually help you improve your business by giving you management reports, streamlining workflow, reducing lost sales opportunities and improving customer support.”