Jonathan Anguelov launched Aircall in 2014 with his co-founder Olivier Pailhes. Were they thinking they would revolutionise the way people make phone calls back then? Maybe. What they could not foresee was the way a global pandemic would likely change forever how we work and communicate. In just a few years, Aircall has become one of ‘the next big things’ in the tech and communications industry. Let’s look back (and ahead!) at their success.
Hello Jonathan, and nice to meet you. For those who have not yet heard of your company, could you describe Aircall and its services?
Aircall is a cloud-based phone system and call center software designed, at first, for companies who have a big customer service and/or sales department. More generally, Aircall is a SaaS (Software as a Service) that allows companies to get the most out of their customer database and enhance productivity by integrating different tools with their customer relationship management system. For example, if a customer decided to call an e-commerce company regarding one of their orders, his or her name would just pop up on the screen, with all the information already gathered by the company at the time of the order. On top of that, every call is recorded, which allows companies to use our integrated artificial intelligence to gather data from the phone conversations they had with clients, in the case of cold-calling, for example.
Basically, Aircall is the new generation of phone systems. We bring value to something that, before, was a commodity.
How did the idea for Aircall come to you in 2014? Had you planned for it to become such a success?
We knew we wanted to do things differently. We noticed that phone systems were still very clumsy: you had your desk phone on your table, your mobile phone in your pocket, and your personal phone somewhere else. That was a lot of hardware. So we thought, why not create a software that reconciles everything? Kind of like Skype or WhatsApp, but more professional, that would be cheaper and easier to implement than the traditional phone systems companies were used to. Now, you can set Aircall up from anywhere in the world. And no, we had not planned such a rapid success! There have been ups and downs for sure, but now we can very happily say that the Aircall family keeps on growing. We recruited 150 people in 2020 and almost 300 people in 2021!
Aircall is the new generation of phone systems. We bring value to something that, before, was a commodity.
How did Covid-19 impact the business? Has the crisis reinforced the necessity for cloud-based communications?
There has been, for sure, an acceleration in the digitalisation of companies. Traditional SMBs (Small and Medium Businesses) have started to come to us way more often in the last few months. Before that, most of our clients were companies that were quite tech savvy, like delivery apps, or companies with huge needs, like call centers. But now we see a new type of customer, with a real need to digitalise their company. Because people now have to work from home, these companies need a new phone system. We made some of our best sales in 2020. However, some of our customers have suffered a lot from the crisis. They had to reduce costs and that impacted us too. So all in all, I cannot say Covid was positive for Aircall revenue wise, but it was very positive for the market.
Now with offices across Paris, Sydney, NYC and Madrid, and a growing team of employees, has the past year changed how you and your teams are working together? What have been your keys to success in accelerating and developing in the face of a global pandemic?
As a tech company, we are used to working with digital tools. So it was pretty easy for us to adapt our meetings. We kept on working the same way we used to and adaptation was quite smooth. But our challenge this year was in hiring people. How can we keep recruiting people during the crisis? How do we train our new recruits? What kind of onboarding processes can we implement? This was a real challenge for human resources. We created a whole project around self development and career development with trainings, and a huge database of content, where people can learn about the company and the different positions. The main question was: how do we retain our best talents during the crisis when we all have to work from home? To me, the success of a company is owed to its employees. We had to compensate for the fact that people were not able to come to the office and that it had an impact on their attachment to the company.
The main question was: how do we retain our best talents during the crisis? To me, the success of a company is owed to its employees. And we had to compensate for the fact that people were not able to come to the office, and that it had an impact on their attachment to the company.
Do you think remote work will soon become the new normal? How will this affect the way people communicate and collaborate?
I think companies will be more flexible regarding remote work, for sure. But remote work can be harder. There are tools that already exist to help companies get organised while everyone is apart from each other, but remote work can also create frustration. When you’re in the office, you can just walk up to one of your colleagues to ask them for precision on something, or to get a quick training, but remote work doesn’t allow that anymore. Communication becomes less direct. I can say that, for us, meetings now take a lot more of our time. And that trend can be observed amongst our clients too. There is also less space for small talk, which is a pity because I think people need that kind of interaction. We’re not robots. Without all that makes up life in the office, you lack a certain dynamic.
With many businesses accelerating their digital transformation and our “ways of working” adapting to the post-covid context, what do you think is the next tech evolution to come for the workplace?
I think that conversations matter more than before, with online meetings being the new normal especially, since it’s getting harder to meet in real life. Aircall can participate in making communications better. We are working on improving our artificial intelligence tool to allow companies to extract the data out of their conversations, get a transcript, or look up specific words directly in the recordings.
What’s on the horizon for Aircall? Perhaps video calling? Virtual reality?
Artificial intelligence is one of our big projects as well as developing a video-conferencing tool that will enable better meetings and make it easier to share information between a company’s teammates. We want to develop a video tool that will increase productivity. A tool where your recordings can be saved, where you can share and interact on the same screen, take notes for yourself and share your camera while on the call (for example if someone received something broken and wanted to show it to customer service).
Could you describe for us your ideal vision for the future of the workplace?
My ideal vision of the workplace is a place where people can feel at home. Where there are living areas where people can meet, talk, hang out on the couch, and also at the same time have a space where they can decide to come and work a few days a week. I think it should be pleasurable to come to the office. There is nothing worse than companies where people despise coming to the office. I want people to interact and be happy to be there. That’s my vision of the workplace as it should be.
Jonathan Anguelov is an alumnus of ESCP’s Specialised Master in Finance.