For my leadership series, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and interview Olivier Pailhès. Olivier Pailhès is the co-founder of Aircall, a cloud-based voice platform, used by businesses and call centers globally. Prior to entrepreneurship, Oliver worked for Aperam, ArcelorMittal Construction, and The Boston Consulting Group. He helped launch Aircall after seeing the need for a better communication platform for businesses to interact with their customers.
Aircall is the cloud-based call center and phone system of choice for modern businesses. A voice platform that integrates seamlessly with popular productivity and helpdesk tools. Aircall was built to make phone systems easy to manage – accessible, transparent, and collaborative. Aircall believes that a great conversation is the most powerful way to communicate with customers, prospects, candidates, and colleagues. It is designed to enable delightful moments of human connection.
At a time of great uncertainty for many industries and, indeed, the world itself, Web Summit gathers the founders and CEOs of technology companies, fast-growing startups, policymakers, and heads of state to ask a simple question: Where to next?
Politico has said we run “the world’s premier tech conference”, the Atlantic that Web Summit is “where the future goes to be born”, and the New York Times that we assemble “a grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests.”
Web Summit also hosts events across the world: Web Summit in Tokyo, Collision in Toronto, and RISE in Hong Kong.
You were selected as a speaker for the annual Web Summit, one of the largest tech conferences in the world. What industry topic did you speak about and how does that tie into your role at Aircall?
It was quite interesting! I was on a panel with the CEO of Rapid, a fintech startup. Our topic was about how to manage the pivotal moment when you are not a startup anymore, but not a large corporation yet. You are a scale-up. You are larger, not quite in limbo, and have a lot of impact on many, many customers. In Aircall’s case, we have more than 10,000 customers and are growing rapidly.
So, how does that relate to changing work conditions, the future of work and evolving interactions between customers? How can we help companies digitalize from the ground up and adapt to this new game?
Can you provide a brief introduction to yourself and your role within AirCall? What brought you to this specific career path?
My name is Olivier Pailhès. And as you can tell from my accent, I was born and raised in France. I didn’t start in tech or entrepreneurship – I started in consulting at BCG and specialized in the telecommunications industry. I was one of the telecommunications experts in Paris.
I met my co-founders, also former consultants, and we started brainstorming on what kind of industry we can redefine or improve. Telecom emerged as an industry that caught our attention as it’s an industry we all interact with on a consumer and business level.
Phone systems were stuck in a really old method. We wondered “can we build something richer, more data-oriented, smarter, and easier to use?”
By connecting the dots, that’s how we got started.
What is your blueprint to success? Can you share an example of how you have implemented this into your work at Aircall?
My blueprint for success fundamentally revolves around the people and assembling the right set of people. The most important thread, however, is having the right mindset.
Having the right mindset is even more important than just having the right business idea, being highly analytical, or any other kind of hard skills — it’s really about creating the right mindset of achieving together and working together.
The way I translate this into Aircall is transparency. How to be as transparent as possible in everything that we do–from how we share information about the company to what our core motto is to equity to all of our teams.
Mindset and transparency are very meta-level. If we look more specifically into Aircall and why we’ve been successful, it’s down to having the right customer perspective. There is a lot of value in talking to your customers, interacting with your customers, and creating the perfect customer experience.
What is/are your life philosophies? Are there any social causes that you are particularly passionate about?
I am very passionate about education, about being a teacher. I love balancing my life and being able to teach what I am passionate about. I came from a family of teachers, and I love providing education to children who may not have the support of their family and their environment. It’s incredible when children have a breakthrough and see their potential.
The other thing I believe is important is the sense of entrepreneurship and inclusivity and move-forwardness. I really learned this in New York, and I think it’s very interesting coming from a European standpoint. France is a great country–and we’ve done a lot of things right and we’ve had our fair share of challenges. But when I came to the US in 2016, I was blown away by the culture of inclusivity, bringing in all the different communities together, and pioneering spirit. This is something we’ve brought deeply into Aircall.
Are you working on any exciting new projects right now?
We are working on a lot of incredible innovations, and there are two specific innovations that I am very excited about. The first is integrations– there are a lot of different software products that our customers use, and we have a huge opportunity to become the voice platform for all new and existing software.
For example, let’s say you create an ATS recruitment software, and it’s a pain to embed the voice conversations. With Aircall, we have a full suite of API’s and SDK’s so that any software can easily and effectively embed a voice feature in an existing tech stack.
The second exciting innovation is Voice AI. What we’ve built this year is the underlying technology to uncap all the value of a conversation. Voice conversation is the biggest piece of untapped data in the world. You can search your email. You can search your chat. But you can’t search your conversation. With Aircall, it will be easy to record an interview or a business meeting and then refer back to it.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s okay not to have a plan at first, especially as an entrepreneur. I always wanted to have a plan and a roadmap for the next 12 months. But this doesn’t work as an entrepreneur. When you get started, you have to follow where the growth is, you have to listen to your customers. Most importantly, you have to focus on what matters now, not next week.
- When you get started on a venture, know that most of the time, it takes much longer than you think it will. For the first two years at Aircall, we made and had nothing–no real customers, no real working product. Looking back, I would have told myself “okay, it’s fine. It’s going to take two years. After two years, you will see traction.”
- Don’t try to be the best at everything. Typically, I’m not a great sales guy. I don’t like selling, but I felt like I had to do it as a co-founder. Then I met Jonathan, who is a fantastic salesperson. It’s incredibly important to add team members who have stronger skillsets than you do. Know your strengths and follow that. Know your weakness and find a partner to complete that. Assemble a team and each will be the best at their skill sets.
Do you have a life hack that’s always come in handy?
One of my favorite life hacks is that when you want to do something or achieve something, don’t set limits. Everything is an achievement, even if you start from the very bottom. That’s what startups teach, right? You can build a huge business starting from literally zero. Similarly, you can learn a new skill starting from zero.
What do you want the readers to know (any calls to action)?
Do not underestimate the value of human-to-human conversations. Bet on it. There is tremendous value in two humans solving problems together, exchanging information, discussing, connecting, and mind meeting. It’s a huge value for businesses.
In a world where we want to automate everything, non-automation is great too. When you can connect to humans, you create amazing, memorable moments.
Visit www.aircall.io or our developer website, https://developer.aircall.io/. You can also follow us on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/aircall/) and on Twitter, @aircall (https://twitter.com/aircall).