Community//

Olivier Pailhes of Aircall: “Planning is irrelevant at early stages”

Voice remains the most powerful way to communicate with customers, prospects, job candidates, and colleagues. Especially with the global challenges of the last year, Aircall’s mission to seamlessly connect even the most distant teams with their customers and prospects has become essential. Aircall is redefining the calling experience to help people — in businesses of all sizes […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Voice remains the most powerful way to communicate with customers, prospects, job candidates, and colleagues. Especially with the global challenges of the last year, Aircall’s mission to seamlessly connect even the most distant teams with their customers and prospects has become essential. Aircall is redefining the calling experience to help people — in businesses of all sizes and across all industries — by designing a product that makes every call a delightful moment of human connection.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Olivier Pailhes, CEO and Co-founder of Aircall.

Olivier began his career at The Boston Consulting Group and ArcelorMittal. While working in large enterprises, he saw the opportunity to improve the way businesses connect with customers on the phone. That led him to jump into the start-up world to create Aircall. Olivier holds an MBA from HEC School of Management in Paris.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I began my career at The Boston Consulting Group as one of the experts of the European Telecommunications practice and ArcelorMittal. While working in large enterprises, I saw an opportunity to improve the way businesses connect with customers on the phone. Building better conversations between customers and employees is what helps make business successful, but outdated phone systems didn’t reflect the importance of each interaction. This is what led me to create Aircall. Aircall’s 100% cloud-based phone service helps thousands of diverse small to mid-sized businesses manage millions of customer support and/or sales calls every day. Built on a flexible and scalable API, Aircall’s solution replaces traditional phone systems with a collaborative, efficient platform.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once had the opportunity to participate in an arbitrage court in Lausanne, Switzerland, related to a multi-billion dollar energy contract. I remember these few weeks playing out like a TV drama — unexpected witnesses, new arguments presented daily, each party eager to win. I saw how manipulation can beat truth, and sometimes a struggle has to be approached with careful logic, like a chess game. It was intense, but an interesting experience — for me at least!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You only fail when you stop trying. This proved very relevant during Aircall’s early days. In the first 18 months, we experienced a lack of money, poor traction, tech problems, and employee abandonment. I asked myself several times, “Is there even a little flame of hope?” There was, and that motivated us to keep trying and moving forward.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Thibaud Elziere has helped me a great deal — especially in my Aircall story. Thibaud has a unique ability to see the world as he wants it to be: more positively. In our toughest, most desperate moments, he would look me in the eyes and say in a confident tone, “This is just a hiccup and will soon be forgotten.” Anecdotally, he pushed me to incorporate Aircall on day-1 in the US instead of France, saying, “Our NYSE IPO is inevitable — let’s not waste time starting with a French company.”

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I see Aircall as my most important tool for large contributions to the world. It provides me a much greater lever to effect change than personal initiatives, although those are valuable too.

As we grow and enjoy success, I try to always balance Aircall’s economic and financial interests with the goal to create a workplace where people can thrive, and where Aircallees and Aircall can, in turn, give back to less privileged people and communities.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Voice remains the most powerful way to communicate with customers, prospects, job candidates, and colleagues. Especially with the global challenges of the last year, Aircall’s mission to seamlessly connect even the most distant teams with their customers and prospects has become essential. Aircall is redefining the calling experience to help people — in businesses of all sizes and across all industries — by designing a product that makes every call a delightful moment of human connection.

How do you think this might change the world?

Gartner showed in a recent survey that nearly three in four CFOs plan to shift at least part of their workforce to permanent-remote positions. The market need for a productivity and efficiency enhancing voice solution will only grow.

Sales and customer support are integral to just about every business operation, and both of these teams depend on a seamless phone experience. This critical need for more efficient, more empathetic conversations — with customers, prospects, candidates, or colleagues — is the challenge Aircall is addressing. We’re enriching business conversations with a phone system that delivers relevant data and insights directly into the operator’s view. In doing so, Aircall is pushing the cloud communication industry forward, shifting often unpleasant or unproductive business conversations into memorable, successful moments.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

With regards to business communication in general: It’s becoming increasingly easy to replicate human interaction, substituting real humans with automation. If companies rely too much on these technologies, I think it could cause people to become more self-centric (because that’s what they most easily know is “real”). We, as entrepreneurs in this industry, need to keep a check on ourselves, and place person-to-person interactions above efficiency when appropriate.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Google’s demo of an AI scheduling appointments with a hairdresser (and the ethical discussion that followed about whether the real-people in these instances should’ve known) made me realize how close we are to removing the distinguishing lines between human and machine.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

With so many providers offering all-in-one communication solutions, Aircall is breaking through by building a uniquely innovative and flexible product that can be seamlessly integrated with just about any other office software. In doing so, we’re empowering companies to create a personalized and authentic communication experience for both their employees and their customers.

In order to create widespread adoption of Aircall’s approach and technology, prospects need to reacquaint themselves with the concept of the traditional phone call. We want them to see that voice remains the most powerful way to build a human connection and communicate with customers and colleagues. Implementing a best-in-class phone should be the first piece in the digital communication puzzle. Additional features such as video, SMS, and other apps can be integrated as needed.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

Remote environments will likely persist long past the pandemic. With leading companies, like Spotify, announcing permanent “work from anywhere” policies, distributed teams are the way of the future. This will reinforce the need for long-term, sustainable virtual collaboration tools that’s arisen over the last year.

A cloud-based phone system like Aircall is essential to managing these remote teams, helping them stay connected and seamlessly work together from anywhere. Aircall automatically syncs call activities to CRM tools or Helpdesk software — keeping that information accessible to team members across geographies. Also, collaboration focused features let team members transfer or assign calls with greater context, which results in faster resolutions.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. SaaS takes much longer than you think. When I started Aircall, I gave myself an 18-month timeframe to “get somewhere.” Eighteen months later, I was still at square one, but I had learned enough to unlock the first steps of growth.
  2. Planning is irrelevant at early stages. As an ex-consultant, I started by building a weekly roadmap for Aircall and tracking progress. When our plans went sideways, I created “Roadmap v2.” Then v3, and v4. Finally, I understood: follow your growth, do what matters most, right now.
  3. Spend more time on the team than product or customers. When we finally formed the right founding team at Aircall, then — and only then — did we begin to see success. The product and customers seem more tangible at first, but a founder needs to pay special attention to the strengths and shortcomings of the core employees. You need the right mix of ingredients to create the mayonnaise.
  4. Be very careful about the first feature set you build and scale, because you might not have another one for a long time. Once we’d created a baseline feature set within Aircall, we started to see rapid growth. This urged us to immediately start closing and serving these customers. Five years later, however, we realized adding functionalities — with these customers actively using our product — is 10x harder than if we had added them in the first place.
  5. Embrace both your strengths and weaknesses. A company is never a single person — this became very apparent after raising multiple rounds of funding. I thought, as the CEO, I needed to be everywhere and do everything myself. This isn’t feasible, especially after the early days. You can — and should — leverage the people around you to showcase their strengths. In my case, a strong group of co-founders and leadership personnel were able to step up and present the case for Aircall much better than I would have been able to!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I see education as the single most important lever of all. It helps people achieve more, and in turn, enables them to help other people achieve more, which in turn helps even more people achieve more, etc. Over a long period of time, the compounding effect is massive. I would — and will after my Aircall story — dedicate my time to promoting education.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

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 Twitter, @aircall (https://twitter.com/aircall)

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    Gianna Scorsone of Aircall: “Create strong processes”

    by Charlie Katz
    Community//

    Amr Ibrahim of Ultatel: “Learn to embrace your mistakes early”

    by David Liu
    Community//

    Rajeev Shah of Celona: “My heart has always been tied up with children’s education”

    by David Liu
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.