Dmitry Odintsov On Building A Video Conferencing Software [100K+ Customers]

February 9, 2022 Source

Dmitry Odintsov On Building A Video Conferencing Software [100K+ Customers] 1

My name is Dmitry Odintsov and I am Chief Executive Officer at TrueConf, the leading European developer of the security-focused video conferencing software and hardware solutions designed to empower remote workflows and keep geographically dispersed teams connected across multiple devices.

Our flagship product, TrueConf Server, is an on-premises unified communications system that operates reliably in private networks and provides businesses with a wide range of virtual collaboration tools, including go-to apps for video conferencing and team messaging. TrueConf Server seamlessly integrates with intra-corporate IT services and standards-based endpoints, acting as a UC hub for a variety of use cases.

We’ve carried out thousands of successful deployments for medical, government, educational, financial, and other industry verticals. Our main customers are privacy-conscious users who don’t want their personal information to be processed on third-party servers and stored in the cloud prone to data breaches, as well as organizations that are prohibited by the local law from storing confidential data on remote media or those dealing with the classified information exchange. This is why enterprises, military institutions, and governments of dozens of countries around the globe leverage TrueConf video conferencing products for their daily workflows.

Back in 2010, TrueConf was designed in response to increasing users’ requests for a safe solution that provides a high-quality video conferencing experience and helps remote teammates stay engaged and connected. During the pandemic, the growing demand for secure teleworking tools made us the only alternative to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other cloud-based vendors on the on-premises market.

It is the strong cybersecurity focus that makes TrueConf different from the competitors. Our solutions not only facilitate remote workflows from any location and device but also ensure high privacy of personally identifiable information, which is crucial in GDPR-compliant realities. TrueConf is recognized by world-renowned analytical agencies, such as Gartner and IDS, which indicates that we’re moving along the right roadmap.

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What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started my career as an IT specialist. Then I felt that my soul gravitated towards business and decided to develop professional skills by obtaining “Project Management” degree at the International Management Academy in Bad Harzburg, Germany.

I’ve always been passionate about video conferencing and connecting people. Therefore, in 2008, I started my career at TrueConf as Sales Director, leveraging the company’s presence in the global digital market. From 2015 to 2019, I served as Chief Business Development Officer, expanding TrueConf’s global partnership network and promoting our video conferencing solutions in the Middle East, Latin America, and APAC. Then I was appointed as Chief Executive Officer at TrueConf, and hold this position to date.

In 2004, а team of enthusiasts got together and started working on custom development of video signal processing systems and video codecs, gaining experience in organizing video calls and transmitting signals over the network. In those days, video conferencing wasn’t so developed, and we realized that this avenue could be promising and decided to pursue it. In 2010, we launched a startup completely built on our technologies to enable businesses to control all intra-corporate communications.

At that time, cloud software solutions weren’t so popular, so we initially focused on creating our server software that would allow organizations to deploy a fully-featured video conferencing system within their network. TrueConf developments became so popular because remote meeting platforms available at that time had several disadvantages that we were able to successfully solve:

  1. We promoted a software-based approach, without implementing high-priced hardware. Instead of using multiple legacy video conferencing endpoints, we gave users the ability to install just one program for video communication.
  2. We made video conferencing available to organizations with any budget by choosing an intelligent scaling architecture that halved system requirements for the infrastructure. There was no longer a need to buy expensive MCU servers to connect all company employees to a group meeting because TrueConf platform could be deployed on any PC.
  3. We gave users what was previously unavailable in meeting rooms — advanced team collaboration tools, e.g. team messaging, whiteboard, file sharing, and more. It became possible to hold large-scale virtual events that previously weren’t technologically feasible.

All these advances required large investments in R&D, TrueConf protocol, and app development since we used our proprietary technology. Thus, the right resource-intensive investment has allowed us to gain a large market share, which is why today TrueConf is the leader in Eastern Europe in terms of business video conferencing subscribers.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

10 years ago there were no established product practices yet, so we just talked a lot with customers, processed their feedback, and promptly enhanced our software. All deals were custom and each client got an individual product version, depending on the voiced needs. We’re still true to this principle, except that the scale has changed. This is why users have always noted the usability of TrueConf apps and acted as evangelists to accelerate decision-making when closing deals.

Our MVP is providing people with the opportunity to hold video conferences at a low cost. At that time, few companies could afford to implement MCU and meeting rooms for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so many leveraged rented premises. And TrueConf enabled their employees to resolve remote issues without traffic jams and business trips, right from their workplaces. The demand was huge!

Initially, we made TrueConf software free for 6 users and then increased their number to 12, which resulted in some viral effects. Word of mouth marketing played a key role and many SMBs came to us to deploy video conferencing for free. Currently, more than half a million companies around the world use our free solutions and gradually switch to a paid license, which is encouraging.

The early days:
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Describe the process of launching the business.

It’s no secret that the first years of launching TrueConf startup weren’t easy, the team was small and limited in resources. We had to prioritize based on what the customer is willing to purchase. That is, our strategy was to prevent cash gaps and pay salaries consistently so that the business would stay afloat.

We gradually gained experience, and thanks to the launch of the free software version, the incoming lead flow increased and we were able to start investing in the prospect. TrueConf was the pioneer in introducing some advanced technologies in video communication, in particular, we showcased the first mobile video call back in 2010 on Android. Some of these shot up and became popular, but something didn’t work out. For example, TrueConf is still the only vendor that provides 4K video quality without any subscriptions and licensed equipment purchase.

Since 2013, there has been a more confident flow of leads and the market has been filled with many available peripherals. In general, video conferencing platforms were gaining popularity and people began to actively use them for both personal and business meetings. And then TrueConf’s ready-made solution was already at users’ disposal and provided them with high-quality communication and usability for solving any corporate needs.

We’ve had an internally developed website from the very beginning as we’re IT specialists and sell software products. Part of our marketing strategy is to enable users to download free software versions from anywhere in the world.

Screenshot of original website:

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We’ve been bootstrapping from the very beginning, and TrueConf still doesn’t have any loans or external investments. The only thing that has changed is that we started buying other companies.

One of the most important lessons that we’ve learned over the years is that the most valuable asset in every business is people, not technology or money.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I’d like to start by saying that any aspiring startup founder should follow the initial passion, take on challenges that may come with the business, and overcome fears of facing loss. Emotional investment is a kind of foundation for achieving success, as well as the support of your close ones and like-minded co-founders.

In today’s growing competition, it’s also crucial to identify the right market for the product or service promotion, pinpoint channels your ideal target audience prefers, and tailor a catchy brand message that will resonate with its representatives. If at startup’s early stages these steps aren’t taken, then your offering is unlikely to become a must-have and won’t fit the desired market niche.

It’s also essential to gain a deep understanding of your end-users needs via regular feedback collection and accept the truth no matter how hard it may be. Timely and rational reacting to the customers’ expectations, along with subsequent product adjustment to the testimonials obtained may guide your company to unforeseen opportunities and growth.

So experience and immense knowledge are the next building blocks that help aspiring founders accelerate and stay afloat. Furthermore, it is advisable to develop professional and social contacts, identify valuable benefactors, and enhance brand awareness by scaling business:

  • Horizontally, e.g. product upgrade, staff training, implementing sales scripts, customer service improvement, increasing the average check
  • Vertically, e.g. opening branches and developing a franchise network, product line extension, searching for new partnerships, and sources of revenue.

TrueConf is an active exhibitor at the world’s largest IT & AV tradeshows — ISE, GITEX, InfoComm — to find new leads and partners, expand distribution, and enhance relationships with customers and end-users. In addition, we regularly hold offline conferences and training in the largest cities of Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan that bring the company real profits.

TrueConf, together with partners, hosts the largest industry-focused conference on video communications in Eastern Europe, our local InfoComm, which attracts hundreds of visitors annually. And during the coronavirus pandemic, TrueConf has benefited a lot from relying on internet marketing, because our many years of hard work paid off and people found us easily.

We speak the customer’s language and try to create a consistent funnel so that everything is localized and flawlessly perceived. Therefore, our team creates new engaging landing pages, redesigns the product website, produces useful video tutorials, and publishes guidelines. And recently, we’ve launched Spanish and Portuguese website versions to boost our presence in Latin America and Brazilian markets.

We also run an active user community where evangelists of TrueConf products give prompt advice and suggest problem solutions to less experienced users, as well as produce video content for YouTube channels and communicate directly with popular bloggers and journalists to increase brand awareness and promote offerings online.

The thing that turned out to be almost useless is participation in virtual tradeshows. Even though we’re evangelists of teleworking and video conferencing, unfortunately, virtual presence cannot convey those feelings of in-person communication. It’s impossible to showcase the full potential of your technological developments, let people test them in practice — in general, there’s not enough lively atmosphere.

We implement special engagement mechanics to perform customer segmentation, share relevant content, and drive leads through the sales funnel. With digital marketing tools, we measure the action and perception of potential buyers to adjust our sales activities accordingly. Remarketing ads help us re-engage with potential customers and reach prospects who have previously visited our websites.

TrueConf website visitors who share their contact details receive personalized email campaigns, and those who downloaded our products receive a free adoption course. Additionally, we form automated follow-up chains and catch up with customers by mailings. And here are some examples of our recent PRs:
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How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Within 3 years, TrueConf has managed to double its revenue. Since we sell software, we have a very large gross margin, but very high R&D costs. In general, this is the specificity of any IT company. Naturally, our business cannot exist without investments in marketing, advertising, and other promotion activities, but these figures are for internal use, I can only say that they’re significant.

When it comes to customer lifetime value, we implement a classic shareware model. Customers usually pay a lot for the first license version and then purchase technical support packages. Only when a major update or upgrade is released, we sell them an improved product version — we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars per customer as TrueConf offering is corporate. We don’t have monthly subscriptions or minute tariffs, the license is bought forever, and then it’s simply renewed.

Our distribution is mainly carried out through TrueConf website since we sell software solutions. Additionally, we sell through the established partner network in many countries around the globe. Our partners not only facilitate sales but also add value to TrueConf solutions and help our team with complicated system integration projects.

At first, we had a plan just to stay afloat, and when the company reached an annual stable income, the course changed to take over the global digital market. And our team strives for this.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We strived to make a top-notch video, and for many people, the pure sound turned out to be crucial. For the senior management of enterprises, this moment became decisive to keep large distributed teams under remote control. For some reason, it always seemed to us that good resolution is more important than high-quality audio transmission, but in practice, it turned out the other way around.

When TrueConf first launched, we decided to sell webcams and headsets along with the software. We applied these kits to licenses and the demand was very high. I remember once I floated in a huge office room, piled up to the ceiling with boxes of AV equipment.

Due to the pandemic, people have changed their lifestyles by starting to work remotely or in a hybrid format. At the same time, the demand for safe video meeting software has increased significantly, because users of such platforms have increasingly heard about cybersecurity breaches, confidential data leakage, and theft of personal accounts, e.g. Zoombombing.

Against this background, we discovered a large niche in the digital market for secure on-premises unified communications systems, which made TrueConf highly competitive against cloud-based rivals. The number of our enterprise-grade customers has skyrocketed and we continue to confidently follow the roadmap for expanding our presence in the global market.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

TrueConf sales team leverages our fully-featured CRM system to track, manage, and push leads through the funnel. We also implement automated nurture campaigns to keep in touch with clients at the right time of their customer journey. Our main tool for email marketing activities is Mailchimp platform.

For intra-corporate communications and collaboration, we use our own video conferencing and team messaging software, which helps to test the product in the field and constantly improve its usability.
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What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I believe that the number of books read and podcasts listened to doesn’t correlate with the success of your business. It is much more effective to listen to people and delve into their needs, to be open to fresh views on your activities.

“Being proud but alone with difficulties that cannot be untangled will not lead your startup to success.”

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

A well-defined business plan can turn your idea into a successful startup, but for some reason, many aspiring entrepreneurs overlook this, get stuck, and give up. Therefore, it’s very important to sit down and work through all the planning stages of your project development, from the global strategy to smaller tactical ones, and determine the concept and uniqueness of your offering, as well as weaknesses that can be worked out at the operational level to set your future business up for success. And try to prepare yourself both mentally and practically for anything that could go wrong and how you would deal with challenges that may arise.

Be prepared for heavy financial costs, which may frighten you at first, but it’s inevitable at the start. Along with this, you should be very careful about every dollar you spend and avoid the frills while your business picks up steam because its survival depends on effective cash flow management. Getting into even small debts can quietly pull you into a quagmire from which you cannot get out.

Most importantly, take criticism constructively and don’t try to prove it right — be open to new opinions and suggestions! Other people think differently, so they can give you a fresh perspective on your product. Whenever you feel insecure, don’t be afraid to ask for help from more experienced professionals in your field. Being proud but alone with difficulties that cannot be untangled will not lead your startup to success. And even if you nail down the perfect niche, don’t be static and strive to develop and expand your horizons. The market and consumer preferences tend to change, so try to keep your nose to the wind so that one day you’ll not be blown away.

Where can we go to learn more?

Published on 08.02.2022 by Starter Story
Categories Social Connection