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Network AF, Episode 4: Untangling business in the ISP industry with Elliot Noss

Director of Communications

Elliot Noss

Today on the episode 4 of the Network AF podcast, host Avi Freedman welcomes his longtime friend Elliot Noss. For 25 years, Elliot has been the CEO of Tucows, the internet services company with the second-largest domain registrar in the world.

Elliot is considered an outlier in the ISP industry, largely due to his transparency and for the stellar customer experiences he encourages through Tucows. On the podcast, he and Avi discuss:

  • Life in the domain-name space and beyond
  • How to provide exceptional customer service
  • The culture of passionate people at Tucows

Elliot’s start in the space

Elliot says he’s always been a businessperson first and a geek second. At university, he would allow himself to take a “fun” course once per semester. One year that involved computer programming, where he says he spent a lot of time filling out punch cards with a pencil and putting them into a card reader.

While working in Toronto, he joined the ISP Infonautics, and he couldn’t believe they owned the TUCOWS domain name. That is, “The Ultimate Collection of Winsock Software,” something Elliot calls an “anachronistic acronym.” The company understood the importance of software downloads as a primary lead, and they bought the website from Scott Swedorski. However, they didn’t have anyone running it. When Elliot asked about it, building the business became his job. Eventually, Infonautics would rebrand as Tucows with Elliot as its figurehead.

Elliot has seen the entire computing and networking industry change during his 25 years at Tucows, including how people connect. Since the shareware days, the company has become expert providers in domain names, network solutions, fiber internet service, mobile virtual network operations and SaaS. This growth stems from its origins in inbound marketing and, as Elliot says, being smart enough to take people’s money when they wanted to advertise casinos and software. It was the best place in the world to advertise your shareware. Now Tucows has grown into a network of services, including Ting, Hover, OpenSRS, Enom, Epag and Ascio. Avi and Elliot discuss that growth in-depth.

Providing exceptional customer experience

Elliot says a foundation of Tucows’ growth and evolution is partly due to its emphasis on excellent customer support. Inspired by the customer-first ethos from dial-up ISPs back in the 90s, he adopted a stance to avoid what he calls the industry’s “dirty secret.” That is, half of support calls are billing-related.

To avoid that for Tucows, Elliot has always aimed to make the company’s services simple, reasonably priced and make billing as easy as possible. In turn, this significantly helps customers have a better experience, he says.

Cybercrime and the internet as entertainment

Since the second he interacted with it in the late 80s, Elliot has loved the digital world. In his words, he has “always felt like he owed a debt to the internet” for what it’s brought him.

As a result, he says he wants to fix some of the low-hanging fruit that makes the internet a dangerous place. He talks with Avi about some cybercrimes involving phishing, farming and spam, particularly being solvable at the DNS level.

By solving this, Elliot hopes it might inspire people to tackle bigger and broader problems. He states the only reason we haven’t yet begun to see these changes is because “big telecom and big media” have traditionally only seen the internet for its ability to deliver entertainment, and not its utility and infrastructure value.

The culture of Tucows

Tucows has a ton of great employee reviews on Glassdoor that highlight the company’s impressive culture. Avi asks Elliot about it and what Tucows does to make people happy.

Elliot says culture is always in the little things: “It is the things you do when no one is looking, and it’s amazing that people complicate it beyond the golden rule. There are those for whom we will be the best work experience they will have in their life.”

Elliot says Tucows isn’t really for people who are only money driven, status-driven, or for those looking to be upwardly mobile in their titles changing all the time. At Tucows, people sometimes sit at the same job titles for eight or 10 years. The job responsibilities and scope increase every year, but the title stays the same.

He also always asks, “Do you love the internet?” It’s the kind of filter and prerequisite they’re looking for at Tucows. He adds that great people who are happy are necessary for great success.

Elliot’s parting advice

Elliot’s career advice for his younger self includes two things he tells his children. The first being to “make sure you do what you love.” He says in today’s hyper-connected world, you’re competing with everyone, everywhere. “If you don’t love what you do, you won’t work hard. And if you don’t work hard, you won’t succeed. Full stop.”

The second offering of knowledge comes from a story his daughter hates about her first real job and not wanting people to dislike her. Elliot says, “This is really simple. If you make the people who you work with… if you make their jobs easier, they’re going to like you no matter how big of an expletive you are. If you make their jobs harder, they’re going to dislike you no matter how kind and sweet you are. Real simple.”

You can find Elliot on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Watch the full episode here… Or follow us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify so you never miss an episode!

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