Kentik - Network Observability
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Network AF  |  Season 1 - Episode 4  |  October 26, 2021

Untangling business in the ISP industry with Elliot Noss

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On today's episode of the Network AF podcast, Avi welcomes Elliot Noss, President, and CEO of Tucows. Elliot has a love and passion for the internet that started the moment he was introduced to it. This passion comes through as he discusses his goals in networking and the positive change he wants to make in solving cybercrime issues at the DNS level. Not only is Elliot an expert in networking, but also a great leader. He shares insight into the importance of providing exceptional customer support and how it starts with building a culture around passionate people at Tucows. Listen now!


Hi, and welcome to network a f. In this episode, I talked with my friend Elliot Noss, CEO of two cows, someone with a business background who came into the ISP industry, and then has been for over twenty years at two cows. Has done some revolutionary early CDNish work, really shook up the domain name space, started a a mobile virtual network operator in MBNO, and is now in twenty twenty, he's getting into and expanding the ISP business.

We'll talk about that, a little bit about life and culture and companies.

So please join us and watch the episode.

Hi, and welcome to network a f. I'm here with my friend of a few decades, Elliot Noss, CEO of Two cows, Elliot. Could you give a quick personal and professional intro?


First of all, nice to see you. Good to see you. Second of all, you know, I've been, at two cows, you know, kinda running two cows, for now I'm in my twenty fifth year.

Prior to that, a couple of few years in the ISP business. And, from my perspective, whatever happened before the first browser launched really doesn't matter.

You know, we've been in a number of businesses over that time. You know, you've seen them all, and we'll talk about them. But you know, all of that has really had me kind of deeply inside of, you know, the ISP space, specifically, therefore, the networking space in general?

No. Absolutely. And, I really applaud. It's pretty amazing doing that in in public as a public company.

You know, is, is interesting. But you've always been pretty open, you know, about about what's going on, which I really appreciate.

So two cows, the name. Yes. Are you a with a founder's cow herders? Or or no. It was was a, it was the ultimate collection of WindSock software.

It's a, I like to call it an anachronistic acronym.

It was actually this isn't talked about. It's not you know, it was originally Oocows, but somebody was smart enough to add the two, so a brand. Okay. You know, that was the original formulation kind of in the room.

Just ultimate collection of Winsox off brand then. Yeah. Well, he smartly added it to you. Oh, interesting.

And so for those youths in the audience.

Do not remember, operating systems didn't used to come with TCP IP stacks.

So we actually at my ISP, as you said, like, when I started Net Access in nineteen ninety two, no one thought that everyone would have IP addresses at home. Course, now sometimes there's that. Right? But, you know, we gave a, a, a, a slip disc with Trump at WindSock, which I think we licensed and and Mosaic.

And that was what got people on the net. And then and of course, Udura some people called it Endura when they called up for tech support and all that. So, you know, we had a brisk business in creating ISP starter discs. Oh, yeah.

Spelling physical ISP starter discs, you know, that we burn and send out. Yeah. No. Absolutely.

We did. Yeah. We did it just for ourselves. Yep. So how did you how did you get connected with two cows?

I was in the ISP space in Toronto, in one of the very early competitors. And two cows the regional website was owned by an ISP. So, the largest ISP at the time in Toronto, they well understood the importance of, software downloads as a, you know, sort of a primary kind of need of all the very early geeks who were buying accounts from them.

And they, you know, they were just smart enough to basically buy the website from the, you know, the guy who originally put it together with a librarian in the Flint, Michigan, a system.

So, you know, I came in.

They hired me from the ISP that I was at, and I couldn't believe that they owned this website. In fact, I said to them, oh, you know, you you you I see, you know, what is this what is the two cows thing that you have? Like, are you the Canadian mirror?

Right. And they said, no. We own it, and I couldn't believe it. Now that may sound strange to anybody know, kind of outside of ninety five, six, seven, eight.

Right. You know, back then, that was a remarkable piece of of internet landscape. And so they just let me build the business because nobody else was really doing anything with it. Well, ISP nerds not always passionate about software unless you gotta come from the VBS days and downloading and kermit and Xmodem and and all.

It's funny because in the later mid ninety six ninety seven, I don't know if you ever ran into Andrew Coo. But, I I was in he brought me to Australia and we were doing satellite bandwidth augmentation, but we called it we jokingly, we put squid caches in, and we called it the social engineering caching protocol where they would look at what objects were in the cache and email their users saying interesting content. So that people could keep the traffic locally back when back when bandwidth was somewhat more expensive than two cents per megabit per second. Well, in Australia was, of course, a unique case.

We were huge in Australia. For exactly, you you described. I mean, you know, imagine when you were when you were downloading, you you glossed over it, but if you were Australian and you were downloading something from cheaper to FedEx a hard disk. Right.

It was a hard distance to download anything, from off the general Internet. So anything you could cash was huge. Yeah. And I mean, it was true really everywhere, but North America in the beginning.

Yeah. Yeah. So well, and the business model for that was advertising Who was advertising? Yeah.

We so we partnered there. We became one of the two or three biggest in the world with download dot com, by partnering with ISPs all over the world. It was over a thousand ISPs in over a hundred countries kind of at peak.

And, you know, it was advertising, but, I mean, this is very early days of advertising. So this was inbound. You know, it started with, all of the casinos.

So they just came to you directly. You were one of them. Yeah. They were, you know, can we advertise and somebody was smart enough to take their money and then that you know, kind of evolved into all kinds of things.

We probably had a performance based marketing, piece with Winzip for for for years and years and years. I mean, so, if you wanted to get your trialware shareware out there, you know, we were one of the two or three best places to advertise in the world. So Awesome. So I was at Ocamai for ten years, and often when people are saying talking about the first CDN, where I point out actually Sand Piper was was a real was a real CDN.

It just wasn't as as fast as Akamai and then digital ocean. But I actually think of two counts as in some ways, the first CDN, do you agree disagree.

So it was, that was the way it was described to me. So I didn't think about it natively like that. Your and I know it's even smarter, but networking than I am.

I got the utility of caching, but it didn't see the bigger picture there. Yossi Vardi who was an old brand because we distributed, you know, we were the original distribution point for ICQ.

He he deals with the head and face with that. You know, as you guys at Akamai would, would would, you know, we're just blowing it out, in the public markets. You know, he was he was he was pounding me with my failures for being first, but not taking advantage of it. And and I don't know if you remember, but, you know, I I remember definitely, us, meeting at ISP con.

Well, before Akamai, you know, I still tell people now that I'm back in the ISP space, I still tell people about the original my ISP sucks last t shirt when I'm trying to, help them, you know, help newcomers understand the industry. So Yes. You you'd be happy to know that that's that that history is being proper. Thank you very much, Elliot.

I I I what, particularly in the ISP space, the reason that I think that is still so deeply apt and, you know, we could talk about held companies and work. But in in in this context is that ISPs today the the ISP service today overwhelmingly.

Over ninety percent of the accounts in the US are being provided, but people who are not ISP people.

They are not they are telecom people or they're cable people or they're copper people. They are not ISP people. And there's just a different head space and mode You know, I think the the reason that dial up ISPs's independent ones dominated over telecoms is because they rightly put the customer first and there's just this this this this ethos and this essence in it that just doesn't exist in the industry, except when it's old ISP people.

Too disconnected from. I mean, it's interesting because if you look at the network as a service companies or the interconnection as a service, there are people the did interconnection management. They were more more recently fewer levels of in direction.

The customer which is sort of why I started Kintech because I was like, wow. When I left Ocamai, the networking sock, I had to build my own. And people are like, oh, yeah. I mean, you know, sort of we did that. So so come back to networking where I guess a little diversion, domain names. I wanna thank you for Open SRS.

And, actually, I had a lot of nerd friends that were, like, suddenly starting little businesses doing domain registry.

And and and, like, how did that how did that happen? And why why did you decide to, like, go for high margin high high volume low margin and not milk the market at a time of, you know, huge explosion.



So there there there's there's a couple things in there.

How we came to it, you know, people's today just don't have a good sense of history where around, you know, prior to two thousand, there wasn't a web hosting industry. Web hosting was provided by ISPs because there was this vibrant world of ISPs. There were kind of the nuclear events of ninety nine two thousand two thousand and one. The switch from dial up to, now Jerry are buying everybody.

Cable and DSL. No. Even before people buying everybody. Okay. It was really once it went to DSL and cable, it wasn't freely competitive anymore. There wasn't that sort of regulated, you know, dry copper you could buy or the just the the, you know, the the copper phone lines that we could all buy to plug in some bottoms.

And so, all of those ISPs essentially got crushed, went one of three places out of business, into the very corners of the world where you still see the wisps of today. Mhmm. Or they became web hosting companies. Because they could go to the other side of the pipe, which wasn't regulated, didn't require the same amount of time. So all of that's to say, we were the largest vendor of domain names, the largest reseller of network solutions.

People also won't remember that you used to buy a domain name or the introduction of competition, that meant, faxing and mailing things to network solutions.

So as competition was coming, this is now pretty much with the millennium, January two thousand, was kind of our launch.

You know, we knew that it was ISPs and web hosting companies that were the people who actually sold domain names. It wasn't this artificial construct called registrar. So our view was and, you know, our view was just to facilitate all these people just basically instantiate the business processes that we wanted, you know, as key sellers of those domain names Right. For everybody else. So it was, like, you know, that thought was really simple. And then in terms of price, you know, we just, we went out and we said, well, this is a commodity that is completely competitive.

It's naturally gonna get priced down to a very low margin. We watched people coming out. We were a little bit longer because we didn't have to just stick up a website. We were doing wholesale. So we had to, you know, set up APIs. It was a bit more complex.

And, you know, we kept seeing com people come out at the same thirty five dollars, thirty five dollars. We couldn't believe it. I mean, I remember a phone call where I'm, like, you know, are we crazy or are they crazy? You know, and so we came out at ten dollars.

It took six months for that price to go to eight, like, for us to be undercut. Right. So, you know, and today, that's obviously very, very thin margin business. So it was just kind of the the it was just kind of looking at the market and seeing, obviously, where it was.

Ironically, you know, we we priced it at ten dollars, but eight if you were a two cows mirror because Right. It was still the case when we launched that that business was the bigger business. We were still three, four months away from the dot com bust, and we were trying to feed the, you know, the other engine. Well, and take the ad take the ad revenue.


Yeah. So, you know, that's that's, and that business is still around, you know, twenty years later. It's we're the second largest in the world. We're by far the largest wholesaler.

You know, it's now no longer Well, it's now what I would call modern web hosting companies. So that's Shopify and Wix, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. You know, so you you you you see that version. What is amazing though is I bet you that some chunk, some portion, thirty, forty percent of you know, your friend from back then who started businesses, those businesses are still around.

Oh, yeah. Life of Internet companies is crazy. They may have peaked at a thousand company customers, and they might be sitting on just lashing checks on four hundred. Mhmm.

You know, now all these years later. So we have thousands of customers who are just these, you know, almost, you you know, the it's all it's almost like light from a distant star or something.

But there's still millions of domain names like that kicking around.

Yeah. No. It's and it's fascinating because I was gonna contest you know, the the crushing of the independent ISPs because I know a number of people that that really, they build a business. They made a couple hundred thousand a year. You know, net, and it's morphed, but they're still doing it. And it's got some posting, some consulting, and there are people like like, maybe me and my grandfather that maybe aren't as happy working for other people as they are working for themselves.

You know, they like making decisions and and, you know, a lot of them are ham operators or, you know, like, you get a lot of so we could talk about subtext of persona.

You know, I said web hosting. That could be web hosting. That could be IT services. You know, that could be a whole range.

Yeah. Well, and with, as you said, Patrol talking about. So Absolutely. And by the way, we're, you know, we're gonna see the the re emergence of that segment.

You know, Look, that's, you know, we're now doing it again at scale.

It doesn't change.

I mean, that's You know, we need to have humility.

People have a lot of patience if you have humility. If you have personnel, if you have That's right. If they feel that they know the people, And they're like, okay, I could wait, you know, my Facebook can wait for a minute.

But when there's not personal treatment, then people get really, really antsy. Really. I had a I had a carrier issue yesterday where I walked into the store from one store from another in a mall, and he's like, I showed him the phone, and he's like, Oh, okay. I'll I'll help you out.

You know, it's like, I'm sorry. It's like, hey, it's not you. It's not you. There's someone someone in the back room made the decision.

You're a nice, you know, nice nerd.

You you protested earlier, but being removed from it. I think you can take the boy out of the ISP, but you can't take the ISP out of the boy. You know, you're still a natural. You could you could pivot again, today. I could if I went well. In two thousand three, the ISP that bought the ISP that bought this, I'll tell This is a, it's a, you know, it's, like, the thing that ate the thing that ate the thing that ate the thing that happened. We talked about it at Passover, in the Jewish tradition.

You know, shut it finally shut down shell services. And in two thousand and eight, eighty people, like, Avi, you wanna start that access again? Shell, like, you know, for five dollars a month, you could have a VPS, and that's better. It's like, no.

No. No. No. No. It's better. It's curated. We can chat with each other. We can you know, it's your problem when e max sucks all the memory.

I'm like, no. No. No. E max is fast now. It's fine. It's fine. You know?

We're gonna bring up VIA now. I usually I. Actually, It's interesting because the network hipsters and the coding hipsters love Go and Python.

But Go and Python are not well tuned to my brain because I don't think white space should be syntax because of TCL, which means I don't like Python. And I don't think upper case should be scope because, like, the beautiful c is all lowercase. But back in the day as a thought space and turbo c, I used it was IDE, and I didn't mind. So I'm actually thinking maybe if I use an IDE, which, ironically, apparently, VS code comes from, you know, Visual Studio.

Then maybe I won't be typing all the syntax and maybe I I I will, like, be able to get with it. But all I can write is, you know, like, proof of running specification CEO code. So it doesn't really matter, you know. But we'll see.

I said q four, maybe, maybe, maybe in q four. So of it. So, yeah, reminds me of early in my ISP days because there was a while when I was the only ISP in Philly. Yep.

A competing ISP would come from the BBS. So his first ISP was PC board with dial out to a terminal server to get to the internet.

Said, Avi, it disturbs me that you're pricing at I think we were twenty or twelve fifty. I forget what we got to by that point. It's like, because he was it was funny exactly at thirty five. He's like, you need to raise your price to match mine while I reduced my price and crush him.

I'm like, so you're gonna, like, drive everyone out of business and be five dollars a month half the time and then then raise the price to fifty and then do it again. Like, I don't think that's the way the world is going. I have to applaud you. You're pressing it starting at lower because I think we went twenty, twelve fifty, and then ten.

So It's like so I I gotta tell you this is a thing now. Where, we sell, a gig, like a fiber gig for ninety bucks. A month. Right.

We have no, you know, my my problem is building networks and signing people and and connecting people, not signing people up. Right. And I'll say to investors, you know, look, we think long term there's downward pressure on price. Right.

And they'll they'll say to me, but but that's crazy. Why would that be the case?

You know, I've read every cable analyst report, which says they're gonna be able to raise the price by, you know, two to five percent a year for the next five years. Like, why would you not be able to as well?

And when I try and describe the inevitable sort of outcome of these markets, they just can't grok it. Like, they just feel like Cassandra.

I I well, what? Now Except it's not negative. You know? Yeah. It's old and crotchety.

It's I don't, you know, yeah, whatever. You know, I'm just gonna tell you what's gonna happen. I have the rule of three now. I'll explain it three times or ask three times or offer pay three times, and then I'm just like, okay.

My time, you know, I don't want to annoy people. Stay with everything. It's fine. Everyone can move on.

Have have Well, and in this case, the statement against interest, right? I mean, you know, obviously, investors would like it better if I would tell them we have pricing power and but but I do, you know, I still think we're going to see, you know, five years out when we have a settling in this market.

You will see, you know, because we're in the middle of a reformation. You know, we we can talk about it whenever you like.

You will see that price of Internet access start to come down. It's inevitable. Interesting.

Okay. Even with Do you think that's related to?

Not related to, you know, the disaggregation of content, you know, and and, you know, from access on that. Yeah. No. No. Not related to. Okay. It's it's one hundred percent of function of and, you know, we're jumping to, you know, or eight in the story that we can work back as you like, but just, you know, go to the end.

The end is a US And by the way, it's a different story in every country in the world, and I can tell that country story. I'll just, you know, with the one I'm telling now is the US story.

You know, you you you you you now have fiber everywhere. What you're gonna have is a fiber product that is superior to a coax product. You're gonna have a DSL product that won't matter. You're gonna have things around the edges in the in the remote places where there's no fire link. Like StarLink and with.

And in the vast majority of the country, I'd say a hundred and twenty of a hundred and forty million homes it will essentially be fiber, which will be a better service and coax, which will be an inferior service. The inferior service will have to charge less.

And so then what you'll have is, you know, people who are willing to pay a premium for fiber. Again, that premium is gonna be some number south of what they're paying today. Okay. And you'll have a coax product priced underneath that. You're up. And there'll be some new Stasis you know, in market share there. You're a dangerous person.

It's just inevitable to me.

There's gonna be, you know, I talked about a hundred and twenty million homes being built. Right. If we can build one million of them, I've done an amazing job. Well, I know.

My my wildest dreams are three, four million. Like, and and and and by the way, never before you know, as the CEO of a public company, do I talk about my hopes and dreams in the context of fiber? I do because the numbers are so big. Right?

You can do what you want with them. You know, here's my extremes.

Yeah. And there can be a lot of diverse successes, you know, making it happen, which is cool. Absolutely. So so we'll come back and then come forward. Networking.

How did you how did you see it find it, get interested?

Well, I think for me, you know, I've always been, a business person first and a geek second, you know, I would let myself take one fun course every year in university.

And in, you know, my first year, that was computer programming, which meant you know, filling out punch cards with a pencil and putting them into a card reader.

And and then you know, getting in the ISP space, you naturally just have to learn about networking. So I think it's it's deep osmosis where we are today, which is kind of interesting in this context, when we're trying to describe you know, some of the success we've had, you know, we we we describe it in terms of being multilingual.

You know, we can speak finance and speak ISP and networking and, you know, speak sort of culture and business and stuff. And it's really being able to understand natively, you know, each of those things that and and, therefore, the interrelationship you know, it's it's kind of like if you're not bilingual, you'll just lose something in the translation between the things. People don't I'm sure you've had great frustrations in your life with finance people who just didn't understand networking, for instance. Yeah.

It's it's, or at Akamai, you know, our CFO would would help torture, you know, help help because well, I mean, he had PHD in electrical engineering, did, you know, design video games and, you know, but it's interesting because Great. Sometimes people look at me weirdly when I when I say I business nerd or I finance nerd or that people don't think of that as like a nerding thing like software, but it sort of is. Right? When we hire people, we don't necessarily care that they're yet a nerd about the thing they're gonna work on, but if they can't nerd about something, you know, take a position, show that they're passionate, have paid attention to it.

And it's sort of like the XKCD diagram. Right? If you sit and wait for the received knowledge to come into your brain, it doesn't work. You need to be comfortable comfortable with confusion.

Like, I don't understand. I don't understand. I don't oh, And then the best is you teach because everyone else is confused. If you are confused, then probably the teaching needs to be better.

Oh, I love that.

One of the things that's most important to me when I'm, interviewing people is just to try and figure out what the thing they love is. And I think way too often people conflate what they're good at with what they love. And Yeah. It's you know, it's the the what they love is that thing that they're gonna do at the end of the day. You know, it's that thing they're gonna do on the weekend because it's just super interesting.

And and and and it's really it's the intersection between those two things and what needs to get done, you know, where the magic lies. And Yeah.

So I think that's exactly right. I I can't believe how fortunate I am that the things which I enjoy doing, you know, are are valuable.

You know, that's that's awesome. So so coming forward, So CDN that wasn't marketed as a CDN or monetized as CDN, domains, which came first, cell, you know, ting? Or okay. That's what I thought.

Yeah. So so that's not IP. I guess there's IP in there, but, like, So why don't you describe Ting and and I am curious. I haven't heard the whole origin story there.

I just Yeah. So that I mean, that's Ting Mobile, which is now a brand that's owned by Dish, and will likely come back at some point. Then there's Ting the ISP. So long term, Ting will be the ISP just, but but Ting Mobile when we launched it two thousand ten eleven.

You know, the the the this was just at its simplest, taking the things we were really good at in the domain name space So, you know, sort of there was great customer service. There was a great billing and provisioning platform.

There was a an understanding of the value of, these simplified business processes. And so we looked at, you know, it would but domains were too small. When I say too small, total addressable market that we could attack was tiny, and I needed growth.

So at the time, mobile phone service in the US was the single it is still the single largest technology market in the world.

ISP service in the US is number two.

Wow. I didn't. It should've been. Well, because people don't think about them as technology. Right?

Like, it's like they're in weird bucket of telecom, but it's all tech. And anyway, the, and and the net operating margins in that, you know, you wanna business there at a little. It were in the we're in the, like, industry wide. We're in the high forties.

Verizon was in the mid fifties.

So there were clearly excess economic profits. It was ridiculous. US Your margin is is my your margin is my business. Absolutely.

And and and and and you know, the all I did was I I, you know, I poked around and poked around until I could find somebody who could share with me what MVNO rates might look like. There were these things called MVNO's mobile virtual network operators who could buy capacity from the big telecoms.

At the time, we could easily sell or, you know, way more than we could buy. Uh-huh. Well, still being well under the market. And you had the provisioning technology that someone could be a fifteen or twenty dollar a month customer without and make money, you know, support.

I mean, the the most profitable accounts we had were the stick a phone in the drawer for somebody coming from out of town at six bucks a month. We just, you know, we we approached it as if we were customers. And we kinda redesigned the service from the ground up. And there was a dirty little secret.

There is a dirty little secret in telecom, which is over half of the customer service interactions are about billing.

So if you just have simple billing, like, you know, it's not like, DocS Earl's calls it the Confusatorium Right. To love, you know, it's you know, their business model was to screw you. It's mandated. Evening and weekends, calling circles, the way that roaming worked in market, out of market, in country, out of country.

You know, the limits on things. And then if you go over those limits, you get punitively smacked about the head and face. So you over buy your limits and just all of it. Right?

It was and and and, you know, we just eliminated all of that. And that was incredibly novel at the time and, you know, quite profitable. We made good margins and good dollars right from the start.

So did you have an eye towards King broader ISP, or was it What I would say is I always hung around the fiber crowd in the US. There was a lot of fellow travelers. It was really about time and place. What happened for us, you know, fiber's very expensive. Yes. You know, you need a lot of capital.

I two or three years after we launched Ting Mobile, it was the intersection between I now had two businesses generating a shit ton of cash and, you know, didn't require any capital.

And, the market was ripe enough in a lot of different ways that would start to to build fiber or start to do fiber. So we we didn't we bought a business in two thousand and fourteen. We partnered with a small city in Maryland in two thousand and fifteen, and we started building our first network in October of sixteen.

And it was just, you know, Avi, if you wanna, which you'll appreciate sort of the sort of the thinking and bets element of this, This was like, you know, we we had a set of core premises.

And if you ran the numbers, it was like, this is crazy profitable. I'm not sure it can really be this good.

And everybody else thinks we're crazy. Right. So you know what? That's a good combination.

I'll I'll push a few chips in the pot. Let me test my premises. Let me push a few more in. Let me test my premises further.

Okay. This looks good. You know, let's start to really push the money in. Well, it's funny because Google, I always viewed sort of you know, fiber and loon and stuff like that is is unfair.

Someone isn't able to, you know, click on our ads. Like, it's unfair. We must make it so everyone could click on her ads, but you're coming at it from a different perspective.

So is it? So it so it's it's not altruistic people need better. It's, it's that plus we can and you have the back end technology, which I probably would rather pull fingernails out than work on billing systems all the time. But yeah.

Yeah. So so it that's right. I mean, the the very first thing, the story I tell, You know, I walked into the first ISP I worked at. This is late ninety four, early ninety five.

I I come in the day starts with two women going to a filing cabinet. One starts at one end, one starts at the other end, and they're pulling contracts. And I said, what's going on with? What are you guys doing?

Oh, we we we go through all the customers. You know, I start at a. She starts at z. Oh my god.

Not to see when And we look. Right. Right. We wish to see, like, who whose day of the month is this, and then we build them.

So I'm like, this campus. So I wrote, you know, a piece of billing software. Thankfully that was, you know, rewritten by somebody else, you know, six or twelve months later. But but it's exactly that, you know.

You know, it's funny. I had it in the interstitial before Kintech when I was at Akamai, but, I was really thought we should do cloud, but they didn't want me to, but they didn't want me to leave. So I I bought I had a USNet company, which I I still dabble in USNet. So I bought a USNet company, and I'm looking for the billing system.

And I'm like, but I know that things are bill and it was all in windows, which is not my jam. And it turns out there was no billing system. It was recurring with PayPal and, and their credit card processor. And what hap what would happen is emails came in And the owner's former former owner's wife would go in and manually set the thing.

And so after a week, I'm like, wait. And I wrote a Prok Mail to, like, do the thing based on the interview. And she's, like, I have to go, like, kill my husband because I did this for eight years Oh. I, like, manually went through.

I looked at the emails and set the users because, you know, great programmers are lazy.

What's true is it's impossible to deliver a good customer experience, a good web experience, if you don't have, you know, sort of a a a solid back end billing and provisioning system, integrated with customer care, managing data in motion, you know, really, and the things you can do today with modern software, it's it's so I I think there's a whole revolution there. I talk about it as, you know, if we build, there's gonna be seventy million homes built in the US fiber in the next, five years. If we can build a million, we've done amazing. If we can build three million we fulfilled my dreams.

I wanna sell software to the other sixty seven million. Well, that was gonna be my question. I know you're a public company CEO. So you can't, you know, to be careful with projections. If you wave your magic wand for ten years from now, is that where you'd like to be? You'd like to have single high mid mid, high mid single digit millions and be fulfilling and and helping the growth of the rest.

I think that's fair. I think that, you know, I I I my, you know, first love will always be the ISP business. I think you know, I'll be, that business is still luckily anachronistic enough Yeah. But I'm pretty fresh and current. Yes.

Whereas, you know, when it comes to software, there are other it comes to software, when it comes to data, when it comes to a few other elements, you know, I I I keep myself well read, but I am not an expert by any stretch anymore. And you know, so there, I think, you you know, over time, I'll play a little bit less and less of a role. The other is more native to me. Interesting.

So, you you know, it's interesting. One of the things you just said.

If I could go back in time, I would have Bootstrap Kintech for probably another year.

And in the sauce SaaS business, software business, there's a move called product led growth.

Where where it's not just about shooting flaming balls of marketing money in the air. It's it's about being understandable So we have a learning center we're doing and and and even just the, you know, when you start and you have people wanting functionality, the billing support, you know, there's enough money in the venture market that if you get if you start getting high growth, you say, okay. Well, love some people do that. And with with with apologies to some of our own customer success people, now I will say I can't think it wasn't really user visible, but if I could go back and do it again, those foundational, how do we make it super simple because there's real understanding that that breeds virality, which is the cheapest kind.

It's exponential mark. Well, I guess you saw that with ping, but you know, the Verality. I mean, with Open SRS first. I I well, I shouldn't even say that with, I mean, with the software with the download business first.

Yeah. But with Open SRS, I mean, We went to an ISP con in November of nineteen ninety nine. You know, it was all about content and mirrors and software downloads. It was a little it at the edge of the booth.

You know, yeah, we're doing this domain name thing. Seven hundred signed contracts at the show. Wow. Like, you know, I mean, so, yes, that morality is, I mean, I I think I just suck as a marketer.

And so, you know, let me just try and grab a baton and get in front of the Verality parade. One of the things that I'm wrestling with in telecom, well, that we think we're gonna do no. Sorry. We're gonna do. We don't know if it's gonna be successful or not. Okay.

Is you know, we don't think anybody has ever built or sold to the Geeks in telecom. And you get inside of these big telecoms, and they've got some good Geeks. They really do. Absolutely. And and and, you know, but you're everything there is sold to the CIO.

So this is gonna be the first real effort of, you know, as you've described, doing that kind of, you know, really developer focused, you know, telecom developer focused platform. That's And Product led growth.

It is. It's Twilio. Ask your developer.

Right? It's it's Twilio. Exactly. It's Mongo. It's a million of them slack, but But the the the the the thing that I don't know is, you know, can developers kind of jump the blood brain barrier to the CIO actually because it's still the CIO who's got the budget. It's still the CIO who has to write the check, etcetera. So, you know, it'll be, it'll be interesting to see.

Yes. I will I will we'll have you on in a couple of years, and we'll we'll hear how it's going. Yeah. That that would be about right too. But we are thinking a ton about exactly that, you know, how to, build it for them Okay. Interesting.


So Open View Labs, Open View in Boston, and, actually, Georgian partners in Canada, write a lot about product led growth, and it's funny because they really are are more focused on bottoms up But I think that, for example, even if you have a complex enterprise sales process, reducing the number of SE meetings by making onboarding easy, gives business value. So traditional products like growth is more like start fifty dollars a month or or six dollars a month in your case, and then mine the big end as you grow. But a lot of those principles, I think, apply, and it's demystifying, it's understand.

And so I think You know, it's it's an interesting area. It's like, it can be talmudic when when you don't have to agree, but even the discussion is interesting. Yeah. Yeah.

You know, it's like, there's a I call him the Great Limcone. Jason Limpton is a is a VC and writes about SAS, and and was one of the first to help me realize, like, whether you're doing legal SAS, Toco Billing SaaS, network SaaS.

But he's very repetitive. But one of the things he's repetitive at is saying is CEO, as you know, you need to be repetitive and say the same thing. So even when I disagree with him, it's an interest it would be at. We don't talk, talk to a couple times.

Be an interesting discussion. Right? Always hire two salespeople because it would if you hire one for any role, you can't compare. You know, it's like, well, you can't always do that.

You know, how do you support VPs? Like, there's just lots of interesting conversation there.

I I I I feel now. Like, I've been, I I I can go and get a map somewhere. We should talk more. We should talk more. Yeah. I'm just wandering around in the wilderness.

Right. So you talk about you got into it through business.

I love the business side. Yeah. But my ADD kicks in when it comes to policy. What is policy fascinating?

Is that something you need to do? Like, what because, you know, politics and policy and That's a great question. So, you know, for me, I was an abject failure until I was in my mid thirties, and the internet, you know, came along. And I loved the online worlds from the second I touched it.

Which would have been kinda late eighties. Uh-huh.

And, you know, so I've always felt like I owed a debt to the internet. Let me say it like that.

It's also always been clear to me when I say that in the sense that, you know, it's always so easy to sort of to know what's gonna happen eventually, but, you know, I have no idea when. It's always more important. Engineering. Yeah.

Yeah. Like, to just, you know, that too many people are just, like, the great. I can tell you what's gonna happen in ten years. Now pay me some money.

No. You know, it doesn't work like that. And It's been it was clear to me from the onset that the effects of the internet were be would were to pull from national to global up and from national to local down. So it allowed you to do stuff at a local level that you could not, you know, you needed more scale for previously.

And that, I mean, You know, I'll sometimes you I've used a bunch of different, you know, kind of tag lines for this, but I have much more in common with a Iranian blogger than with a US or Canadian status.

And and so it's kind of who's your community, who's your tribe, And it's clear to me also that, you know, democracy is sclerotic at this point. And deeply ineffective. And so it's, you know, just the you you kinda combine all those things. And what you have is something else is coming.

Right? I I I, you know, I anybody who says they know what that is, you know, we're now on a, you know, on a decades kinda time scale. Mhmm.

But I feel like the stuff we're seeing, you know, I've spent a lot of time in I can, which is where most people who kinda connect me with quality, think about that. Know, and I've been around since the beginning. Again, just because we happen to be in the registrar space. It was regulated. But what it is is it is I I, you know, I use big lofty phrases. Like, it's a progenitor of global governance, you know, and and and by that, I mean, the countries of the world have, have have adorned ownership of a piece of of of policy you know, governing the single authoritarian, or, authoritative root, which is the one bit of centralization tiny kernel that everything else in the open internet is built on. And so I just think there's so much Like, I I I feel like, what, you know, we're in the middle ages democracy is inevitable, you know, or monarchy, the collapse of monarchy, and empire is inevitable.

And it's like, you know, I I I get to kind of be part of the very proto, very early, thinking, and and that's just so compelling intellectually. So Would it be accurate to say sort of the ability to be part of that and where it's going, helps aswaj the, short term, talking in circles and talking about how to talk about talking about talking about and committees as well. Look, I can't. I can't do that. I can't I know. I I my and my capacity over time has reduced. And I try and sit above it more and more and just log in bombs and, you know, really just try and sort of The disruptor.

Things. Yes. You know, in a slightly different direction or, you know, make a different kind of black hole or magnetic force.

You know, we'll be we'll be we'll be doing some stuff in a couple weeks around content. Like, I can give you a simple example of this. It's, you know, think of think of, I mean, you you have a deep appreciation of the fact that cybercrime today is just completely asymmetrical. Mhmm.

And it's asymmetrical primarily because you can't solve global problems using national frames. It it's just, you know, you can I I I can I can do a long version of that? I I I won't for time, but you know, it's the problem is these these national things framed. And so You know, we all know where the bad guys are so often.

I mean, I I I had to spend well over a decade, you know, sort of dealing with my frustration around somebody doing something terrible, knowing exactly who they are and where they were, you can't do anything about it. No. It's not legal to fight. It's not like legal I mean, you can't b g b b b g b hijacked back someone because then you'd be committing a crime.

Right. And so so all the frames are wrong. And so, you know, we're gonna try and do some stuff in the next little bit dealing with really easy low hanging fruit, fishing, farming, the when I say the worst elements of spam, but there's so many that are virulent. Right?

Your Avi, thank you. We've processed your norton antivirus. And it's and it's a cat and mouse game, and we can stop all of that at the level of the DNS. And and and so that's gonna become something, you know, that I'm gonna, Perfect.

Because spam house effectively does that. You know, with reputation and whatever. Just They don't they they do when you said it effectively, you used it in the sense of Oh, not globally, but they are effective by not being sort of, you know, by not being by being hard to sue. By saying it's not us, the ISPs choose to do what we, you know, to to use this.

They solve a piece of it, I guess. But inside of eye can, some of this stuff can be formalized, essentially. Interesting. Yeah. Interesting. And so and so, you know, that's gonna be but all of that is just an example of, okay, cool. Here's this really low hanging fruit problem.

Around cybercrime.

Now maybe if we could just solve it in this one place where I can be part of it, maybe that'll inspire other people to take on you know, bigger and broader and, you know, and, I mean, it's amazing to me.

Look, we still live in a world. Like, you know, let's talk about NSO. Yep. Right? We still live in a world where there are these parallel universes between statecraft and crime. Mhmm.

And and, you know, until we all recognize that just because a state does something that's criminal, that doesn't make it right.

I still do have to be thankful that the criminals don't wanna shit where they eat because the internet infrastructure itself is still very fragile. Yep. And so whether it's whether it's, you know, whoever it is at whatever level, you know, I'm glad they're not attacking the internet infrastructure because we're you know, because because there are ways to do that that we know, but don't wanna do. Well, and I would say that's true today.

Right? I could lay out a set of facts for you where some threat actors that might not be true for. Right. Okay.

And and and and and so You know, I think that that we've got to find a way to globally combat some of this stuff or, you know, every Well, we'll do shit. We'll do a a separate dedicated on this because I'm fascinated, but, I'll just say that, you know, I was on the Aaron AC Advisory. Counsel from when it first. Yep.

It became clear to me that I liked hanging out with my friends, and I applaud all my friends and and non friends that are on it.

Think that they the breaking point for me was when, like, people are deploying IP v six because it's too hard to get. It was, like, No. That's not the problem. And then Jim Fleming and IPV eight and jumping through ups, a wormhole and peering with uranus.

And I was just like, No. It's too much. I can't deal with this. And, you know, to see John Curran, you know, do so well, you know, as as super legal dude, but but, you know, and handle the patients.

And then I actually pulled to me was working with us at Akamai to do consulting and stuff. And he called me, you know, he's like, I'm gonna be they, you know, they're interested in, you know, CEO of I can. It's like, oh my god. I think I'd rather clean high rise windows with my tongue and no ropes or something.

I mean, I just I would my a again, my a d d. So I guess how hungry enough or patient enough? No. It's it's it's or altruistic enough and visionary enough.

Sadly, Again, like politics, which is the reason that democracy is so sporadic and ineffective right now. And that's the way, not me saying. So, therefore, you know, dictatorship at all. I I, you know, it's a longer discussion.

But there are certain people who, you know, can just engage in intellectual masturbation and the system rewards it, you know, or or engage in sort of the the levers of power for power. We'll be careful about politics, but I also think you wanna have some friction in the system.

Part of the problem in the US so I described this as it was like the fighting of the last war. Like, why is the US in generally speaking, globally, terrible shape. You know, two thousand and sixteen, China connected more homes to fiber. Than our homes in the US.

On the infrastructure side. Right. Yeah. And and and the reason is because the infrastructure that people were delivering internet on was cable.

So it felt like entertainment.

And then you had a whole swath of big companies, big telecom, big media, who wanted to see it as entertainment.

Right? That that was its primary purpose. And so it was not appreciated as infrastructure. The whole regulatory framework is that, which is amenable to entertainment, not heat, water, you know, power all the way over to human right Yeah.

Like like those things. You know? I I mean, I don't think you need to get to human right. Like, great.

You know, do I it's just What? You get into semantic ish, but but I do clearly think it's Right. Well, in the after times, right? In the before times, we could argue about it in the after times of COVID, or which hopefully we'll get to soon, but, or or after ish.

You know, it's critically it's clearly required. And if you don't have enough bandwidth to educate your children and do your work, you're gonna, you know, you're gonna have problems. So, And if you knew some of the data in the US, I mean, you may, but, you know, I would expect you don't. It's it's it's unbelievable.

And it's it's the intersection of a whole bunch of historical problems that, you know, if there's one thing at a policy level on that side of the business that I am desperately hoping for is as much money as possible to go to subsidy and as little money as possible. Not like like just if you've got, you know, this is your ball. How should the ball be split? There's hundreds of millions, I think, as part of this or or Well, there's there's it's still a small percentage of the total. Right. And and and what people don't get is you build a network for one or two years. You operate it for a hundred.

And and so, and in in in one case, you're subsidizing companies and then the other you're subsidizing people.

And and it's just, you know Oh, I see. So sort of, like, although I could think the counter, like, the what was it called? The ISP Subsidy, the the educational subsidy?

I think it launched in the nineties. There was rate.

Yeah. E rate. E rate.

That was that was also subsidizing the buy side, not the sell side. And but in aggregate, effectively, we're subsidizing the sell side. A little bit of choice. But it was I would say that's true about E rate.

And I don't question. Look, I will get higher penetration rates to hire that subsidy. There's no question. But but the reason that I'll get higher penetration rates is because somebody won't have to rely on this for their home internet access.

Mhmm. And and this won't be the screen that they consume it on. Right. And it won't be the bandwidth limitations they experience.

Got it. So, like, I yes. That is true, but it's kind of a second or even a third order effect.

You know, there's just there's just you know, such a a problem to address on on a number of levels. But, you know, what? All the momentum now is so positive and so inevitable. No. It's it's encouraging.

Yeah. So I think we have a lot to talk about on a second show at some point. But I'll end with a couple questions. Yes.

High level answer to this one, because I'm sure this is very deep. I was really impressed when I went to the website, which I hadn't been to for a while, and saw you feature you ask people, go to glassdoor.

Check us out.

And, you know, featured glassdoor reviews. Like, what is it, you know, that has worked well for you at at two cows that I guess your, you know, seems to make people happy.

Culture is always in the little things.

It is the things you do when no one's looking.

So I I really it's amazing to me that people You know, it's just all golden rule and that people complicate it beyond that.

If you just do what you feel is I'm I'm sure that there are network geeks who love working for you more than, you know, anybody else they've worked for. And the simple reason is probably gonna be that you're treating them how you would wanna be treated. You know, you're due you're you know, it's gonna be the the person who didn't do this for you and you're gonna do it for them. Mhmm.

And and and and that's all. And then you just sort of you know, the only other sort of big bucket there is filtering. You know, I think that there are certain people who will for whom we will be the best work experience they'll ever have in their life. And then there are other people.

Really, it won't matter that much too. So you know, the more money driven you are probably not gonna do as well here. Mhmm. The more status driven you are probably not gonna do as well here.

The more, kind of your you're looking to be upwardly mobile I wanna see I want a new job title every eighteen months or twenty four months. You know, people sit at the same job title sometimes at Dukehouse for eight, ten years. Their job, their responsibilities increase every year, their the the scope and scale increases every year, but, you know, it looks like they've been in the same same thing at the same title for eight years.

You know, do you love the Internet?

Yep. And and and it's kind of those filters and I'm unhesitating, and and I think that trickles down through the ranks of just, yeah, okay. You know, I'm not gonna chase this person. This is not a fit.

Right. No. That makes sense. And you have to in order to give great support, you need to have great people that are happy like, our fights are on the reverse.

Right? You know, I'll give you one that you'll love.

You know, we originally we let people pick their own router. Know, it's like we're not gonna, you know, because that's a nice substitute. But there are enough people that pick some the cheapest router. And then it's like, well, why didn't I get a gig? Because you got a hundred report on the back of the thing. Like, you know, it's not like I'm ripping you off.

And and so as we try to push in better communication, if you're gonna own your own router, our customer service people were resistant to that. It's like, but but this is our values. This is what we do. Like, how can you restrict them?

Right? And so I love that. Right? When you're When we had that tension, We had lonely people that would call support, and we had to say two hours a week.

Like, we actually said, like, we feel bad for them. If they just wanna talk to support, two hours a week.

And, that's good. Yeah. So I guess last question, Sounds like you've been having fun and thank you for all the impact you've had and options you've given people. Any career advice you'd give your younger self?

Well, I think I'll repeat two things that I tell my children. Okay. One, Make sure you do what you love. That was important for me growing up.

But in today's hyper competitive world, I just had to compete with people in Toronto or maybe Ontario, you know, you're competing with people from all over the world. If you don't love what you do, you won't work hard. If you don't work hard, you won't succeed full stop.

Second, you know, there's a story I tell. My daughter hates when I tell it like this.

Dad, I'm, you know, I'm starting my first real job how do I know, you know, I don't want people to hate me. How can I make sure people like?

And I said, you know, this is really simple.

If you make the people who you work with and work around you, if you make their jobs easier, they're gonna like you no matter how big a bitch you are. And if you make their jobs harder, they're gonna dislike you no matter how kind and sweet you are. Real simple.

Okay. I hope that's, good lessons.

Well, thank you very much. Thank you. I look forward to a part too. I think we have plenty of things to continue and best of luck with, two cows and, and the grand, ISP dream.

Yes. More soon. More soon. I enjoyed myself. Thanks.

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About Network AF

Network AF is a journey of super-nerd proportions into the world of networking, cloud, and the internet. Avi Freedman, self-described internet plumber and podcast namesake, hosts top network engineering experts from around the world for in-depth, honest, and freewheeling banter on all-things-network — how-tos, best practices, biggest mistakes, war stories, hot takes, rants, and more.
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