Ask Me Anything! with Marc-André Campagna, Co-founder and CEO of Oxio

Ask Me Anything! with Marc-André Campagna, Co-founder and CEO of Oxio Banner Image

Sep 22, 2023


About Our Distinguished Guest

Marc is a YCombinator alum and was formerly CEO & co-founder of oxio, the fastest-growing ISP in Canada. oxio went from 0 to 50,000 customers in 3 years and was acquired in March by Cogeco/Breezeline. 

Marc is now co-founder & ceo at gaiia, the simplest platform to run your ISP. Marc now dedicates his time to helping other ISPs grow and delight their customers at the same time. 

Event Transcript

Benjamin Kahn: And we're live.

Drew Clark: Good afternoon. Welcome to Ask Me Anything in the broadband community. I'm Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast. I am very, very excited to be here together in this Ask Me Anything session with Marc-André Campagna, Co-founder and CEO of gaiia. Welcome, Marc.

Marc-André Campagna: Hi. It's nice to be here. Thanks for having me.

Drew: [chuckle] Well, it is indeed fun to have you here. This is a bit of an unusual time for our Ask Me Anything sessions. So our audience may not be habituated to this, but as we discussed previously, all these events are recorded and made available, and we'll definitely do more with this event after the fact. But Marc, you come with a very interesting background for our audience here and the broadband community. And not only are you the CEO and founder of the gaiia platform, which we'll talk a little bit about just now. You've also started other companies before that, including Oxio, how do you pronounce that prior company? 

Marc-André: Oxio, yeah.

Drew: And Oxio, of course, was an internet service provider in Canada. And you are Canadian. So why don't we do this, Marc, tell us just a little bit about your background. Like you are from French Canada, right? French Canadian. Tell us a little bit about what life and in particular brought...

Marc-André: Sorry, Drew I lost you for a second here.

Ben: Yeah looks like Drew may have cut out, but I'll just hop in.

Drew: I'm still here. I'm still here. I did get a little alert, my internet connection was unstable, which which obviously is a sign that we don't quite have the broadband we need everywhere. I was just asking you, could you tell us a little bit about your background in Quebec and how that environment, particularly the internet access in Quebec impacted your entrepreneurial journey? 

Marc-André: Yeah. So I was actually studying law school, living at my parent's place in 2017 when I started to realize that there was some internet issues in Canada and rural Quebec. So my parents moved from the city to suburb. The only task that they handed me when they were moving, was to handle the internet... Their internet connection, their Wi-Fi. I had no clue. I didn't know a thing about telecom at that time. But ended up realizing that the only internet connection available was three megabytes per second at 75 bucks a month through DSL, which was really unstable and stuff. So I actually got started in 2017 with a company called Access Telecom, and it was a WISP. We deployed Ubiquiti equipment to try to solve my parents' problem. And then from 2017 to 2019, we deployed a WISP network in three communities, went up to like 300 customers approximately at peak.

Marc-André: And then we had this opportunity actually or not, the truth of this story is that our company got destroyed by fiber grants, actually kind of the equivalent of BEADs in some ways in Canada. The government granted a lot of money to an incumbent called Telus, and they deployed fiber across the board where we were, which was a good thing for the community for a company, less so, a little bit because we couldn't compete with fiber. So we actually pivoted a company in 2019 to Oxio, and there is this kind of weird regulation in Canada that gives you access to incumbents network at a fixed tariff. Kind of open access network, but an incumbents network. So you're kind of competing against the big guys, and there are low barrier to entry.

Marc-André: So you're like competing against a hundred ISPs at the same time to deliver services in Canada. But the incumbents have the upper here because they can undercut you and they can solve prices at cost for you. And with Oxio though, we had this thesis that through software, we could actually build a better ISP, a tech-enabled ISP per se. And that's what we did. We went from zero to 50,000 customers in three years. We were integrated in four open access network in Canada, coast to coast. And we built a software to scale the company and make the customer experience seamless. And then eventually as we scaled, we sold the ISP business, and we kept the software that we built to operate our old company because we realized that our passion was to actually automate and make the customer experience seamless for ISPs. And the next phase of our growth would've been to deploy infrastructure, which we didn't know really how, and wasn't our expertise. Our expertise was software and telecom. So we sold the company and we got gaiia out of that structure. And now we're operating gaiia, which is an all-in-one platform for ISPs. And we're serving ISPs in the US, in LATAM and in Canada as well.

Ben: I'm wondering if we're having some more network connectivity issues on Drew's end, but until Drew joins back on, I'm happy to kind of take over. [laughter] So Marc, you were mentioning that in... Let me turn my camera on real quick. Marc, you mentioned that in, that there was this program. Can you tell me about the program that was the grants for the fiber in Canada? What was the name of that? 

Marc-André: I think it was called Connect to Innovate or something like that. Yeah.

Ben: So can you speak to, so obviously we're going through BEAD right now, and all the trials and tribulations that that entails. Can you speak to some of the similarities, but also some of the differences that you've observed between Canadian telecom and telecom in the United States? 

Marc-André: Honestly, it would be kind of hard for me to break it down. It's a similar landscape. I think that Canadians have done a lot of things wrong, though when it comes to grants and the landscape. I think US are way better at it than us, Canadians are especially how regulation is based. We have this entity, it's not like this entity that is specialized for telecommunication called the CRTC, and they've made...

Drew: Just like the FCC... Like the FCC for Canada. Right? And by the way, I apologize for going frozen, but I'm back and you're talking about obviously differences between Canada and the US in terms of grant making and so forth. And please continue on the CRTC.

Marc-André: Yeah, it's CRTC, but it's not the FCC because FCC has a broader reach and... But CRTC is only focused on telecom, which if I'm not mistaken, FCC is focused on a lot of stuff as well, not only telecom. Right? 

Drew: Well. The key difference by my understanding I'm not an expert in communication. But the thing that the FCC does is it combines the telecom regulation with spectrum regulation. And if I understand correctly, the CRTC does not have authority over spectrum, the way the FCC does. Is that fair, Marc? 

Marc-André: Yeah. That's correct. That's correct.

Drew: So the CRTC kind of is that regulator of the old, just like AT&T, just like the FCC was the regulator of AT&T that was... It was like the regulator of the AT&T because of the lines, and it was the regulator of ABC, CNBC, and CBS because of the frequencies. That was kind of the only thing they did is they dealt with four companies, right? In the days of monopoly. Now that once competition came, once convergence came, it's now a kind of intermixed stew. And so I can see why one would think that the FCC, yeah, they deal with every... And they do in a way deal with everything. But when I look at it, I go, it is a telecom, it's broadband, right? They're dealing with broadband, whether it's wireless or wired, and you're saying CRTC kind of has that more limited purview. So how did CRTC kind of impact the business you were running at Oxio? 

Marc-André: In a lot of ways, they were the one fixing the tariffs. So they were the one fixing the game that we were playing against incumbents. And the decision making process of those tariff is not as fast as the innovation of the space. So for example.

Drew: Right.

Marc-André: Only cable was regulated. So we could only get access to cable network, even though all kinds of networks were... All kinds of networks in Canada had the help of government to being funded. We only had access to cable networks, but fiber networks were not in our, are still not regulated today in telecom. So we couldn't compete on the same playing field. So yeah, that was the main issue I would say, in Canada. And that's why actually when we decided to solve, there was a big movement of acquisitions from the big guys that they realized like, Hey, let's just gobble up all the small players, and we're gonna get back to just compete with incumbents and not the small pebble in our shoes.

Drew: Well, Marc, your intro here kind of just laid out even more so than I was already familiar from the bio. You have a lot of really fascinating stories here that are of interest to the listeners in the broadband community. One of them is like you described how you got kind of beat at your own game by the fiber providers and the WISP and what that might say about BEAD grants in the United States. That's one big story of interest. Another big story is how you kind of like said, Hey, we really are gonna live and thrive in this open access network. And that's again, another huge story. I think a third one we haven't really yet touched on is like what you did to kind of make Oxio a success by focusing on the software, right? 

Drew: And how does that software kind of, or how did that software kind of scale, right? And then we haven't even gotten to gaiia yet, right? And like what you did to kind of merge that knowledge base in the software space you were dealing with Oxio over to what you're doing with gaiia. So maybe let's just kind of go chronologically. We got some time here if my internet connection stays live, and we'll certainly get to all these really important issues about the divergence, the differences between the markets in the US and Canada also like Latin America and other places internationally. But let's just return for a quick moment to the... What it was like for you... You Know, your parents were moving, you did the research, you go, it costs 75 bucks for three megabyte. Like, what was your reaction to that Marc Were you going like...

Marc-André: Yeah, [chuckle], my reaction was to start a company off of it because it didn't make sense at all. So, yeah. And I had no clue how to do that. So it was just crazy to me. And the craziest thing was like, you don't know that there are telecommunication problems, internet problems until you get exposed to it in some ways. Like, there are some people in this world that lives in downtown centers, New York City, whatever, that just wouldn't even fathom to think that there are still a lot of connectivity issues across the globe. And that's just what I got exposed to. So that was just preposterous to me that...

Drew: So what were the... So walk us through what it was like as an entrepreneur starting your company as a telco. Like what did you do to get that knowledge? And by the way, we've interacted with some of the broadband community who help people start their own ISPs, right? Like how to get an ISP started, how did get it going? What did you do, kind of, how did you kind of get that started in 2017? Is that when you...

Marc-André: Yeah, that's when we started the first one. And Drew, we're losing you a little bit. So sorry if I take a couple seconds just to try to digest the questions. So the way that I learned is pretty simple. I just, my partner at the time, Francis was one of my friend, and he was a network engineer, so I just like was going [laughter] at his place for dinner a couple days a week. And I was just harassing him with questions. That's how I learned, that's how I started learning. And he had all the knowledge, but I just wanted to get a sense of how it all works. And that's how we got started. And after that, like with Ubiquiti equipments that are somewhat affordable, we just started climbing up illegally telecom poles and just making 50 kilometers links to bring the internet at my parents' place. And that's how we got started, really. And a lot of naivete as well, because if I would've known how much capital it takes to build a telecom company at that time, I probably wouldn't have started.

Drew: So as you got going, you described how you built up your customer base. I can't remember the number you said, but it wasn't a huge number. And then the Canadian government supported fiber building. Now, just to kind of... Just to taking us back to the US, this is something that I've certainly spoken about and I think others in the broadband community have as well, that WISPs, Wireless Internet Service Providers have some great advantages in their entrepreneurship, their engagement with their community, their knowledge of the customer base. But look, let's face it, wireless is a losing technology. It doesn't satisfy. I mean, obviously every connection has a wireless component and sometimes the wireless component fails, like it's failing with me. But the point being is that you wanna get fiber as far as you can. And so I don't begrudge like you were saying, the Canadian government sort of supporting fiber builds, but let's just talk a little more about how that impacted you and how you reacted to that in terms of Oxio and what you said we're gonna do next.

Marc-André: Yeah, we just realized that we were playing a zero sum game and or we weren't delivering a 10x product in the market, so we had to pivot and find a ways to deliver a better product. That was as simple as that. It was... Was it heartbreaking? Was it a lot of sleepless night where we thought that we would make anything out of the company? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, that was how we analyzed the situation, and we just pivoted and tried to find the next big thing. And there was a lot of messy moments where we tried to actually deploy fiber, then we moved to... We realized that software was the problem, and then we got into Oxio, and even Oxio was a lot of iteration between Oxio and gaiia. So it's always through iteration and understanding what the customers want, really.

Drew: That's something we haven't mentioned yet, is that you were selected as a Y Combinator winner in winter of 2021. And as many of our listeners may know Jase Wilson and Mike Faloon co-founders of Ready were at Y Combinator in 2020, I believe. So obviously you share that with a lot of really talented companies in the tech space. How did Y Combinator come on your radar, and what did that do to you in your process at Oxio? Right? Where were you at that stage when you applied and were successfully admitted into that cohort, and how did it impact Oxio? 

Marc-André: Yeah. It changed our whole life really, because I'm from a small town in rural Canada, and we didn't have access to capital. So when I said that we started out of naivete, it really is what it is. It's like we were solving a great problem. We were... We had a lot of traction, but I wasn't as financially savvy as I am today. And we didn't kind of under... We didn't really understood it, like to connect customers on a network. Even if you don't own the network and you're an open access network, it's really damn. It's pretty damn expensive.

Marc-André: So when we started talking to all the investors in Canada, and they were just [laughter], we arrest all of them, and they all said no to us. Like, the last option was like, Hey, we need to build a network outside Canada because we're never gonna be able to build that thing. So we applied to Y Combinator, we got... I don't think we got... I think I applied twice, the first time we got declined. And the second time we got in and YC actually opened up so many opportunities and communities. I met Jase through YC, and I met a lot of other pretty cool folks through YC and yeah, that's really changed the game. We got accepted. We were a bit further down, further along the way than the usual YC company. We were already generating like one to $2 million in revenue a year. But we like 5X'd that while we were in the back batch. And we raised a series A. We raised $20 million at the end of the batch. So it really changed the whole dynamics for us. And it changed the whole game. Yeah.

Drew: No, these are great examples. And thanks for speaking so kind of freely about where you are. 'Cause there is a huge community of people who follow Y Combinator and view it as kind of the handbook, the guidebook for entrepreneurial success. And I love the example you just gave even though you were a million to a trillion. If you were able to 5x that and in the program, right? And so how did that happen? How did you 5x your revenue? Like what were the things you did change got you that kind of trajectory? 

Marc-André: Yeah, we were already growing exponentially before joining YC, that just simplified it. It didn't impact. I wouldn't say that it impacted our growth. We were already doing what we needed to do. Which was focusing on the customer. And out of necessity, out of limitation of the Canadian market, we didn't own the network. So the only way to differentiate ourselves was through customer experience. Onboarding of the customer, what are the little bells and whistle and all the friction that a customer when they order their internet services go through. And the ones we had control over we were trying to create a better experience to our software. And that was really our competitive edge. And we had a customer, absurdly good customer support on top of that because of the tools we were using and because of our philosophy of putting the customer first. And that resonated with Canadians. And that's why now we're building a platform that allows other ISPs to do just that actually. It's because it was through necessity, we couldn't do anything else than focus on what we had control over which was operations of that telecom company. And make a great customer experience.

Drew: No, very cool. And we're definitely gonna get to gaiia in here, just very soon. Let me just make sure we get some facts on this question. What was your customer count before and how did that grow? And I wanna make sure to ask you specifically about the chat and the way you use chat as a customer service tool for Oxio.

Marc-André: Yeah, that's always been a controversial topic within our organization and also outside. We, because everybody that I spoke to, and still to this day people are like they're scared of having a chat only customer service. And the funny thing is, is the people that were like true raving fans about chat were the most unexpected one. Like someone like me, a young guy who just ate talking over the phone for customer service, just take it for granted. And if I have to call somewhere, I just will put that in my to-do list, and it's gonna get postponed for the rest of my life. I'm just never gonna call because I don't wanna spend an hour talking with the banker or something that I need to do. Like, it's just too much for me. And the most unexpected fans about that were like the older generation that were really against it at first, and they were like what do you mean you don't have a phone? 

Marc-André: And we're just investing in them and being like use your iPad, here's how you're gonna reach out to us. And once they knew how to do it they felt it was a magical experience. It really did. We had like crazy... You can go like on the Oxio Google reviews, you're gonna see that we were the most loved ISP. And also you can look at our reviews, you're gonna see a lot of reviews from older folks, who are like, yeah, it's the first time that I was using my iPad to solve this kind of problem and it was amazing. And that, I think that really differentiated ourselves and also differentiated our operating margin to scale the company because we didn't have a call center to support.

Drew: Yeah, I mean, we could go into huge detail just on that, right? I mean, like are there certain industries that chat works and doesn't? For example, Frontier and I think others have followed them, have canceled their phone service for airplane. And that seems to be a real bad move. But yet you have a killer insight that you've developed as Jase notes, just by seeing some of the... I don't know, how did you stumble on this insight that chat can really be a great customer service for the unexpected people that are in your market? 

Marc-André: Yeah, absolutely. And...

Drew: Did you get that? Let me repeat that, my connection might have faded out. How did you stumble off this insight? How did you get this killer insight that chat could work? Yeah.

Marc-André: Oh, it was just a gut feeling, honestly. It was just I was trying to solve a me problem at first. I was like, I hate talking on the phone for customer service. And I think that over time there are a lot of people in Canada that are like me. And also on the company side, I was being a little bit lazy on like, hey, I just... I was doing customer support for like the first four months, 24-7 on the platform. I was like, I don't wanna have to manage calls coming in and we're gonna try to make it work through chat. It was actually some form of necessity as well. And eventually we just realized we had something in that we could actually provide way better customer experience through chat if people would allow us the chance. And that was the thing that we realized at some point.

Drew: Interesting. Yeah, very interesting. Well, I feel like I'm in a walkie talkie day with the... I don't know what this latency that's just catching up to me. If you all can hear me, I'm in a space where the TPRC conference is taking place and Here kind of creates more challenges than I expected. Marc, could you walk us through what happened with Oxio, and how you've moved some of these key tools and software from that entity to what you're doing now at gaiia? 

Marc-André: Yeah, so we had, we actually got started with an OSS/BSS. For those who don't know what OSS/BSS is operating system software, building system software that are well-known in the telecom space. We started with one and we actually built software on top of it. Because there was a lot of functionalities that we wanted that software to do and it wasn't doing it. And also they were the main problem that we found on the market is all the different OSS/BSS had a special way of operating. And they were dictating how your telecom should be operated within their software and not the other way around. You couldn't customize the software to allow the software to help you do what you want to achieve in terms of connectivity and serving your customers. So we use one as a foundation when we got started in 2019 and then we build a Chrome extension on top of it that was triggering workflows. And to answer Ben question on what extent did we use AI in the chat. It was all human but we empowered human through every single workflow, you can think of doing in your telecom company, we were automating all of those.

Marc-André: So customer were just... Customer service reps were just pressing a couple of buttons. And if we haven't sold, we were at the phase where we would have started to ingest AI to make sure that we can provide better customer service at scale also in better unit economy. But we weren't there yet, we were getting there. And now we can do it through, we'll be able to allow our customers to do so through gaiia. So we actually started like MVP on top of a current OSS/BSS. Then we scale, we exponentially and we realized that this wasn't... It's not gonna cut it. So we ditched the platform started building our home platform in 2021. And eventually we removed the OSS/BSS, remove and we put everything that we knew into the gaiia platform. And in terms of how it happened in the transition is at some point we realized growth was slowing a little bit with Oxio and we realized that like an incumbent and someone else who owned the network could actually provide way better value for customers because we were only bringing value through software.

Marc-André: And we felt lost a little bit in the sense that like we realized that our true passion was like operating a telecom company, like true software like codifying it and making sure that it's perfect for customers, perfect for the backend operations. Like automating the whole thing. And we were passionate about it. And we weren't as passionate, we didn't have the expertise to actually build networks. So we got approached organically because we did YC by other telecom companies across the globe. That were like, hey, your Oxio experience is amazing. We wanna offer this experience to our customers. Do you have a software that will help us do that? And at first we were like, no, we have our own software but it's not for sale. And eventually we realized that like that's precisely what we wanted to do is keep helping other ISPs deliver tremendous value to their users. So we got approached by all the big incumbents in Canada and Cogeco, Breezeline, they're called Breezeline in the US, approached us and they were really, really interested in the Oxio platform, but also in the gaiia platform.

Marc-André: So we sold Oxio to them and we kept the IP of gaiia and now they're our biggest customer on the platform. And that's how we got started with gaiia, was with them. And we realized that like, we thought that we... We think that there's a way better opportunity to help challengers and younger companies. And people that are trying to change the telecom game and to offer great products, to help them achieve that, and let them focus on their customers and stuff. And we provide the toolkit to help them do that than to actually keep building an ISP in Canada. So that's what we're doing now. We're helping other ISPs scale in and deliver tremendous value to their users.

Drew: Well, fascinating story and clearly a relevant and important point when you have to kind of make that kind of decision. So, and I wanna go back to gaiia just a little more detail, like what it is now. But how did you say, oh, this part is Oxio, right? And this part gets sold to Cogeco, Breezeline. This part is gaiia. Like what was the difference between the part that was Oxio and that you sold to now your biggest customer. And what was the part that you kind of kept? 

Marc-André: Yeah, so we sold the ISP business. So the customer base and the brand and we kept all the software-related stuff to gaiia. And the way that it happened was simple because we were, even if we weren't selling the telecom business, we were on our way to have a gaiia, an independent business line to deliver gaiia to other ISPs across the globe. So we were already set up to have two subsidiaries within one entity. And so that was a tough problem for us. The insights that we got from our software actually came through organic inbound from other ISPs. Because an OSS/BSS in this space is kind of like does billing, does a little bit of inventory, stuff like that. And that's pretty much it. And then you have to stitch it up with all the other stuffs around, all the other software to make your company work. The insights that we got from us and from other customers is the experience when it comes to connectivity is going digital.

Marc-André: You wanna order your services online. You want the process to be as automated as possible. You want the software to be able to follow also the physical presence of your technicians that go on and install the equipment. When you have fiber already deployed to the premise, you want it to be able to ship an equipment. And the customer be able to follow a QR code or something to get online seamlessly and have the best experience possible. And to be able to achieve that we realized that we needed to control the whole customer journey flow for our customers to automate the backend processes. So what that meant concretely is if you go on our website, you'll see that we have the online checkout. It's kind of like a Shopify for telecom that we manage all the orders, the value added services, the add-ons and it fully already integrated baked in the gaiia platform. And that came from the ISPs in the US that were reaching out to us that were like, hey, we wanna offer your services, do you offer like the checkout also? Would you be able to offer that if you would build a platform? And we're like, that's actually an interesting idea because I think that's the missing link to the industry. That's what lacking.

Marc-André: And the other thing, going back to my point of like OSS/BSS dictating you of how you should operate. The reason why they do that is because they only have one way of delivering value through their software and it's how they think it brings the best value to their user. Which it doesn't because the company is always evolving. So we created this concept of workflow editor that is preeminent in a lot of spaces. But in telecom, it's not as much. And you can go on our software and you can integrate with any kind of equipment vendor you want the payment processor, the different CRM, or just marketing platform that you wanna use. And you can create your own workflows depending on how the customer is onboarding on your services, how the whole experience should be. And that allows you to customize the platform to your own needs and not us telling you what you... How you should operate your business.

Drew: So, fabulous, fabulous answer. So does gaiia do this now? Like is it BSS/OSS? That is the... And you described it, I mean, obviously it's something that helps the telecom companies that need to kind of automate this, get the workflows running and how would...

Marc-André: Sorry, Drew, we lost you. We lost you here as well. I didn't hear the question.

Ben: Yeah. Hopefully Drew will be back in just a second. No, it definitely is interesting to hear this, to listen to this. Essentially, It's disappointing sometimes how there's this notion where there's basically only naked profit motive in some circumstances where there's no... It's not a customer-oriented or customer-focused experience. And you're describing a separate situation where the customer is central to the... Like the customer experience is central. And there's this phrase that's often thrown around in the United States where they talk about how it's a race to the bottom when there's... When you have people that are all operating off of the same kind of network. Drew, I see your comment, cannot hear you right now. But what, how do you respond to those types of things that you see, where you see people, you see that criticism of people who are of... That are using the same networks. Using the same technology and really are only using customer experience as their marketing standpoint. How do you respond to criticisms of such a system? 

Marc-André: Yeah, I would say that like efficiency, I believe is most of the time a good thing. And if you can improve unit economics to give it back to customers, it's an awesome thing. That being said, you should have the means to be able to operate your business and provide that amazing service. And what we've realized is building a great network is so capital intensive, is so, it needs all your focus, it needs all your dedication that like you don't... Most companies don't have the means to actually have software developers within their organization to actually provide that value and that kind of unique customer experience. They're already investing in having customers connected to the internet. So I think that what I would say is efficiencies in the market is always a good thing. But also on the flip side like if you're able to distinguish yourself and provide great local service and great customer experience. You, it's not going to be a race to the bottom because people will value your services and they will understand that you're are actually providing value and not only a commodity. Yes, you're providing a commodity in some ways but the service that you put on top of it is tremendous. So you don't have to... It won't be a race to the bottom and your customers won't be as price-sensitive as if you're only offering as a normal service.

Drew: Hello, that was a great answer. What was the question though? 

Ben: [laughter] I was essentially just asking Marc how he responds to these arguments where people identify a community that, where you have multiple internet service providers that are operating of the same kind of network or network of infrastructure and looking at that, and when they say, Oh well, you're only really using customer service as what you're offering. How does he respond to something like that. Like you said, he had a great response to it.

Drew: But before I think I got cut off, Marc, my question, I was just trying to hone in on what is the core gaiia product that you are offering or selling? Is it BSS/OSS software? Is it an automation system? How do you describe to the core of what gaiia is? 

Marc-André: It is an a all-in-one operating system for ISPs, so we help ISPs tremendous offer amazing customer experience to their users and amazing operational as well. So from a customer standpoint, from their end-user standpoint, we're gonna manage everything from the customer subscribing online to the services, all the way down to activation, provisioning of the customers, inventory management, CRM information of the customer and post-sell insights and ways to communicate with the customer, from A to Z. So this is really what we offer to our users.

Drew: Do you find that... It starts with the... Where is the key hook that you come to your customers with? Is it the BSS/OSS piece? Is it the service, right? Like, hey, we can help the customer service process? Is it something completely different that almost more like, hey, we can help you understand some piece of the puzzle for your provision of service? 

Marc-André: Like I said, it's a all-in-one platform, so I don't know of any single all-in-one platform that exists in the market, and I don't know of any platform that is focused on delivering great customer experience within the software and getting exposed to all the different functionalities. And also, we allow the company to be able to customize the software to serve their own purposes and their own needs to be able to deliver value to the users, and I don't know also of any other software in the market that allows that customization. If you go through all the other platforms in this space, they're gonna tell you how they operate, so you should tailor your operations to how they operate, we don't do that. And we're the only Shopify-like platform in the Telecom industry that is solely focused on delivering all the toolkits of ISPs that is not building network, everything that's adjacent to it, to let them focus on their customers and building their network.

Ben: Let me jump in here. So trying to link the software piece to the discussion about open access...

Marc-André: Sorry guys, like it's been...

Drew: Apologies for the cross-talk. Yeah.

Marc-André: It's been 42 minutes that the connection, Drew is unstable, I don't think it's gonna get back online. So Ben if you wanna take it...

Ben: Yeah. Drew, how about I take it from here.

Drew: Sounds great, sounds great.

Ben: Yeah, so the direction I kinda wanted to take this, Marc, is when you think of some of the things that the ISPs can be doing... Your offer... You mentioned at the beginning, you're offering the suite of services because you saw where you were struggling as an ISP when you started out. And so I'm curious, when you think about some of the things that ISPs can be doing to improve their level of service, or if it's somebody who's getting into, they're thinking about, as we said, this is a common refrain where someone says, I have terrible service, I wanna improve this, I'm gonna come up and start my own ISP. What are some actions they can be taking at the outset to try to improve their chances of success or improve their level of service.

Marc-André: Yeah, so at the end of the day, if in a utopian world, the best customer service or the best customer experience or customer service is no customer service at all, right? Like internet should work 100% of the time, it should have symmetrical bandwidth, it should be amazing, and people would never think of their ISP ever again. But when it does, it's different when you're moving somewhere else, when you want to subscribe to new services, when you wanna had products that are... The thing that we need to think about is how many, like the IOT space, the devices, the kind of services that people will have five to 10 years from now will be different and the expectations from their customers to be able to subscribe to the services will be way higher than it is today. If you believe that with mobile like eSIM is gonna be ubiquitous in the next couple of years, you're just with under a click of a button, you're gonna be able to be online. A lot of ISPs now ask you to go through so many multiple processes, filling a form online, getting a call, getting a tech to validate that you can actually install them, charge install fees, do all of that.

Marc-André: It's gonna be cumbersome and eventually, customers will tell you that they don't want that kind of experience. And people who can offer the seamless, the most seamless experience, eliminating all the friction, they are the ones we believe will win. So we're just trying to help ISPs eliminate all those frictions, through automating processes and getting them insights to the data that they should get access to to be able to make sound decisions to their users. This is really, really the way we're heading, and I believe that... Yeah, a lot of like you're fighting against one of the biggest companies in the United States. They have insane marketing budgets, they have insane amount of money to pour into infrastructure, so what are the things that you can do that they would never be able to do? And those are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself. And a lot of it comes down to taking care of your customers like any other companies can.

Ben: And I wanna hearken back to something that you said earlier, where you talked about this idea that the utility of chat and how... Because for me, I'm the exact same way where any time if I get a new credit card or if I have to call my bank for any reason, it really just becomes something that gets filed under. I will do this at the end of time because I do not wanna call and get stuck on hold and everything and the utility of tools like chat and taking advantage of those tools, that's great, and it really adds to that customer experience. We've found that when we're working with... We work with different types of ISPs, different entities on We see that what you just articulated, that people who... With rural electric cooperatives or other entities like that, the advantage they have going for them is that the home field. They live in the communities that they also work in. I want to talk about open access, which is what we call it here, but it sounds like it's just infrastructure in Canada where it just is what it is. Here, we have a special kind of designation for it. So my question is, if someone in the US were to be using gaiia, does the platform work for open access as well as non-open access networks? 

Marc-André: Absolutely, yeah. We have some customers that are solely operating on open access networks, we have some customers also that are a hybrid model in some parts of, for example, Utah, they're deploying their own infrastructure, but other parts, they're using the open access network model. And that works great. Also, this is the kind of like as you manage multiple different kinds of networks, the backend operations of all of it gets really complicated and can get messy, and that's why gaiia is an added advantage, 'cause we aggregate all the information and we abstract in the backend, the kind of networks you operate and make it seamless for you to manage those users and also to get them on board. Like the customers that we have an open access networks, through a single click, they can start onboarding customers under utopia. We have utopia and others, they can start boarding utopia customers under network directly.

Ben: I got a question for you. So this is kind of like the flip side. I asked for your advice on some actions that a potential perspective of startup ISP could take to increase their odds of success, but I'm also interested in the flip side where when you see a lot of these ISPs that come to you and wanna procure your software or maybe not, maybe it's just an ISP that's struggling that you see out in the environment, what do you think are some of the common threads as to why you see them struggling? 'Cause I know you said they need to lean into what they can do that a bigger ISP can't do. So that something that I should do, but what is it something... What is something that you see, like a common mistake that's being made in the industry? 

Marc-André: That's a great question and the short answer would be, I don't know. I don't see a lot of, there are not a lot of customers who came up to us who are really struggling at something. Some of them are struggling at scaling, but their actual customer base is really well-served and stuff like that. But some customers are struggling to scale for a couple of reasons. A, access to capital, like we since the... The internet bubble was as well, as much a Telecom bubble as it was an internet bubble. So a lot of venture capitalists and stuff just only invest in software now in infrastructure and Telecom is like something you don't wanna touch and it's really rare that you get investors that are... That gets really excited about that. So access to capital is one important thing, and that's why the BEADs are something that is doing something critical, I think in the space.

Marc-André: The other scaling problem as well is I see it like below 5,000 subscribers. The problems that you get when you're 50,000 subs, and that's where we were when we sold the company, as opposed to when you are 500 subs, you can have small manual processes when you're like less than a couple of thousand customers that you won't feel the weight of until you're at a certain stage. And at first you were able to compensate through human empathy or something, or just manual interventions, but at 5000 people, you cannot remember those customers and their problems. So you need the right toolkit to be able to do that and I see a lot of ISPs that are stuck in the below 2,000 range and wanna scale, and they haven't realized that those little things that you need to automate and do on a day-to-day basis are needs to be taken care of to get to the next stage before you get to the next stage.

Ben: That's really critical insight, the idea that what affected you at one stage doesn't necessarily carry over at every stage of your development? 

Marc-André: The biggest insight that we got when we started gaiia was actually... Oxio, sorry, was like the softwares that are available out there to make it a human service for telecom customers are just not available, like the big incumbents, AT&T, Comcast, whatever, they're not necessary evil companies, that's not like, they're not evil. They just don't have the right tools to support their customers and when you're serving millions of people and tens of thousands of customers, at the end of the day, it comes with the toolkit that you have. You cannot manually remember all those million users, you need tools and things that help you and processes that the help you achieve that. And you need to put those processes and those toolkits in place sooner than than you think. And we've seen pretty successful ISPs, all the ISPs that are growing really fast that we're serving, we're amazed by how soon they start thinking the next phase of problems that they're gonna face... And we're like, that's interesting, they're so great. We're thinking actually about that particular problem when we were like 40,000 subs, and they're 10,000 subs and they're thinking about it, and you talk to them six months or not, they're like at 20,000 subs, and you're like, Oh God, what's going on here? And that's one of the factors.

Drew: Something I wanted to touch on, and this is shifting gears a little bit here, so bear with me. But we see right now, there's this emphasis on fiber optic. We believe that fiber is the gold standard and everyone should have access to fiber, but there are people, and there are arguments to be made out there for... Maybe there's a situation where someone needs satellite. Maybe there's a situation out there where another technology would be better suited to serve a specific address. Can I get your thoughts on that, and can I get your thoughts on Starlink and some of these other technologies that are being more widely implemented in some regions, in the United States and the world? 

Marc-André: Yeah, I think that there is not one technology to roll them all, they all have their own...

Ben: I liked you reference there, by the way.

Marc-André: They all have their own trade-offs. Yes, yes fiber is amazing, but it's really expensive, and just to give an example, for the past three or four winters, I worked remotely in Salvador in Mexico for a lot of months, and I was using my Starlink rig and it was working beautifully. And I was in parts of those countries that they will never have fiber or something, and that changed the whole game in terms of mobility and what, when you can expect. I also think that, yes, fiber offers tremendous value to the users, but I think we need to get our head out of our industry and also realize that outside our own industry, citizen don't talk about technologies that they're getting offered, they talk about...

Ben: I've heard that a lot, yeah.

Marc-André: If it's working well, and you don't have to call customer support because it's not working, they don't care about what's the technology behind it. Only us geeks about Telecom care [laughter], like they don't care about the technology. They care about it to work, and if it works well, they never think about it again, and that's how it should be. So that's kind of my take on, yeah.

Ben: Sure. So you just mentioned that you were spending some time in Latin America. What lessons do you think the American and perhaps Canadian markets can take from what you saw in Latin America? Are there any, for better and for worse, are there any lessons, things that you observed there that we could take note of? 

Marc-André: Yeah, I think they're doing some really interesting stuff there and they're really scrappy, they're going really fast, a lot of infrastructure that is just that we take for granted here is being built right now, and there are amazing founders tackling really cool problems in lifetime. And we have one customers in LATAM that serve specifically underserved communities in LATAM, and they have... They offer fiber and they have a usage-based billing approach or a day billing approach. So you can buy to the corner store passes for three-day services of internet, and they have those access point that you have to connect to, that automatically if you buy the card, they can connect to the access point for three days. And after the three days, they just have to recharge your card and stuff like that. So I thought that was like a similar approach to mobile usually, but really interesting to have it for WiFi as well. And it also eliminates the barrier to entry of the price that you would have to pay on a monthly subscription, you have now a more accessible service also to some communities.

Ben: That's really fascinating. I'd have to read more about that, 'cause that is something that I don't really see here. We've seen... In some places, we've seen people get these hot spots that they can... And they use that for short-term solutions. And I have seen, unfortunately a couple of long-term solutions that way. I'd be really curious to see how that could be implemented here, maybe in some very specific like niche cases. But no, Marc, I really wanted to thank you for giving up an hour of your time, very sorry about some of these technical difficulties, this kind of just brings forward even more why it's so important that we have sustainable infrastructure. I always find it a little bit ironic when we have some of these calls or a broadband conference and the Wi-Fi is crap [laughter], but really thankful for you coming and spending an hour with us, we really appreciate it.

Drew: My pleasure, and those things happen to the best of us, so it's all good.

Ben: So we're going to have... For people who are watching this live, we will make this recording available immediately on... It may be up to 40 minutes for it to render on the page, but it will also be made available on YouTube. There's... We have a couple of upcoming events that I just wanna share. We have an Ask Me Anything with Evan Marwell, who's the founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway on Friday, September 29th, from 2:30 to 3:30. Then on October 13th at that same time, we have an Ask Me Anything with Jason Rudin, who's the founder of Clad, and then we also on October 20th, we have an Ask Me Anything with William Davidson, who's the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NextEra Infrastructure Solutions. Marc, again, on behalf of the broadband community, thank you so much for giving up some time and coming to share your experience as not only an ISP Co-founder and CEO, but also just using this amazing software that's going to really enable other people to run the ball forward that you started down the field as it were. So again, thank you so much. And for everyone else, we will see you next time for the next edition of Ask Me Anything.

Marc-André: Thanks, man. Thanks Drew. Take care guys.

Ben: Bye.