Four people worked for Aircall in 2014. It is now a global company with 700 employees. It sells integrated business phone systems for sales and support teams. Olivier Pailhes, Co-founder and CEO, spoke to Intelligent CXO about how the company’s goal is to make sure every conversation a member of a customer-facing team has is a meaningful one. He talks about how the company has grown and how the company encourages employees to always have access to new skills and knowledge.
Tell us a bit more about your business and how it started.
Aircall is a phone and communication platform that believes in the power of conversation. We founded the company back in 2014 as we wanted to make it easier for businesses to manage and improve their customer experience. At the time, the kind of call centres and phone systems used by businesses were clunky and outdated and seemed to replicate tasks and heap admin on customer service agents. We knew a simplified phone solution that helped businesses move on from hard phones could overcome the issues they were facing and restore meaningful conversations to their day. We saw a gap in the market, went for it, and so Aircall was born.
How has the business grown since it started and how did you ensure growth?
Aircall started with just four of us in 2014 and is now made up of 700 employees. We have offices in New York, Paris, Sydney, Madrid, Berlin and London and have gone from being a unicorn in 2021 to a centaur in 2022 (over US$100 million annual recurring revenue). Seeing and reacting to a gap in the market helped us ensure growth, but that’s not to say we didn’t have our challenges! For example, we accrued tech debt when it came to call quality and decided to stop selling for a few months as a result. Ultimately, taking this time helped us realise the importance of sustainable growth and reminded us of our responsibility to customers.
What’s the business’ approach to management?
What we do, we do with our people. And it’s important that we create an environment in which people feel empowered to achieve. We want everyone at Aircall to be able to bring themselves to their role and to feel as though their individuality is their superpower. This doesn’t mean keeping them from ever leaving Aircall though. We understand that some of our employees might want to become entrepreneurs in their own right one day. Take for instance the Aircall Mafia (ex-Aircallees who have started their own businesses) – people such as Chalom Malka, Tania Kefs and Marc Delalonde. Incredible individuals we’re proud spent some of their careers at Aircall.
What is your company’s vision and goal?
Our goal is that every conversation had by a member of a customer-facing team is a meaningful one. This might sound simplistic, but if you’ve ever worked in a sales or support team then you know how hard this can be! A major part of this is tech democratisation, especially for small and medium businesses (SMBs), which make up the vast majority of our businesses worldwide. Their access to technology is enabling them to grow efficiently and has had a direct impact on the health of our local economies. We’ve moved on from the era of difficult-to-use apps and software, and teams want something simple and quick to implement if they are to harness the power of the human voice.
User-friendly tech is also how we empower global sales and support teams to remove time-intensive admin from their days and put those hours back into connections with their customers, from which they can extract meaningful and actionable insights. The ramifications of this are huge – yes, there’s revenue, but also a sense of enjoyment and purpose from both sides. From the beginning of things in 2014 to (almost 10 years later) the continued evolution of our AI features with the launch of the AI Starter Package this month – the idea of making great conversations happen has always been our goal.
What kind of clients and market do you serve?
While our customers are primarily customer-facing, such as sales and support teams, the range of companies we work with is huge – we have around 20,000 customers worldwide. From the property sector to healthcare, from recruitment to travel. If a team wants to make a connection with their customers – we’re there to make it happen.
When it comes to where we’re doing this, our roots may be in France, but we go far beyond its borders with international growth one of our main aims. Eighty-five percent of Aircall’s revenue is generated outside of France, with the APAC region a particular driver of our growth. We’re also seeing very strong traction in EMEA – especially the UK and Ireland, Germany and our home turf of France. While the US remains a key market for us.
What unites them all is a focus on the challenges facing businesses and solving them in today’s tough climate.
What has your career looked like so far?
I began my career about as far away from Aircall as you can get. After graduating from HEC School of Management in Paris, I worked at The Boston Consulting Group and multinational steel manufacturing corporation, ArcelorMittal.
It was working in these large enterprises where I saw the need for businesses to better connect with their customers. I found myself more excited about delivering the solution for this than the role I was in! This eventually led me to enter the crazy world of start-ups and create Aircall alongside my Co-founders, Jonathan Anguelov and Pierre-Baptiste Béchu.
How do you equip your staff with skills and knowledge?
Empowerment is a big thing in the workplace. I want Aircall’s employees to always have access to new skills and knowledge, thanks to regular coaching or training. We do a lot to encourage our customers to develop the skills of their sales and support teams – so, of course, we’re big fans!
Listening is a key attribute to this. We always strive to remain at the cutting edge of our sector. This means looking outward and listening to everyone around the table. We are a platform for everyone, so internally, we need to be listening to everyone.
I am, of course, going to tell you that tech is a great enabler of skills-building and knowledge. But it is! And we make sure we’re equipping teams with the very best, including solutions from our partners, HubSpot and Salesforce.
How do you work with other executives within the C-suite to make sure your voice is heard?
When you’re as obsessed with the customer as we are, you have to create an environment where everyone’s voice can be heard. At Aircall, this means maximising our levels of communication, as well as the confidence of our people to contribute ideas.
I want my voice to be heard just as much as anyone else’s. This is particularly true right now, when Aircall is set to continue its sustainable growth ambitions with a new go-to-market team. In the space of a year, the economic environment has changed dramatically, and we are dedicated to continuing and increasing the company’s profitability and finding new ways to be a true partner to businesses everywhere. To drive this next phase, we are set to welcome three hugely talented Aircall managers – Alexandra Diez, Emmanuelle Benoliel and Frédéric Viet – to the management team. They have played an essential role in implementing Aircall’s vision over the years, and now they will be indispensable in achieving our future ambitions.
How do you ensure different teams in your organisation work together?
Businesses are facing a number of challenges right now. This means that individuals are having to deal with an increasing amount of pressure. Burnout and stress are already issues for customer-facing teams, so the more we can do to simplify the work each team has to do and automate manual tasks to relieve pressure, the better. This isn’t just for the well-being of individuals, but to ensure better teamwork and better productivity. When teams don’t have to spend so much time and energy trying to deliver the basics, they are in a better position to innovate and work alongside their colleagues to make great things happen.Click below to share this article