“Whoosh, so 2021 is over. What a year!” That’s what we wrote 12 months ago about our past customer conference and our (then) upcoming “BHAG.” Well, that “what a year!” was nothing compared to this one. 😅 Being unable to go for a walk because of the COVID lockdown? How about being unable to go for a walk because russian rockets are burning your street down?
If someone asked us to describe 2022 in a single word, it would be “resilience.” And PortaOne concluded this resilient year with vCC22, our PortaOne Customer Conference.
Despite our major technology and support offices in Ukraine being shelled in 2022, PortaOne did not merely survive. Instead, we managed to thrive as a business amidst the war. (At least to the extent possible while our friends and relatives were getting killed.) And for us to thrive is precisely what our country needs now — a creative and profitable business that drives foreign money into the Ukrainian economy, despite the rockets and shells.
Add-on Mart, our BHAG21, did fulfill our expectations. Inspired by the trading republic of Venice, Steve Jobs, Marc Benioff, and WordPress, we established and grew our Add-on Mart community of telecom innovators. Our customers started using Add-on Mart, and our ecosystem of Add-on Mart developers began to grow. Currently, Add-on Mart features 50+ apps (called “modules”) and is supplying these solutions to nearly 20 happy telcos to support hundreds of thousands of their end users. That’s a great start, and we are hoping it is just the beginning of a bigger Add-on Mart story.
And Our BHAG23 is… Our Cloud Configuration Management Platform (We Are Still on the Quest for a Good Product Name)
When we told you about PortaOne Configurator in the summer of 2021, we didn’t yet know that, two years later, it would backfire and lead to a new business direction for PortaOne. And, BTW: dear telecom customers, there is no need to worry. Telecom is still our top priority (and a steady revenue source, which is more crucial than any fullhearted assurance). However, let’s face the truth: every business today (telecom included) needs proper cloud configuration management: whether that business is adult websites or fertility clinics or the Roman Catholic Church.
What Is a “Cloud Configuration Management Platform”?
For any application to function correctly, you need the proper combination of two things:
- the code — something that will be executed; and
- the (configuration) data that defines how exactly that code should run.
These two “things” apply to any application. Really, any: reaching right from the accounting software you might run on a PC (imagine running a perfectly correct code for your Quickbooks accounting software while using incorrect settings for your business!) and going all the way to complex cloud-based applications like ChatGPT (which is merely a simple web interface for a massive amount of data in the neural model).
Our Cloud Configuration Management Platform OKRs for 2023 and Roman’s vCC22 Presentation
“First, we would like to launch the platform as a fundamental component of Add-On Mart, making life easier for our DevOps team, Add-On Mart partners, and existing customers,” explains Andriy Zhylenko, CEO of PortaOne. “Then, we will experiment with industries outside of telecom.”
Platforms are among the hardest-to-sell solutions. Over this past year, PortaOne has already stepped outside of our usual sales comfort zone by launching sales via the Add-on Mart marketplace.
Combine that expansion with the need to sell the Add-on Mart marketplace to our existing (and new) customers and to our growing community of app vendors — and you will see that PortaOne has already beefed up our sales expertise in complex and multi-layered B2B solutions, dramatically.
How Are We Planning to Sell Our New Platform?
2023 and our cloud configuration management platform will bring a double challenge: (1) selling a brand-new platform with zero existing traction and (2) selling it to customers outside of telecom. What makes us confident? First, we have been selling complex technology products for over 20 years. See the presentation by our chief commercial officer at vCC22. Roman lays out an excellent blueprint for the new telecom business models.
Second, analysts expect the cloud configuration (Fortune calls it “cloud system management”) software market to reach $85B by 2029, with a CAGR of 28.6% throughout 2022–2029. Okay, that may not seem much compared to the trillions of dollars moving around in telecom. However, the market saturation in cloud configuration software recalls telecom back in the 1890s. There is a technology; businesses are using that technology. However, the tools available are minimal.
And there is a third reason to be confident: we are solving a real problem (the one we are facing now at PortaOne). So this is not a bunch of people making up an idea for a new startup. We know this is a confirmed business issue. Everyone who does cloud application development/deployment has this same problem. (The only question is how acute it is.)
How We Organized the 2022 PortaOne Virtual Customer Conference in the Metaverse (Amidst the Bombings)
In 2021, when we held the very first PortaOne Virtual Customer Conference (hence, vCC21), we considered it a temporary replacement for the event that usually enabled real-world contact with our customers. (Before COVID and war, this annual event usually occurred in Chernihiv in autumn.)
However, because of the ongoing COVID lockdown and the uncertain situation with the russian invasion (which ultimately began in February 2022, just four months after the conference), our management team decided to organize the then-upcoming event in a virtual format.
PartySpace: A Partner and a Metaverse Solution That Delivers It Well
So, we were looking for a virtual event solution for 2021, and we soon discovered Party.Space. And, since then, they have never failed us. Party.Space specializes in “Metaverse events.” If, by any (very little) chance, you haven’t heard any of the Metaverse hype — well, the easiest way to explain this “space” is to ask you to picture the way your child plays Minecraft or how your teenage niece or nephew plays Fortnite or World of Warcraft.
Bluntly, Metaverse is much like a Zoom or Google Meet conference room, with a sophisticated background and virtual “skins” for each participant. Say you have kids, and you’ve been away from them for almost a year (much like your author here has). In such a case, you would understand how vital the gamification element is for having a healthy, lengthy conversation with a modern kid spoiled by tablets, Netflix, YouTube, and Minecraft.
Without that added level of interest, these little chickheads 🐣 would simply “swipe left” on your video chat window or, at best, open a side window to watch some Minecraft gameplay on YouTube while you’re trying to hold a conversation (a.k.a. the most embarrassing experience and the most honest feedback a parent could ever have). Party.Space delivers this life-saving gamification experience to grownups to help them maintain their own sense of connection throughout a day-long virtual business conference, such as vCC22.
The Tech Resilience Element of vCC22
By now, you might be sick and tired of our constant sharing of Ukrainian war trauma. (Imagine how tired we are of all of this, too.) But the resilience element is worth sharing, as it aligns with a general resilience theme in vCC22. (In fact, it was our word of choice for 2022.) The concept of resilience might also be helpful for you, dear reader, when planning your own digital customer conference.
“We were particularly mindful of our speakers who are now working from Ukraine,” explains Tatiana Massalskaya, our PortaOne head of marketing. Tatiana has been based in Barcelona since the early 2010s and was in charge of putting vCC22 together.
“The bombings and the resulting electricity blackouts [that were particularly frequent in November 2022] meant people could suddenly go offline during their presentation,” she explains. “To prepare for that, we created pre-recorded videos for all Ukrainian speakers, with a brief additional in-person message explaining that it was a pre-recorded video and that all participants could send their follow-up questions via Linkedin or email. Luckily, none of these videos were needed on the day of vCC22.”
The Event Itself
In the end, says Tatiana, PortaOne vCC22 was another “virtual hit,” with 109 customers from 25 countries attending. You can watch all the
episodes recorded presentations and most of the slides on the vCC22 landing page. (We strongly advise you to visit!) You can also see our Metaverse “conference rooms,” particularly the ones for Add-on Mart and PortaPhone.
Meanwhile, we think it’s very worthwhile to share a few specific stories from “behind the Metaverse.”
Why Does the Discovery Phase Matter (at vCC22 and Elsewhere)?
Since the age of Christopher Columbus, discovery has been a momentous phase, whether what it precedes is important or simply painful. (Hopefully, the discovery phase for PortaOne customers will end better than it did for Native Americans after Columbus.)
To break down what discovery means for PortaOne, Lina Stelmakh, our business analyst, gave an excellent presentation at vCC22.
A Good, Necessary Habit
“Discovery phase is like buckling up in the back seat, quitting smoking, or drinking warm water early in the morning before starting your day,” reasons Andriy Zhylenko. “You explain it to people, they agree… and then they continue doing it all wrong.”
The only way to change things is to create a “new normal.” That’s why, in 2023, PortaOne will stop accepting new projects without a proper project discovery phase done, either by the customer themselves (with the help of a thorough checklist to guide them) or by Lina and her team.
Well, of course you can still skip the discovery phase. We live in a free world ruled by reason and logic, not by orders. However, from 2023 onward, PortaOne customers who choose to opt out of the discovery phase (whether done by PortaOne business analysts or the by the customer’s own sufficiently qualified team) will have to sign a waiver that releases PortaOne of any responsibility (including the urgent need to allocate extra human resources to “save the world”).
Why Is PortaOne Confident That Our API Is in the Right (and Smart) Hands?
Writing for the international HR (they call it “talent”) agency Toptal, Jordan Ambra lays out “the five golden rules” for a great API design. Our own “Jordan” is Oleksandr Zakharchenko. He is (at least) a generation younger than most of us, and he is from Ukraine. (It’s true: being “from Ukraine” is increasingly becoming a resume-worthy biographical fact.)
“I Want to Do Something Meaningful”
“I hate doing typical tasks,” said Oleksandr on a Zoom call one early Kyiv morning. This was during the first week of January 2023. The author of this text was in Podil, and Oleksandr was in the Teremky district. The sun was shining on our faces, fading the background on the call. The webcam adjusted the aperture and delivered a smooth, high contrasting video picture.
Meanwhile, earlier in the morning, russians delivered heavy rocket barrages on Kyiv. It was the same story each morning during the first week of 2023. That one shiny morning felt surreal.
“Two years ago, I was interviewing for a developer’s position at PortaOne,” explained Oleksandr. “The recruiter asked the usual questions, such as ‘how do you see your future in two years’ and ‘why do you want to join PortaOne.’ I replied that I wanted to do something meaningful. But, of course, I didn’t really mean it. It was just, you know, a catchphrase you learn in order to pass HR interviews successfully. Ironically, only now do I realize what ‘something meaningful’ really means.”
Spending the First Weeks of Spring under the Occupation, Then Going on a Surreal Ski Resort Trip
“Several days before it started, the first checkpoints appeared around my home city. Sumy is a border town. Before 2014, russians frequently came to do shopping in our city. We lived like good neighbors. Ukrainian businesses sold their goods to russia. Frankly, it was hard for me to imagine what we would face in 2022,” he continued.
“We organized an improvised bomb shelter in my parent’s basement. In it, we survived the craziest first two weeks of the war. Then my girlfriend Anna told me she was leaving the city with her family and asked whether I would join her. My mother said she and my dad wouldn’t leave their house. So they stayed.”
“We left Sumy in a hastily prepared evacuation column on March 8th. We then traveled to Western Ukraine and settled in a small hotel in Bukovel [That’s a local rendition of Courchevel for the Ukrainian (almost non-existent) bourgeoisie.] Staying at Bukovel was surreal. To a stranger, it might sound like ‘spending the early most violent months of the big war at a ski resort.’ The sad reality was that it was me, Anna, and her family — all in a tiny hotel room surrounded by refugees in a similar situation.”
Someone Has to Keep the Business Running (and Present at Our vCC22)
“We both worked remotely. Finally, Anna’s employer offered her a relocation to Europe. That’s when we decided to marry. We had been dating for several years already, since our university days. When she left, I stayed in Ukraine. In the summer, Anna returned. We lived in Khmelnytskyi for some time, then visited my parents in Sumy, and, ultimately, decided to move to Kyiv.”
Anna and Oleksandr get married amidst the war, several months before his incisive presentation at PortaOne vCC22.
“It was a depressing time. Local people in Western Ukraine treated me like a coward who left his hometown amidst the war. At the same time, their children went to fight in the East. [Or did not, and that’s the real reason for taking your guilt out on a young, frustrated, internally displaced dude from Sumy. The ‘rich bastard from a ski resort’ trope makes it even more convenient.] It was tough, emotionally. I’m not afraid of going to the army. However, someone has to keep the business running. If Ukraine wins and our economy collapses: what would be the sense of that victory?”
Becoming a RESTful Team Lead at Twenty-Three
In May 2022, Andrey Kosachenko, our PortaOne CTO, and Mykola Derevianko, our head of devs, called Oleksandr and offered him the team leader position. “It was a total surprise. I’m the youngest on the team, and my professional experience is limited. I thought that someone with 10+ years of experience should be a team lead. However, Mykola replied that he needs people who are ready to take the initiative.”
“We have various development groups at PortaOne. Mine is in charge of the backend. So, when Andrey Kosachenko debriefed me on updating the PortaOne API, that was a ‘something meaningful’ moment. I have been asking about our plans for a new RESTful API for quite a while. So, finally, we will have a RESTful API… and I will be in charge!”
From SOAP to REST
The API 2.0 Oleksandr and his team are building now are RESTful. The REST here stands for “representational state transfer” — a concept of software architecture first introduced by Roy Fielding in his doctoral dissertation. But the biggest drawback of the existing API is that it is linked to “internal” objects in PortaSwitch. It may look mystic for a freshly hired developer who just started a project and is not familiar with PortaSwitch.
“The API 2.0 Is a Team Effort”
“When writing about this vCC22 presentation, please add that I’m just a part of the team that delivers this great outcome,” Oleksandr said when we did the wrap-up of the Zoom call. “I don’t want to appropriate what our entire team worked so hard to deliver.”
Andriy Zhylenko saw exactly what they delivered. “We are impressed with the work of the backend development team led by Oleksandr,” our CEO summarizes. “The plan throughout 2023 is to make all our APIs RESTful and draft the detailed, convenient, updated documentation for them. For this reason, we plan to add more people to Oleksandr’s team and enable their broad cooperation with our technical writers.”
The Guest Speakers: How vCC22 Helped Our B2B Customers Find Their New End Customers
vCC22 is not limited to only the insiders at PortaOne. This year we featured four excellent guest speakers: Owen Griffith of Pharos explained the neat nuances of launching MVNOs in South Africa. Eric Tiffany of TeamMate Technology described the options for Microsoft Teams integration. Will Fraser from SaaSquatch and Nate Yip from RingCentral explained the value of loyalty and referrals within the context of SaaS companies. Finally, Leslie Herps of RGTN delivered a presentation that led to a surprise outcome.
Leslie explained the attractive service his team built around P2A messaging using PortaBilling. Before vCC22, we published a success story about a P2A solution by RGTN on our website. After our publication, a potential customer approached Leslie offering a new business partnership. What a content marketing story with a happy ending (and a new qualified lead)! 😉
How Does PortaOne Help Our Community Beyond vCC22?
“We know that we, PortaOne, provide great technology,” explains Andriy Zhylenko. “However, so does Google or Microsoft. So whether a certain telecom operator will succeed depends on which new product or service their customers apply that technology to. And let’s admit it: great new business ideas do not appear very often. And even a great idea will not bear fruit if not executed properly.”
So, how can we help? PortaOne has the privilege of serving hundreds of telcos all across the globe. And most are not competitors to each other. Therefore, if an operator from the Netherlands shares an excellent idea about launching an SMS service (and the guidelines to implement it!), then an operator in South Africa or Colombia can use that advice, and this will not in any way hurt the business of the author of the original idea. Even more, if the original author can publish components for implementing that idea to the PortaOne Add-On Mart, that will automatically generate revenue for that author’s business with every new operator that deploys it.
We also see PortaOne as a facilitator in exchange for new business ideas. We can connect various operators and arrange the necessary structure for the information exchange. So it is not just brandishing someone’s success, it is sharing ready-to-use blueprints that will support the success of others. In 2023, we plan to run multiple “Blueprint for Success” workshops. Please stay tuned for that announcement. (The best way to stay tuned is to follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.)
vCC22 and a Quest for New Telecom Business Models
The plain vanilla telecom business model will be finished by the end of 2023. If you are still selling mere voice, messaging, and data — your margin will eventually reach “close to zero.” But here’s the good news: many hybrid business models are sitting out there right now, waiting for telcos like you. Right now, that starts with the mini cloud call center and ends with the various Add-on Mart value-added services you can choose from or your own standalone products. You can create your own integrations, customer-facing front-ends, or any mafic “duct tape” of low-code tools, and you can do it faster with our new API. Then, perhaps you can be an early adopter for automated cloud configuration.
We are always ready to experiment and innovate together with you. Provided that we do a proper discovery phase together and in advance. 😉 Please check in on our website and this blog to be inspired throughout 2023. And please have a safe and prosperous new year.