Most people in the telecom industry are, by now, familiar with GeoQuote, the tool released by Telarus in 2003 to produce real-time quotes for commercial broadband and voice agents. What most people don’t know is the human story behind it, how surfing played such a major role in its initial development, and how we struggled to make it stable and reliable once people started using it.
In September of 2002, the waves at Huntington Beach were epic. A tropical storm off the coast of Baja, California was pumping six to 10 foot swells directly to the Southern California coast. I called my best friend and business partner, Adam Edwards, to make arrangements to meet at his house on 17st Street so we could walk down and grab some liquid goodness.
“I can’t,” he said. “I’m just too tired. I stayed up all night emailing with carrier channel managers so I could put together price quotes for our two sub-agents.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My 29-year old body was in bad need of some barrel, and my boy was too tired to get out of bed because he was manually gathering information, copying and pasting it into a Microsoft Word document, and emailing it to our partners.
That was the day I vowed to come up with a permanent fix to that problem. Never again would we miss out on epic waves.
I told Adam we should find some software that could automatically determine the availability of all broadband providers at a particular location, along with corresponding prices. After all, we had just witnessed the very successful launches of websites such as Expedia and Orbitz, amongst others.
I searched Google, Yahoo, and even Infoseek (remember that?) looking for something, anything, that would perform the research for us. After all, with the huge internet boom there just had to be some type of centralized database of broadband providers!
After my online search proved futile, I contacted people I knew, industry experts, and asked them the same question, “Do you know where we can license a real-time quoting tool?” Their responses varied from “I’ve never heard of such a thing” to outright laughter. I wasn’t sure why they were laughing. Having gone to college during the early days of the internet, it seemed pretty logical to me to be able to do this type of research online.
That was when I knew that, if we wanted to have the benefit of a real-time broadband pricing tool, I’d have to build it myself.
The next nine months of my life were dominated with ideas, code, database design, and part-time consulting with my friend, Aaron Jay Lieberman. Because we didn’t have any actual carrier data, we made some up based on actual quotes we received for the sake of building the underlying architecture of the new system.
We made quick progress early on, but we were soon stuck in a quagmire of telecom terms and logic we didn’t understand. Things such as V and H coordinates, central offices, and loop distances plagued our attempts to calculate availability and pricing. Frustrated, Aaron Jay began to work on other more profitable projects and GeoQuote, as we would eventually call it, was put on the back-burner for the time being.
The problem is, I’m not a patient person. When I saw our progress had halted, I bought a plane ticket from LA to Fort Lauderdale so I could work on it with him in person.
I called Aaron Jay from the airport and asked if he could come and pick me up, to which he said, “Uh, sure. What are you doing in Florida?”
“Aaron Jay. I’m here to work with you on GeoQuote, and I’m not going home until we get it working.”
I hated to be an uninvited guest at his house, but I forced the issue. Good thing he was single!
Once we arrived at his house, I set up my computer on the desk right next to his. For the next four days we coded, researched, and coded some more. Finally, after many days of work (and sleeping on his futon) I remember seeing the system produce some garble-gook. It was garbage but at least it was “alive”!
Another day of tweaking and finally we had our first accurate GeoQuote. I’ll never forget the feeling of the second quote, because, after all, the first one could have been just dumb luck. I’m sure I shed a tear of joy, seeing something I dreamt up spring to life.
My first call was to Adam to share with him the great news. My second call was to my wife to let her know I’d finally be returning home. I had flown down there without a return ticket!
Little did I know how far from the finish line we really were.
“Sorry Guys. I wish I could help.”
Having working software was huge, but without carriers who would provide us their data, it was all still mute. Adam and I learned about an industry conference called “Channel Partners” that is held in Las Vegas every March. We signed up and set up as many appointments with suppliers as we could. What we didn’t understand at the time was that most suppliers guarded their availability and pricing data like a pile of gold bars. They had little to no interest in coughing it up to a bunch of twenty-somethings from Huntington Beach with dreams of changing the way a 40-year old industry worked.
Some of the pushback we received sounded a lot like this, “You need to sell our broadband based on the value” and “you guys are going to commoditize this industry!”
In hindsight, it was interesting the politics of the data were more difficult to navigate than the actual creating of the online systems to compute of the data.
Finally We Catch a Break
After many meetings with several vendors, we found a few who were willing to give us their information: PowerNet Global, ACC Business, TelePacific, MegaPath, and New Edge were the early adopters of the technology. They understood the future of the industry was wrapped up in software tools that make it easy for agents to find, qualify, and source bandwidth.
It was interesting to me to see how easy it has been to interest subsequent suppliers in providing us the data we need to add them to GeoQuote. Once the initial group of suppliers collectively “blessed it” by becoming active participants, the rest soon followed.
But just when you thought we had this thing figured out, we discovered two other major hurdles: Scalability and accuracy. As it turned out, GeoQuote 1.0 was awesome when less than 10 people used it at a time. When the 11th jumped on, the RAM usage on our server would max out and everything would lock up.
It doesn’t take too many failed quotes, or inaccurate quotes, to sour a once-enthusiastic user base, it turns out. We were back into “emergency” mode, re-writing the code so it would consume less RAM and so it could survive a situation in which a particular carrier API didn’t respond to us in less than 60 seconds. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but the RAM and timeout issues nearly sunk our ship before we made it out of the harbor!
What also came as a shock was the maintenance burden we unwittingly signed up for when we began to rely on this technology in earnest. The worst thing that can happen to our technology is to have it fall out-of-date or become unreliable, which is why, in 2010, we hired a full-time person to curate the tool and constantly audit the results for accuracy, updated rate plans, and current serviceability footprints. Once you decide to get on this bull, you have to keep on riding!
The Future of GeoQuote
After more than a dozen years and 10 million quotes, GeoQuote has become a permanent fixture in the commercial telecom sales space. The emergence of coax as a viable commercial broadband product and SD-WAN continues to fuel the fire for GeoQuote demand, where speed and price are major considerations.
Still, people ask me all the time about the future of Telarus, and of GeoQuote, in particular. To them I say the future of GeoQuote is—and will continue to be—very closely tied with our company’s goal of becoming the “go to” place for all things UC: Network, hosted UC, and monitoring.
The next step up the ladder is hosted voice, which has historically been extremely hard for agents, and customers to differentiate. With GeoQuote guiding our partners, and our own employees, to the ‘best fit’ hosted voice providers, we’ll be able to increase the efficiency and quality of advice our partners are giving to their end-use clients, making them even more lethal in this game we call commercial telecom sales.
As the father of GeoQuote, I’m so humbled and proud to play a part in it’s creation, it’s refinement, and it’s continual evolution. Giving birth to the idea and seeing it remove countless unnecessary cycles from people’s days, watching it find carriers our partners didn’t know could service an address, seeing the market adopt it as the “go-to” software to find and quote broadband, and soon hosted voice, is one of the coolest feelings I may ever have while I’m on this earth.
If you’d like to use GeoQuote to help you run more efficiently, or if you’d like to give me some suggestions for ways to make it better, please don’t hesitate to comment in the form below or message me in private.