Founder Interviews: Luke Escudé of PrimeVOX Communications

A self-made serial entrepreneur who’s been writing code since he was 11, PrimeVOX CEO Luke Escudé is striving to revolutionize the telecommunications industry with a scalable, self-healing, AI-powered VoIP platform.

What’s your background, how did you get into telecom?

My name is Luke Escudé, and I am from Dallas, Texas. I started writing code, mainly (ugly) websites and (unplayable) games, when I was 11, on a hand-me-down Dell Latitude laptop. My coding skills ended up turning into an early career when I was 14, providing IT service and some basic software and website engineering services for local consumers and businesses. When I was 15, I founded an IT company that specialized in networking, servers, desktop support, and custom software engineering.

My IT company grew very well, despite not having a driver’s license when I started it. I ended up receiving clients all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, with consistent income, some technicians I worked with on a regular basis, and I even gained a government security clearance to perform infrastructure (SCADA) work for the US Mint over in Fort Worth.

My last client, an oil-and-gas company based in North Dallas, was where I got into phone systems. I was 18 and a senior at JJ Pearce High School in Richardson, TX when I built out this company’s entire network and security system from the ground up. They had a phone vendor that wanted nearly $15,000 for a call center phone system, so I told them I’d do some R&D and build them a phone system for half that cost. A couple weeks later, we had a FreePBX system running with some Grandstream phones, and they were in business making money hand over fist. This was the point in time that I realized I loved phones.

I’m going to skip over the parts of my adolescence that involved getting arrested in junior high for hacking into the school district’s private storage servers, writing a small virus in high school that turned everyone’s computer screens upside-down permanently, and other various curiosity-fueled destructive actions that were essentially harmless (but annoying to the school’s IT staff).

What is PrimeVOX working on?

Our mission at PrimeVOX is to provide reliable and affordable cloud-based VoIP telecommunications services to businesses and consumers all over the world. Our services are utilized by thousands of users across the USA, and in several countries, such as Ecuador, New Zealand, and others. A primary benefit to our services is that we are month-to-month, with no commitment contracts or termination fees.

We started back in 2015 offering basic VoIP services to local businesses in Dallas, utilizing some open source telephony software called FreePBX. It worked well, but was not a scalable solution, had very little downtime tolerance, and could not be geographically distributed to maximize call quality. Once we started running out of IP addresses, we realized this solution would not be sufficient — Having a public IP for every customer was wasteful and still did not solve scalability concerns.

Instead of going with industry-typical platforms like 3CX, Broadsoft, Netsapiens, etc. we set out to engineer our own platform using Docker to containerize and rapidly scale up our capacity. Docker’s built-in Swarm feature allows us to maintain a swarm of Docker workers across multiple datacenters and allows for near-instantaneous creation of new PBX systems for new customers, as well as near-instantaneous failover in the event that one of our servers goes down.

Combining Docker with some proprietary cluster database code and telecom message handling code, we’re able to create a truly unique and reliable mesh of VoIP servers, with absolutely no single points of failure, due to the entire thing being a mesh. We are officially patent-pending for this architecture and its design concepts.

So, where does the AI come in?

Excellent question — The docker piece of it is a relatively small part of our patent-pending architecture. The AI we built into the infrastructure enhances the ability of our system to recover from outages (both internal and external outages — more on this later). This self-healing property enables the mesh to grow and shrink on-demand, never forsaking a single customer or a single phone line.

In the event of an “internal” outage, which is where one of our own servers (or entire datacenters) goes down, any customers whose phone systems are running on that server/datacenter will be rapidly destroyed and re-created in an alternative server or datacenter. Phone calls will resume like normal within about 10 seconds on average, and all phone calls placed after the outage will automatically re-route around the downed server/datacenter.

In the event of an “external” outage, which is where one of the national/world-wide telecom carriers is having a problem, our system automatically re-routes calls to alternative destinations and carriers. For instance, during the recent hurricane on the East Coast, a lot of people’s cell phones and landlines couldn’t be reached because of various carriers going down. Our system detects these faults and attempts to connect the calls to over 40 different carriers rapidly to try and guarantee your phone call’s connection.

How big is your team? Are they all in Dallas?

Our team consists of some of the best minds in each of their fields. On the engineering side, we have Jared, our back-end database, dial plan, and API developer. Aaron is our GUI/front-end Angular developer, and Sara is our requirements engineer. She’s essentially our project manager, the glue that bonds our high-level vision to a set of low-level requirements for the engineering path to follow. On the financial side, Alex is our CFO and performs all of our book keeping, taxes, legal and compliance, as well as FCC and state-level telecommunications compliance, which is quite a massive task to handle.

Interestingly, only Jared, Alex, and I are in the US. Sara and Aaron are both in Ecuador, where one of our business partners/resellers has started a virtual receptionist company hiring American ex-pats to answer phones and perform engineering tasks. That’s the beauty of VoIP — All of our Ecuadorian customers have Dallas phone numbers. On the phone with them, you’d never know they weren’t in the US!

What motivated you to get started with your company?

After being in IT for so many years, you get tired of the big carriers taking advantage of your customers. ISPs not providing the services they promise, poor technical support, long-term contracts forcing unhappy businesses to avoid growth on the risk the contract will auto-renew.

I was finally done with it, so when I was 19, I decided to sell off my IT company and start PrimeVOX, a VoIP carrier people can depend on for excellent technical support, and one that does not force its customers into contracts.

With the help of Michelle, and amazing rep at a local fiber carrier, I was able to gain customers quickly and start making revenue right in the beginning. During this time, our servers were not in a datacenter — They were in a car wash. Yes, a car wash — On a 4.5Mbps T1 circuit, no less.

How have you attracted users and grown your company?

Currently, we do not perform any sales. We have a website and do occasional press releases, but 95% of our customers were referred to us, either by existing customers or by our growing network of referral agents.

Referrals work extremely well; leads are always warm, they basically sign themselves up, and as long as we’re providing solid support and service, we’ll never lose them as customers. Everyone wins in this scenario, and it helps us validate that what we’re doing is working, and that it’s helping people’s businesses grow.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

There will always be tough times. Times when you think you ought to give up, either because your technology isn’t functioning properly, your customers are providing a lot of negative feedback, or simply because you’ve been working 80 hours a week for a year and ripping your hair out doesn’t appear to be solving anything, as much as you think it should. These tough times will make you a better business owner and will make your team stronger as a unit.

Surround yourself with people who see and believe in your vision. Employees who just want a 9-to-5 job without vision for the future can be quite toxic to a startup. Your employees are much more than employees, they’re your teammates, and making decisions with them is critical to your success. As much as you’d like to think you know everything, you don’t, but that’s okay if you can bounce ideas off people who are, ideally, smarter than you are.

Lastly, relax! You’re the leader of a growing empire. Don’t forget to sit back, enjoy yourself, and make time to de-stress, whether that means playing video games or going rock climbing.

Where can we go to learn more?

Our website can be found at https://www.primevox.net

We have a YouTube video demonstrating the real-time failover and AI system at work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1Pc474ucXA

Lastly, a PR we released last year talking about our infrastructure: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/3580774

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