Marlon Williams, founder and CEO of Fenero.
Headquarters: Downtown Miami
Concept: Fenero provides affordable, reliable and easy-to-use cloud-based contact center software solutions for small, medium and large contact centers and call center outsourcers worldwide.
Story: For the past 10 years, Fenero’s founder and CEO, Marlon Williams, had worked in software development and then as director of information services for a large Miami-based contact center that offered call and online customer communication services. Back then, the company was using an on-premise contact center platform, paying more than six figures upfront plus $200,000 annually for support and maintenance, even though the system was difficult to manage and unreliable. Over time, Williams and his team replaced the system with a competitor, but they still had to build their own custom software to integrate with the platform to keep operations afloat. As the company grew, their system could no longer scale across multiple locations and required them to buy additional licenses. That forced them to evaluate alternatives — most of which were quoted $900,000 or higher for software licenses alone.
“That’s when I decided the industry needed a change,” said Williams. “I thought these guys were nuts to think they could continue charging these exorbitant prices for contact center platforms in 2013. Fenero can provide an equivalent solution, and in specific cases a much better solution, with no licensing fees — ever. Our software is essentially free.”
When asked how the company generates revenue, Williams said, “Running a contact center requires companies to pay for telecom usage charges, payroll, expensive upfront or monthly software license subscriptions, etc. We are saying, here’s free software to run your contact center. Just pay us for the telecom usage that goes through it, as you would have to pay this anyway, and a couple cents for each email or chat interaction handled by your agents. Then you will gain unlimited access to every current and future feature of our software at no additional cost.”
Launched: April 2013
Management team: Marlon Williams, founder and CEO; Marcos Marti, chief technology officer; Sareewan Dendamrongvit, chief software architect; Merlyne Docteur, director of social marketing.
Financing: Raised $450,000 angel funding from investor Nizar Lavji of Win Win Solutions. Seeking an additional $750,000 in the next round.
Recent milestones reached: Fenero recently partnered with one of the largest telecommunications companies in Pakistan, an Abu Dhabi Group company, to power its cloud-based contact center services in the Middle East. It has also sealed deals with a 500-seat contact center provider in Broward County; a Belize-based business process outsourcer responsible for nearly 2,000 seats; and an international contact center provider with locations in Manila, Philippines, Nicaragua, India and Ohio. In less than six months after its launch, Fenero also released native apps for iPad and iPhone users, launched a new corporate website, deployed email, chat, and built-in CRM features, and has fully automated the scaling of its back-end infrastructure.
Biggest startup challenge: Longer sales cycles. As an enterprise software-as-a-service player selling to other businesses, larger organizations tend to choose the safer route by selecting more established solutions. “They’re much slower to try the new kid on the block regardless of how cost effective and efficient he may be,” Williams said.
Next steps: Boost marketing efforts. Continue building additional features every contact center needs to run its business — workforce management, social media interactions, video chat for remote workers — and include it free-of-charge for new and existing customers. Use funding to hire additional software engineers and support personnel to expedite development and customer service needs.
Investor/advisor views: “Fenero’s business model is poised for disruption with the pay-as-you-go approach rather than the existing licensing model most companies use,” said Lavji. “And Fenero has proven the ability to execute. Pay as you go is difficult — to me that is their secret sauce.”James Osteen, executive director of the South Florida Digital Alliance and on Fenero’s advisory board, said he was also impressed with the amount of activity Fenero has generated in such a short time but was mostly attracted to Fenero because of Williams and his strong team. “Once he can get businesses to grasp that paradigm shift, they will see the intrinsic value in what he is offering — a solution that creates efficiencies and lowers costs,” Osteen said. Expect Fenero to ramp up marketing and hit the conference and expo circuit hard in 2014 to get the word out, Lavji said.
To read past Startup Spotlights, see the Startup Spotlight category on this blog.