Dexatel: How to Grow a Global Telecom Company in Armenia from Scratch?
Hetq talked with Dexatel’s founder Gegham Azatyan about the company's story, culture, success and how Dexatel is reacting to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dexatel is a telecom distribution company that has offices worldwide, with the main team located in Armenia. Starting small with a 3-man team, Dexatel managed to grow to a several-hundred-customer company with such celebrity clients as Google, Viber, Deutsche Telecom, plus a solid list of nearly all the names you’ve definitely heard of.
I met Dexatel CEO Gegham Azatyan in the company’s downtown Yerevan office, replete with glass walls and a fashionable kitchen with a built-in library, that has all the Silicon Valley bestsellers of the last ten years.
We sat down in the meeting room (that had no 2 similar chairs btw) to talk about how the company started, how it grew to a regional leader, and how they handle the present challenges.
Ashot Khudgaryan: Gegham, thanks for your time. Please tell me about yourself and background.
Gegham Azatyan։ My educational background is international relations and history (Phd). It obviously has nothing to do with my professional background. I mainly worked in business development. I started in sales and moved to the telecom industry where I worked for the last 13 years. I’ve run a private business for the past seven years.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ International relations? Did it influence your future development?
Gegham Azatyan։ Well, it did, mainly in communicating with people. You know, I’ve noticed that it’s hard for people to talk only about business all the time. Sometimes they just need to switch to small talk with an interesting person on a variety of topics: philosophy, history or anything else.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ You founded your own company. Did the idea come to you during your previous job?
Gegham Azatyan։ Yes. I started working for a telecommunication company as a sales manager for two or three years and I was quite good at it, getting the highest commissions from the sales. Then I got an offer from another company, worked there for three years, and then realized that I could do and achieve more.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ We’ll get back to sales a little bit later. But why did you decide to start a company like this, this kind of telecom service?
Gegham Azatyan։ My biggest experience is exactly in this field: telecommunication messaging.
We started with international calls and roaming, but recently we added one more service - messaging. This happened three years ago, and since then it started to grow fast. Because of its fast pace of growth, it became our main service over the last three years. I can now firmly say that we are one of the leading providers of messaging solutions in the world.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ How does it work?
Gegham Azatyan։ International calls, roaming. Let’s say you are a Ucom customer and want to make a call to your friend abroad on Vodafone. Technically, the two companies have to be connected. Usually what operators do is use transit operator companies that operate this delivery, otherwise you cannot make connections with every single operator in the whole world. Transit companies are the solution to omit costs for telecom companies. We take the call or sms from the customer, it can be a business customer, store chain or private entity.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ In all types of services are you the middleman between two telecom companies?
Gegham Azatyan։ We started this way, but now we also provide service to end users. Anyone can simply register on a website and start using the service.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ As I understand, companies outsource international calls to you to have their full business cycle running? How do you get customers?
Gegham Azatyan։ Usually we reach out to them, but it's different. For example, the third operator in China, China Unicom, got in touch with us and proposed collaboration. We never imagined that this would happen and that they would reach out to us. So now we have got multiple Chinese customers including China Telecom.
And then it expanded worldwide. For some countries and regions we are strong, so they will use us as a provider- CIS, Middle East and Europe.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ I’ve heard that you have celebrity customers. Tell me more about your customers.
Gegham Azatyan։ We have more than one hundred operators, as well as so-called celebrity operators. They are usually the biggest in the region or, like Vodafone, which is a chain represented in many countries. Also, we have got Cellcom onboard - an Israeli company operating in more than seven countries as a mobile operator.
At number one is Google. In 2018, Google launched a new messaging format called RCS. They work with leading operators in the world for delivering these messages, and Dexatel is one of them. Our main task is to deliver these “Google messages” in the regions where we are strongly represented.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ Other customers of note?
Gegham Azatyan։ Yes, of course. Deutsche Telecom, China Telecom, Orange Spain, Orange Poland, CenturyLink, Viber and SAP.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ That's quite impressive. So, you didn’t have these customers from the start?
Gegham Azatyan։ We started with nothing. We had nothing.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What was that nothing?
Gegham Azatyan։ We started with three people in the office. I was the main person dealing with everything from finance to sales. I brought in one sales manager, one technical guy, and we were sitting in a small room in Yerevan. This very room still exists, I can show it to you.
It was basically the first floor of a building where we were renting a small part of that office room, not even the whole room. It was really very small. It was smaller than an average garage space.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What did you do when meetings were scheduled?
Gegham Azatyan։ We didn’t have the capacity to invite anyone to our office. We couldn’t have any guests or have phone calls with partners because we were all sitting in one room. Now we have this office and we are growing very fast, also space-wise. We are expanding and will have a big office with more space hopefully very soon.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What do you consider as your tipping point in your company? That point when you realized that you will start to grow?
Gegham Azatyan։ We were working hard and then suddenly it happened. But it happened with a team, when we started to work as a team. When we had a team of motivated people. We didn’t have the money to pay high salaries. We just hired very motivated people and did it together.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What is the most difficult thing the business faces today?
Gegham Azatyan։ It’s finding those motivated people. People who are also able to motivate others. We do a lot now to motivate people to work, and we do work back to back with everybody in the team. The reason for our success is the team, for sure. If you have a good team behind you, it can take you anywhere.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What do you look for in people?
Gegham Azatyan։ People who are ready to invest everything and focus on their job and work at 120 percent efficiency.
We hire people, not professionals. We’ve had bad experiences with professionals who completely failed. We paid them high salaries, provided them with an apartment and paid their travel costs’ Later, however, we understood that it's much better to hire beginners and coach them through. It just worked best for us.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ Do you hire local people? Given this is their first international experience, how to you motivate them to work at an appropriate level?
Gegham Azatyan։ Sometimes it's a bit complicated in the beginning for them. Sure, they get in contact with cool managers from Frankfurt wearing expensive suits, etc. But what we tell them is that all these flashy things and status are not important - that those people are no better than they are, that they do not read more books, that they are not better fathers or family members. We tell them that their potential is much bigger than their potential. We try to give our employees the space needed to use their potential.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ It's not easy to sell expensive products, especially to big companies. Would you say that Armenians have a fear of big numbers?
Gegham Azatyan։ Yes. Even I had to overcome that problem. Everyone has this issue.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ Operating from Armenia might be beneficial in some cases, but it also has its downsides. What has been the company’s experience in this regard?
Gegham Azatyan։ It was hard in the beginning. The fact that you are from Armenia does not add much to the equation. It's not a popular country for providing telecom services. We’re proving this isn’t the case.
We’ve shown our global customers that we can do this job as Armenians from Armenia. We can do a great job with great customer service and we are professional at it. We have more than 800 customers, 300 of which are big operators. We are approaching a level of flawless sales and customer service.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What's your sales secret?
Gegham Azatyan։ Our sales secret is our sales team. We train them on job specifics, and they do the rest.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What would you say is your special sales trait? Not every company has 800 customers, including 300 big ones.
Gegham Azatyan։ As i said, we spend a lot of time training our team members. We invest in each sales manager by coaching them and teaching them to be flexible. We are dealing with different cultures - Middle Eastern, Asian, European. You need to have very good communication skills, since it is the key to our business.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What would be the most radically different people you’ve dealt with?
Gegham Azatyan։ Probably selling the service to China Telecom and selling the same service to a shop in Pakistan.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What’s the most difficult issue in the sales process?
Gegham Azatyan։ The sales process starts with finding the right person. Let's say you’re dealing with Google. You must find the person that understands your service, is a decision maker, or has the ear of decision makers. The first challenge is to find the right contact person. It can take months or even years.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ Who do you consider your competitors?
Gegham Azatyan։ We don’t compete with all messaging providers. We are already ahead of most of them. They are providers of Facebook, Whatsapp, Telegram, PayPal. And we are going after customers like big IT industry players. We already have a few on our list, but we want to increase the number of our big customers.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ I hear you are growing your team. What’s that like in Armenia?
Gegham Azatyan։ As you know, we carry out all our operations in Armenia and outsource some services to people abroad. Our team in Armenia consists of forty people, and I hope to move to a bigger office by the end of the year. While I’m not sure we can double the number of employees this year, but we want to increase it. We want to keep the main operation office in Armenia. One plan is perhaps to open a new office abroad.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ How is Dexatel dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?
Gegham Azatyan։ Dexatel, compared to other companies, was fully ready for working from home. First, because of the mobile specifics of our work - we worked on laptops from the airports, coffee shops, on business trips as well as from home. So obviously, the last option is the most comfortable one. This is normal for us. The only thing we need to handle is the psychological stress employees may face due to social isolation. The good news is that Dexatel didn't cancel its social events. The most recent one is an online wine tasting event with InVino.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What's happening in the telecom sector during the pandemic?
Gegham Azatyan։ Well, it may sound strange, but we see a significant increase of SMS and Voice traffic these days. People have begun to communicate more with each other and, as you know, most seniors don't use whatsapp or viber. They prefer to make direct calls. Regarding SMS, even though the marketing traffic dropped a lot, authorization traffic (password resets, user verifications, log ins, etc.) increased by 30-40% instead.
Ashot Khudgaryan։ What will your business be like after Covid-19?
Gegham Azatyan։ Philosophically speaking, when one door closes, another one opens.
We see this as an opportunity to get ahead of our competitors. Thus, we continue to follow our development plans. That means no holdups on any of our current projects and investments and their deadlines.
Despite massive layoffs all over the world, our workload is stably increasing. During these hard times for employment opportunities we are even hiring more people to join the Dexatel team.
So, if you’re ready to challenge present and future limits, give us a call.
Ashot Khudgaryan - Founded The99, which helps companies crystallize their vision, create stories, messages and campaigns that deliver core values and brand culture.
Co-Founder of Beyond Learning Hub, a project helping people build a career in