Paul Ruppert – Telecoms and CPaas Thought Leader on the Power of Range in Complex Global Deal Making

Interview Highlights

  • CPAAS: CPaaS is a $18 billion market expanding to $61 billion in 2024 (Arthur D Little), yet according to analysts Mobile Squared only 3% of enterprises are utilizing them, meaning a 97% underutilized upside.
  • INTEROPERABILITY: Interoperability is a perennial challenge facing global industries like telecoms. For 20+ years Paul Ruppert has been working to address the issue from filing 2 messaging patents of his own to structuring complex cross border deals up to $6 billion in value.
  • RANGE: To survive and thrive in complex industries to span borders and cultures, you need “Range” – a skill that allows you to apply pattern seen in one industry to another and one that trains you to see similarities rather than differences

Introducing My Next Guest…

You’re looking downhill… you take an initial plan of where you want to go and then you just touch the mystery, jump into the void

The above quote is from my next guest, Boston based Paul Ruppert, talking about the thrill of the ride being a qualified ski instructor tackling a challenging downhill course. That mystery comes from not knowing exactly how things are going to work out, but being fully present and committed to each and every moment as it unfolds.

It’s a good philosophy for life and career. Few of us ever start out of the gate of college knowing what we will do or where we will end up. We may, like Paul, start out in Politics, progress to sales and then play a hand in shaping the telecoms industry. Like that downhill course, it’s never a straight line that gets you there.

Paul is a global telecoms thought leader who you may not know yet but I’m confident has already impacted your life in a small way. Every text message you receive to authenticate a bank transaction or airline checkin has, at some level, crossed an intricate and complex network of connections that Paul has helped build since the early days of telecoms.

It’s not the kind of technology we give much thought to because it “just works”. But to get it to that seamless stage of user experience has taken almost 20 years of negotiating and cross border deal making in the background. That’s why I’m fascinated to find out the drivers and journeys of the people who build out this kind of infrastructure because these aren’t the headline seekers typical of the startup ecosystem, but those focused on the challenge of making the complex very simple.

With each podcast guest, I like to go deeper and further, joining the dots between their conversation on my podcast and other guest appearances to create a richer understanding of their story. In this article I’ve drawn out the key talking points not only from the guest’s appearance on my podcast but also 2 other aligned podcasts of relevance: one that goes deep into the technical aspects of his industry experience, and the other highlighting his journey in sales and revenue growth.

Let’s start with XL Podcast. The goal of my podcast is to showcase the stories of different leaders and entrepreneurs. Many become successful by becoming a go-to in their chosen disciplines. What makes them a valuable source of expertise and opinion isn’t their specific domain specialisation but their ability to combine deep domain knowledge with a broader understanding of problems and patterns seen in other niches and industries.

The T-Shaped Career

I’m also fascinated by the pathways we choose in life that bring us to the present. Few of my guests have time to fully reflect on their journey. Fewer still have taken time to articulate and make sense of it.

If I could generalize the journeys many took it would the “T-Shaped” career. The 1st half being a specialization – the vertical “column” in the “T”. They focus on a domain or a territory that allows us to be the perceived expert or world leader in a field. What separates many of them from just being “experts” is the 2nd stage in their career – the “bar” of the “T” that runs horizontally. It’s here they take their patterns of success and apply them to different industries and markets. The specialist who can generalize their experience to agile and evolving scenarios possesses a unique set of skills in business today.

As you’ll hear in this podcast and from the other 2 featured here in this article, that horizontal application has real value in solving complex industry specific problems. If you want to solve a telecoms interoperability problem for the average mobile user in the street, perhaps you need to adopt a non-telecoms way of thinking. And if you want to delight the customer, you might just need to do what’s right, not what’s written in the manual.

Boundaryless Range

In his New York Times Bestseller, “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” author David Epstein describes those that have “Range” as the ability to “to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.”

Telecoms, for example, is an industry transcends all borders, culturally and literally. What Japanese teens text on their phones is little different from your average middle aged American soccer mom. And these kind of industries require people who see the global stage as one on which you can build bridges rather than walls.

That’s why the mobile industry has, for years, invested heavily in creating opportunities for its people to connect and learn from their global peers once a year in events like the annual summit in Barcelona. It wasn’t always in Spain. Back int he early 2000s, the Mobile World Congress (or 3GSM as it was then known) took place in Cannes, France.

And that’s where I first met Paul.

Back then he was working on a fledgling mobile messaging company (that later grew to a billion dollar valuation). Unlike many of the telco execs thrust into the rapidly emerging global industry, Paul seemed at home operating in a boundaryless world.

Most mobile execs at Cannes would fly in and out of the city oblivious to the host country except the fact their hotel breakfast buffet would serve half-decent croissants. Paul, howevr, could talk about France at length. He spent many summers here as a kid with distant relatives (his mother was French), he trained and qualified as a ski instructor in the Alps. He’s intimately familiar with the hikes and trails around Les Trois Vallées and Mont Blanc. For him, Orange France Telecom and Verizon Wireless weren’t from different worlds but two likeminded organizations separated by superficial differences in culture and language.

I’ve lived in different countries myself (Japan, Singapore to name a few). That upbringing trains you later in life to see commonalities in place of differences. When you have an industry with a relatively simple product (minutes and messaging) applied to billions of people, 100s of cultures and languages, you need problem solvers who aren’t experts in the mechanics of how to use it but in understand who will use it.

Case in point – NTT DoCoMo, the Japanese telecom giant that led the world with the first mobile internet service in 1998 and later launched an app store long before Apple gave the world iTunes. DoCoMo was a classic specialist that dominated the vertical bar of the “T”, but failed to expand its footprint globally. It bought into partners in The Netherlands and The UK but its people were too fettered by world views that saw differences and barriers to expand horizontally into new markets.

Japanese analysts would, with hindsight, label the global failure of their operators and handset manufactures as the “Galapagos Syndrome” epitomizing a generation of players who were highly specialized to a specific fitness landscape that made them incapable of competing in dynamic and agile environments.

When Paul discovered I was researching how Japanese teenagers were using text messages on the DoCoMo network back in 2000, he would listen intently, ask questions and process the answers. So many in the industry, by contrast, would retreat to the comfort of their own Galapagos world view, shutting the conversation down with “that’s not how we do things in our country.”

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In a world where “Cell Phone King” Nokia (see Time magazine) championed “Connecting People”, the biggest challenge wasn’t the technology but the people doing the connecting itself. I later met Paul at a conference in Cologne Germany where in the break out room one European telco exec confessed to us how he couldn’t understand the mannerism of the front desk staff at his local hotel. “They’re so different here” he said with a shrug of his shoulders.

And yet they aren’t.

If you want to structure a multi market deal that could measure millions of dollars; if you want to scale a startup across timezones; if you want straight talking analysis of a mobile industry opportunity, you want an opinion that doesn’t see barriers, borders and differences.

You need “Range” and that’s how Paul has built a reputation for himself as a go-to for opinion.

If there’s anything to know about CPaaS, mobile messaging and the market status of mobile telecommunications, Paul is your man. In the last few years, hedge funds, family offices and PE teams have sought him out to solicit his opinion. He’s taken over 100 “money calls” as they are known, fielding concerns and questions from analysts and investors about their positions, potential telecoms investments or market developments.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of CPaaS, I’d like to explore Paul’s background further. Because, what appears on the surface to be a world leading expert in telecoms, has actually a much broader and more diverse background than meets the eye…

From Shopfloor to Billion Dollar Valuations

Paul’s a sales guy in his DNA. That’s how he started out and that’s why he built a large network of contacts in and outside of telecoms around the C-Level over 20 years.

Sales is not typically found on the resume of a Harvard graduate in Public Policy, the same graduate who served under 4 US Presidents in government and who worked as a Federal Trade Lobbyist. But like much of Paul’s CV, he’s quietly understated. But you have to push Paul to get him to espouse his own list of experiences. Like the fact that he used to live in China; or he was a Federal Trade Lobbyist; or that he holds 2 tech patents enabling global text messaging.

None typically found on the CV of your average global sales head.

When we sketch it out on the back of an envelope, we calculate Paul has engineered $400m in tech sales in 10 years across borders (US, Europe, China). That includes growing at least one telecoms startup to a billion dollar valuation.

Behind this success lies an attitude of getting the job done. Sure, he learned Negotiation 101 at Harvard to finesse the approach, but the fundamentals come from a street smarts that transcends academic credentials.

At college, family financial challenges meant he found himself without the tuition fees he needed to complete his course. Rather than go cap in hand to his network, he took a job at a local hi-fi stereo retailer.

In my junior year I got a call from the Bursar’s office saying the tuition hadn’t been paid. That a shock. I discovered my father was on the early stages of developing dementia so I had to quickly pivot from being a lackadaisical student to thinking on my feet about how to generate revenue fast.

It’s here he learned to sell. Where one customer wanted to buy “the works” but couldn’t arrange delivery to his house, Paul offered to drive the truck in the parking lot to the customer to get the deal done.

That’s why when high stakes deals are on the line, deals that may be 6-8 figures in net size, (in his own words, Paul has structured deals from 6 million to 66 billion dollars), startups and telcos call Paul.

You also have to be able to the kind of operator who isn’t motivated purely by title and status. It’s so easy to toss the keys to the intern and tell them to drive the truck. Top sales producers in the company won cars. In his 20s, Paul turned down a Trans Am and negotiated with the management for a cash settlement, cash he’d use to pay off his tuition fees.

After college, Paul pursued a career working in an out of politics in Washington.

I was the guy carrying a briefcase behind a Senator or a Cabinet Secretary or in the President’s entourage. In that experience, you can very quickly become arrogant.

He met Presidents (listen to the podcast to describe the meeting with Ronald Reagan). But in a world deeply involved in status and privilege, Paul felt the tug of business calling him. If he was going to impact people’s lives it wouldn’t be in the machinery of politics but through a much more global common denominator – telecoms.

And behind every sales leader is a career built less on privilege and status but on hustle in its various forms. It’s never a well trodden path, always requiring a little lateral thinking to overcome obstacles. That lends itself well to good story, as you can hear more in Paul’s conversation with Podcast Host Darren Mitchell on The Exceptional Sales Leader Podcast.

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CPaas: Communications Platform as a Service

Paul tracks over 250 CPaaS providers globally varying in size from $100m to $1bn in revenues. The most significant players in include familiar names Twilio and Vonage.

This is box title
cpaas market growth

Above data source: Channel News Asia. CPaas is enjoying strong growth, especially in leading markets like Asia (where Paul has deep experience having lived in China).

But what exactly is CPaas?

According to Wikipedia, CPaaS is “a communications platform as a service… a cloud-based platform that enables developers to add real-time communications features (voice, video, and messaging) in their own applications without building back-end infrastructure and interfaces.”

CPaaS is a $18 billion market expanding to $61 billion in 2024 (Arthur D Little), yet according to analysts Mobile Squared only 3% of enterprises are utilizing them, meaning a 97% underutilized upside.

Let’s put that into layman terms, what does CPaaS do?

The hosts of the rather excellent Telescope Investing podcast, Luke and Albert, challenged Paul in a recent conversation to pass the “Mum Test” i.e. explain this to my Mum (or Mom if you speak an English derivative). As Paul explains, the most obvious example of CPaaS in our daily lives today is receiving an alert from an airline of a flight delay. Or, the one time passwords (OTP) we all use for security authentication in every transaction from signing in to Facebook to logging in to your bank account. According to Paul, OTP is one part of a large, evolving group of services and applications that fall under the CPaaS umbrella.

CPaaS has been around long before it acquired its name. When Paul joined pioneer mobile services provider Mobile365 as employee #12 in 2001 he was given a remit to create international sales across the rapidly emerging 3G landscape. Back then, he was structuring deals to create interoperability between 3G network carriers and early service providers using SMS to communicate with customers.

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Much of what Mobile365, and Paul, did 20 years ago in addressing global interoperability problems has laid the foundations for the CPaaS industry today. That laid the ground for every bank, airline and Facebook that touches our lives to engage customers without having to build their own telecom network. Through a mesh of APIs, telcos and messaging providers co-exist, co-operate and compete in an ever evolving landscape. Where telcos once only had to concern themselves with their relationships and supply lines with handset manufacturers on one side and retailers on the other, now they have this fuzzy relationship with global messaging providers who have access to billing and end customer relationships.

Here we are today on 5G. And since those days, telecoms has become a competitive playing field for new entrants from Apple to Huawei to Facebook, all bringing different modes of business and ways of operating. Yet with 97% of enterprises still yet to get on board with CPaaS, there are still large gaps in the “customer experience” journey that need boundaryless thinking to solve the problem. Customer Experience means getting the job done. And it’s a gap that won’t necessary be solved by the people who own the hardware.

It’s the same way FedEx and Amazon operate their business. They are not concerned about maintaining the roads, but about the end customer experience

The quote above from the Telescope Investing Podcast describes what has become the Application Layer Economy today driven by scale ups like Twilio and built on the pioneering work of people like Paul. How can I solve this problem for my customer even if it means going outside the standard operating procedures of my industry? How can I meet my customers on their messaging platform of choice rather than expect them to bend their behavior to meet my industry’s inherent limitations?

“We believe we are at the beginning of the CPaaS evolution as sophisticated customer engagement and advanced communications can become the key building blocks of future communication tools,” said Synergy research analyst Fazil Balkaya in Computer Weekly.

That’s why companies like Twilio are garnering significant attention in the investment and development community because they approach the customer experience problem not from the transport layer side (a traditional telecoms approach) but from the application side like FedEx and Amazon – what creative capabilities can we offer to better serve the customer?

Twilio recently acquired Segment – a customer data provider – giving them the ability to personalize every message, creating an individualized experience in what has been for the last 20 years a very standardized channel. To think in these terms you need people who operate horizontally, cross-function, cross-border rather than deep within the technological standards. You need range and you need people who are prepared to build bridges across the gaps.

Talking to Paul is always a lot of fun and engaging. He has a depth of experience that needs a little arm twisting to expound. But, as you’ll hear from the podcast interviews and read in this article, that’s his DNA. He’s out there working in the background getting the job done.

Paul Ruppert -
Paul Ruppert –

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