Alex Botteri, CEO and Founder of Ring4, sees the gig economy as an opportunity for people to take hold of their destinies. He knows a thing or two about this, given he traded in a stable career in business development and software engineering to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur. After years working at IBM and other big-name companies in telecommunications and cloud computing, he ventured out on his own to found Ring4.
“We're in the beginning of something,” Botteri said. “I think we are the beginning of a huge trend. People are starting to feel like they can own their destinies instead of hiding behind big corporations.”
The freelance and contract workforce is certainly expanding, with online marketplaces like Contently and Upwork making it easier for freelancers to land assignments. And millennials are more entrepreneurial than preceding generations.
With the gig and sharing economy ballooning and entrepreneurship on the rise, Botteri saw an unmet need—freelancers, sharing economy participants, and small business owners needed an easy way to get an additional phone line so they could keep their personal and business lives separate. This need also extends to the hundreds of thousands of people using apps to score dates.
People are starting to feel like they can own their destinies instead of hiding behind big corporations.
“One of the biggest problems that Ring4 is solving is helping freelancers to start their businesses,” Botteri said. “I think more and more people are working on their own. They are entrepreneurs, freelancers, or they start small businesses. And it used to be that people would work in large companies, and everything is taken care of for them. And now everybody kind of has to deal with that infrastructure for themselves.”
Ring4 allows people to get a second phone number through the Ring4 app. Instead of chewing into text and minutes, the phone line runs off data (WIFI, LTE, or 3G), so users don’t have to pay extra for the minutes used with the extra line. It also allows users to call any international number free of charge. The app has shown early traction with its 250,000+ regular users. It was also nominated Product of the Year in 2017 on Product Hunt and featured in the Apple App Store.
The road to entrepreneurship
Born in France, Botteri studied computer science in Paris, Quebec, and Barcelona, before coming to the US to work at major tech companies. He had a fascination with products since he was a kid, and, in addition to dreaming about becoming an entrepreneur, he also dreamed about engineering products.
“I always wanted to create products,” he said. “And I always wanted to be an entrepreneur for sure.”
But leaving his stable career was certainly a big risk—one that he was willing to take to see his idea through. It required a big sacrifice, sacrificing the stability of the corporate world. Doing so hasn’t been easy, but Botteri thinks embracing difficulty is a good thing and welcomes the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
“I don't think having difficulty is negative,” Botteri said. “I think you can be very happy having difficulties. What makes people unhappy is doing things they don’t care about. I've worked in the corporate world, and my situation was very comfortable. They gave me a car, they gave me a mobile phone, and they give me a lot of money. I was signing bonuses all the time, but I was very unhappy because I was not doing what I cared about.”
I don't think having difficulty is negative. I think you can be very happy having difficulties.
In addition to the rewards that came with following his dream of being an entrepreneur and doing what he really cared about, facing obstacles and pushing through them has been nearly as rewarding, certainly more rewarding than working for someone else day in and day out.
“When you go to work and you don’t feel like your contribution to the world is the contribution you want to give, that can be more depressing than having difficulties," Botteri said. “When you push through challenges, you have a little victory and you can celebrate and then move on to the next challenge. Comfort is not rewarding, from my experience, it doesn’t necessarily bring you happiness. I have a lot of challenges, and what I do isn’t easy, but it’s more rewarding, I would say.”
The seed of inspiration
The moment of inspiration to create Ring4 hit when he was working at WeWork. There, he saw firsthand many entrepreneurs hustling to get their businesses off the ground. Knowing that starting a business was a big challenge, he wanted to help people do it easily.
“Seeing all these new entrepreneurs, watching everyone setting up new businesses was super inspiring,” he said. “And there is an entire infrastructure to be built for them. I think this market is going to be huge. I think the telecommunication networks are obsolete, and there is very little innovation in that space. When the iPhone came around, I thought that combining the ease apps with setting up a phone line made sense. It didn’t make sense to pay for an extra phone for a second line.”
Seeing all these new entrepreneurs, watching everyone setting up new businesses was super inspiring. There is an entire infrastructure to be built for them.
Because Botteri worked in both telecommunications and cloud computing, he had a unique advantage when creating Ring4, which combines both of these technologies. One of his responsibilities, when he moved to San Francisco, was to bridge the gap between internet companies and mobile carriers with telecommunication API.
“I was working with a lot between the telecommunication companies and internet companies, and that's where I saw the opportunity,” he said. “I was in the middle of that space for a long time, and it was two worlds that usually don't work well together.”
Ultimately, Botteri recognizes that small business owners can put their money to better use than buying more phones to just get separate phone lines. Ring4 aims to be a fundamental tool that helps people launch their businesses in the future. This is the central mission of the company.
“We want to be the communication infrastructure for small businesses,” Botteri said. “So, you don’t need to buy a second phone, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money for a new business ID, which is your phone line. You can just download an app, set up a new phone line, and that's it.”
In addition to helping small business owners build an infrastructure, Botteri hopes Ring4 will empower freelancers and remote workers who want to work from anywhere around the globe. Like the gig economy, digital nomadism is starting to trend, with people hopping from country to country, combining freelance or remote work with recreational travel.
“Do you want to be working from Bali? I know people from San Francisco, who go and work in all these countries, like Bali,” he said. “So with Ring4 you can work from there, from your Airbnb or your coworking space, and you’ll receive your call just as if you were in the US.”
It’s a big plus to be able to do so. Currently, people have to use apps like Skype or Whatsapp to call international numbers for free, requiring other parties to connect to these apps in order to receive calls. With Ring4, anyone can call a user’s US phone number without having to utilize one of these apps, which certainly simplifies business communication.
“So, you can work from anywhere in the world,” Botteri said. “Ring4 just makes it a little bit easier.”
Right now, Botteri sees Ring4 has having a leg up on competitors in the space, mostly because of the sophistication of the technology. Ring4 also allows users in seven countries to download the app, and the team will soon expand this to include more.
“I think what we’ve built the best product”, Botteri said. “One of the technical choices we've made is to own our entire piece of technology, so we’ve built the technology entirely over IP, which allows all of your calls to be completely separate from your phone minutes, or your text message plan—it’s completely on the IP level. So, when you receive a phone call it's actually doesn't touch your phone number or SIM card. It just works off WiFi. I think we have the best technology.”
Why he chose Republic
In addition to the opportunity to raise capital to develop Ring4, Botteri knew that raising on Republic would help attract more users and build a stronger community.
“I didn't really know we were going to do this until the very, a short time ago,” Botteri said. “But I came across the opportunity to further the community of users and encourage our users to become investors, and I liked that.”
He also saw an opportunity to allow users to have a piece of ownership in Ring4, and this sort of decentralization of ownership reminded him of the benefits of blockchain.
If you're a user who invests, you now own a piece of the communication network that you're using.
“If you're a user who invests, you now own a piece of the communication network that you're using. You might even have a say how it's managed, Botteri said. “I think that’s how venture capital should be, actually. People who use the technology should invest in it and own a piece in it. It's not really on topic, but I think it's a lot of blockchain is trying to do.”
Botteri especially loves watching investors use Republic as a community. Posting comments and giving feedback gives him and his team an opportunity to improve the product, which he thinks is not only rewarding but incredibly valuable.
The team building the product
Ring4 consists of a tight-knit team, and only recently Botteri worked with just two other teammates. One of Botteri’s principal teammates is Harold Thethiot, a full stack engineer who previously worked at Netflix and Netvibes.
“I've know Harold for a few years and he worked on a technology called web RCT,” Botteri said. “Web RCT is a new way to do voice calls and conferencing. Harold also works on open source, so when he’s not working he produces codes for the open source community.”
Florian Lecluse, an IOS developer, is another key member of the team who heads the mobile department.
“He’s just a super, super sharp IOS developer,” Botteri said. Other team members include Illia Strikhar, a UI/UX designer, and Ring4 is currently recruiting new team members.
Beyond the skillset of his team members, what matters most to Botteri is that the team is aligned on the mission of Ring4, and that they all care about having the highest of standards when building the product. Delivering value to their users is a huge priority.
“I care more about the mission as company—to benefit freelancers,” Botteri said. “So I had to align the company behind the goal. We're building something that's very important. We’ve also built a team that is like family, and we have a lot of fun working together.”
I think when you're an entrepreneur, you're a little bit delusional. If you don't wake up thinking it's going to work, it’s hard to succeed.
Building not only a product but also a team also keeps Botteri fulfilled and inspired, far more than working for someone else alongside with a team he didn’t create. His mission and vision helps him push through any doubts that might crop up over Ring4’s success.
“I think when you're an entrepreneur, you're a little bit delusional,” Boterri said. “If you don't wake up thinking it's going to work, it’s hard to succeed. I think you need that trait. You know that some things are working against you, but you're in this spot where you believe in your idea anyway.”