Podcast: John, Ivan and I talk WISP finances

I sit down with John Scrivner from LiveOak Bank and Ivan Crowe from Ritalia funding and discuss topics related to WISP funding. We talk about leasing, lending and the pitfalls WISPs run into when it comes to financing.

John Scrivner
john.scrivner@liveoak.bank
Office 910-550-1407 X1345
Cell  618-237-2387

Ivan Crowe
Icrowe@rtflease.com
818-921-3624

#packetsdownrange #wisp #funding #leasing

The importance of phone numbers in a WISP

One of the things I see startup wisps do wrong is their use of phone numbers.  This is one of those details that is often overlooked but is critical. It’s critical not only for tracking but also for the sanity of everyone involved.  Let’s identify where many WISPs go wrong.

The typical startup wisp is a type A go-getter. This is what Entrepreneurs are by default.  Once they have a plan they jump head over heels in. Many may start with a simple phone number, but when they call a customer if they are on their way to do an install or something they end up using their phone number.  The problem is customers keep this cell phone.  If the office is closed they start texting or calling any number they have.  Some customers will be respectful of boundaries, but many will not.  If they are getting packet loss at 3 am they are calling and texting.  This problem compounds as you grow and you have multiple installers involved. You want customer issues tracked in some sort of ticket/CRM system. You also don’t want your employees ahev to answer customer texts or calls after hours if they aren’t being paid.  It’s one of the quickest ways for employees to get burnt out or say the incorrect things.

So how do you solve this? The simple buzzword answer is unified communications.  One of the easiest and cheapest is Google Voice. With Google Voice and others, you have a primary number. This is the number you give out to clients. They call this and it rings another phone or phones.  This can be an extension on the VOIP system it is a part of, another number, and/or cell phones.  Depending on the level of sophistication it can ring all the programmed numbers at once, or ring one, and move on to the next one. If no one answers it drops the caller into voice mail. With Google voice, the programmed numbers are all rang at once.

The inbound ringing is pretty standard.  The “trick” for the WISP is the outgoing calling. You want to be able to call a customer and have it come up as the main number’s caller ID, not your cell phone. Most PBX systems can be set up to do this with the extensions attached to them.  Cell phone calls are a little more complicated.  The way Google Voice solves this is through the use of forwarding numbers, You bring up the app, enter a number and it actually calls a different number.  Behind the scenes, it is using this forwarding number to “spoof” your number to the person you are calling.   Your phone is not calling the other party directly. Your phone calls this forwarding number behind the scenes and works it all out on the backend.

Other vendors have Apps which do similar functions. Asterisk has their DISA function.  Once you have these functions setup it boils down to training and processes.  Your installers need to remember to use the app or the function when calling customers.  As the company grows, a way to help this situation is for employees to not use personal cell phones.  If a company provides a cell phone the employee can customize voicemail, or even forward no answers to the help desk should a customer get the cell phone.

Hope this helps one of the glaring issues a startup faces.

WISPs and Tower assets – LLC or what?

As a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) grows, they tend to acquire some tower assets of their own.  Sometimes these are ones they build and sometimes these are towers they acquire from various sources. What is a WISP to do with these assets and, how should they treat them? In this article, I give you some options to consider. *DISCLAIMER* This article is not to be construed or viewed as actual legal advice.

One of the first business questions is how will owning a tower affect my current business? Will it cause your insurance rates to go up? Do I have liability concerns, especially if the tower is required to have lights according to FAA rules? Will I rent out space to other entities? All of these are valid questions and can affect how you structure these assets.

One of the everyday things a WISP can do when they build or acquire assets is to form an LLC for the tower side of things.  The question is do you form an LLC per tower or an overall LLC for your tower assets.  Let’s look at what forming an LLC will help you with before we get into the above question.

If you are a WISP, forming an LLC for your tower assets will most likely save your WISP operations from insurance penalties.  You may not have to carry extra business insurance or even have to switch carriers because your current insurer does not cover towers. Sure, you have to carry insurance for the LLC, but it can be a cut-down policy and causes things like workers compensation for the WISP side to rise. You are mainly concerned about the tower causing damage or damage to the tower.

Secondly, by having an LLC own and manage your assets, you have put yourself in a better position if you decide to sell your WISP operations.  On paper, your WISP is renting space and whatever from the Tower LLC.  If you have other forms of income from the tower you can decide whether to sell the tower or keep it. If the towers are separated from the WISP operations a sale of either side is much cleaner come sale time.  This is not to say you can’t sell the tower assets with the WISP operations, but it gives you more flexibility.

The last question is, should you form an LLC for each tower.  Some operators like this approach for several reasons.  The first is it allows one tower issue not to affect the other LLCs.  Should you come into legal problems with a tower, a properly set up and documented LLC will shield the members from potential personal liability.  With the ease of online LLC formation, it is easy enough to form an LLC for each tower asset. As mentioned earlier the separate LLCs give you more flexibility. Should you own some carrier-grade assets you have the potential to sell these to a larger tower aggregator without affecting your WISP operations. This is one way several of my clients have infused cash into their operations.

The downside is you now have more paperwork and filings to keep track of.  You have to keep up on LLC renewals, filings, and other paperwork. If you have processes or teams in place, this may not be an issue. Legally, you need to make sure you are not mixing the LLCs, which could cause you to lose the protection of the company.  It just depends on how savvy you are or if you have proper legal representation which is affordable.

At the very least I think it is very advantageous for the WISP to move any tower assets into at least one LLC. You are doing your business a favor.

Fear in I.T.

I have always been a firm believer in re-evaluating yourself on a regular basis. Take a look at yourself, your behaviors, and your quirks. By doing this, you can uncover weaknesses you. Read to work on, but also build on your strengths.

Case in point. I am in the process of rolling out wiki software for many clients. This software deployment will be a cookie cutter rollout, with customizations for each client after the initial implementation. I am behind on this for one big reason. Fear. Now, this is not Michael Meyers standing over your bed fear. It’s a fear of choosing the wrong platform. I have evaluated several wiki packages and talked to several people deploying each of them. Like most things, they have strengths and weaknesses. The fear breeds indecision. Is there something out there which I haven’t found that is better? Is there a better way or a way I haven’t thought of to accomplish what I am trying? The answer to all of these is probably yes.

How do you not fall into the trap of indecision? Couple of things you can do.

1. Before anything like this sit-down and write out the problem you are trying to solve. In my case with the wikis, I needed something to keep track of not only documentation but the odds and ends notes.

2. Write down what would help solve the issue. In my case an online repository of information.

3. Create a list of ways to solve this problem. This step may involve research. What are the software packages out there to address my issue? Are we utilizing anything today which could resolve this issue?

3. Once you have done some research formulate the must needed features in your solution.  From there prioritize them.

4. Many people start to break down during this stage.  Whether it is getting overwhelmed from the sheer amount of choices or thinking every feature is needed.  The decision process begins to grind to a halt rather quickly. How do you overcome this? First, be realistic, how many of the features do you really need to accomplish your goal? Out of the features left, what does it take to implement them? How many times have you deployed a software tool and are only utilizing a fraction of the tools available? This happens quite a bit.

5.Set a hard time to make a decision.  Tell yourself you have ten business days to research and come up with the solution.  Once you have made the decision, have a rollout plan in place.  This plan should include a timeline of start and finish.  This way you don’t start to second guess yourself and drag your feet even more.

This method is not a foolproof way, but it will get you to implement more things than you are now.