Imagine talking by video call to a customer in Quebec. She’s speaking French, you’re speaking English, but you both hear one another in the language of your choice thanks to real-time translation.
Cambridge-based telecom provider Fibernetics says it will soon offer such a service through a new unified-communications platform called Nucleus.
“With voice-to-voice real-time translation we are leveraging AI to break down existing social, economic, interpersonal and geographical barriers,” said John Stix, co-founder and Chief of Staff and Brand. “You can select an available language for your video call and Nucleus AI will translate in real time.”
Stix and his partner, co-founder and CEO Jody Schnarr, unveiled the new platform this week during an event at their Fibernetics headquarters in the Gaslight District of Cambridge’s Galt area.
“Nucleus provides free voice and video calling, team chat, SMS, long-distance, and file sharing in a single, easy-to-use interface available from any device – allowing companies to collaborate internally as well as connect to vendors and customers all within the same platform,” the company says.
What’s more, Fibernetics intends to offer the platform for free to Canadian businesses.
“Great innovations change lives for the better and the next one is here,” said Schnarr. “Nucleus removes all communication-related cost barriers for Canadian businesses, while increasing their connectivity with customers/vendors, and their remote workforce around the world.”
During Ithe announcement event, Stix and Schnarr shared their thoughts on entrepreneurship and innovation during a chat with Perrin Beatty, the former Fergus-area MP who, among his many cabinet roles, served as the federal Communications Minister in the early 1990s when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) began deregulating the country’s telecom industry.
Long-time friends Stix and Schnarr launched Fibernetics in 1997 after discussing business ideas for several years.
The CRTC had begun deregulating the industry in 1992 and a wave of new competitors were leaping into the long-distance phone-call business. Schnarr, who had been selling discount phone plans for one of the providers, suggested to Stix that the two of them start their own company.
“We disrupt – we love to disrupt,” Stix told the audience of business and community leaders who gathered for the Nucleus announcement.
He and Schnarr talked about the company’s modest beginnings (the two founders shared one pair of “business” shoes and a single blazer for meetings with customers and suppliers). They also talked about the role that values and relationship-building has played in the success of their company, which is known for supporting numerous charitable initiatives.
Schnarr recalled that the two partners spent their first $25,000 in profit on gifts for a Christmas toy drive.
“It’s a principle of giving or taking,” said Stix. “Where is your mindset? Is it about receiving and taking? Or is it about relationship building and giving? Through relationship-building and giving, there’s always opportunities where that relationship can flourish and you can see revenue come back to the company.”
Asked about the role of failure in achieving success, both partners agreed that adversity builds the resilience and perseverance that leads to success.
“We learn through adversity and failure, not necessarily through success,” said Schnarr. “You’ve gotten success because you made it through adversity and failure.”
Stix added: “To get through two decades, you’re going to hit walls, you’re going to hit obstacles. This is part of the challenge of being an entrepreneur.”
When Beatty asked about the partners’ reputation as innovators, Schnarr said “innovation” was too big and grand a concept for him to digest comfortably.
“I think the real word is ‘iterator,’” he said. “I can look at a 12-step process and try to make into 11. I’m just iterating… To create something truly innovative, to create something new, requires something prior to iterate on. It’s incredibly difficult and rare and improbable to create something entirely new that isn’t based on some form of variation or iteration.”
Stix said that he values the importance of “micro innovations,” explaining that it’s important to empower employees to experiment and introduce improvements to the way they do their jobs.
“It becomes very powerful because you then have a company-wide organization that is free to create, to try to come up with innovation,” he said.
Beatty also asked about the leadership challenges of growing and scaling a business.
Schnarr replied that complexity grows exponentially as the business itself grows in size. This makes it critical that founders continuously assess whether their skills are still sufficient for running the company at each new level.
“The startup entrepreneur is not necessarily ready to run an organization with 10 or 20 or 50 or 100 people,” added Stix. “It’s one of the greatest challenges.”
For this reason, he said that developing your personal leadership skills is “super-crucial.”
“For us,” said Stix, “we went through different levels of belief on whether we could be those guys… and we decided to grow through it.”
Visit the Fibernetics website for more about the company and its new Nucleus platform.