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A Success Story

As a software/firmware engineer, I've created quite a few devices used by startup and hi-tech companies.

The biggest success story I've been involved in is that of Howard Jonas of IDT telecom.

I was Howard's direct and primary contact at Zoom Telephonics when he came to us merely with the idea of "Telephone Arbitrage" and no specific hardware layout in mind. (Although we did allow him to take more credit for the overall box than... um... we might have...)

IDT at that time had one or two employees and probably less than four consultants. It was run from the basement of a funeral parlor and had pretty much no telecom infrastructure whatsoever, other than a few badly-conditioned telephone lines to talk on.

Still, the hardware platfrom I designed and put together for him, based on a "swiss-army-knife" telephony box the hardware engineers at Zoom had designed, was basic hardware that started IDT with its very first product and was a big early step in making IDT into the fourth largest telecom company in North America.

An excerpt from "On a Roll: From Hotdog Buns to High-Tech Billions," written by Howard Jonas, IDT's founder:

Why not bypass the European phone lines altogether? We could adapt the system I had used with my parents when I was in college. I'd call collect, using a code name, and they would refuse the charges. Then they'd call me back. Essentially, callback worked on the same principle. The European user would call a number in the States, and an operator would recognize his signal. Then he'd hang up, and within a few seconds he'd be called back with an open, American line over which to make his calls. Instead of paying for a call from France to New York, as an example, he'd be using an American line, and his bill would reflect the cost of a call from New York to Paris instead. Depending on the country, he would save more than half the cost of his international phone calls. At first this whole process was done manually, with operators placing the return call. They had to work around the clock to accommodate different time zones. Eventually I designed a box and with the help of a computer engineer built one that mechanized the process and automatically redialed the caller. My phone bills are now manageable, and the callback industry had been born.

The lesson I learned from this is that if you look hard enough, you'll find a way to circumvert obstacles. In fact, sometimes you'll do it so effectively, and get such a big advantage over your competition by doing so, that it actually pays to go out looking for obstacles to circumvent.