Insights from one of texting’s innovators

Terry Hsiao, serial entrepreneur of companies like Hook Mobile and co-developer on projects like the one that helped unify the global texting platform, discusse...

The name Terry Hsiao may not ring a bell, but every time you send a text message, it’s thanks in part to his efforts. Connecting text messaging around the world is one of the many innovations assisted by Hsiao, who recently merged his company, Hook Mobile, with international company Kaleyra. From his experience in development and entrepreneurship, he has specific insight into current and future trends in telecommunications.

ABERMAN: What are the big trends in telecommunications you think are going to shape our lives over the coming few years?

HSIAO: One of the most recent trends that’s been going out for the last five years or so is the fact that the telephone number is tied to IP and software, much more than just the device. Many years ago, Alexander Bell, when the telephone was invented, we got all these devices, and because these devices have to communicate with each other, they get assigned a number, and there’s a switch that routes these calls between these numbers.

Now, the trend going forward is these telephone numbers are really a mask to any application, service, or person, and these phone numbers come first, and the phone number could be connected to any device that we have. And of course, that’s just an IP address on the other side. So, you will see more and more services that are tied to software, tied to IP, versus the old telephone network.

ABERMAN: So, in effect, when you say IP, you mean internet protocol, and what’s happening now is all these devices are being connected together, all the software. We’re going to carry along a quote ‘phone number’ that’s really not a phone number at all, it’s a personal identifier, so whether I’m sitting in my car or at home, it doesn’t matter.

HSIAO: That’s right. It’s really, you’re choosing how you want that call, or text message, or video, to be routed it to you.

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ABERMAN: I know that this is basically why by you merged Hook Mobile with Kaleyra, to pursue this trend. I know you’re a big protagonist, and believer in it. What’s it like for you, having been at the forefront of the trend of connecting people’s ability to text message. I mean, before you came up with that, at your last company, you couldn’t text across phone networks, much less around the world. What’s it like for you when you see somebody send a text to Hong Kong from D.C., and know that you helped make that happen?

HSIAO: Yeah, it’s really fulfilling going. It’s really, of course, any company is a team effort. We couldn’t have done it without the team that’s working behind it. Pushing innovation is hard, getting change in the market is hard. It’s just really hard, all the way around, to be an entrepreneur. As you know, it’s almost a miracle when you look back and see something that actually worked.

ABERMAN: I agree with that. And I think that the highs are high, and the low are low, you have to be ready for the journey. Do you find that, in those moments where you’ll see somebody use technology to help create, does it feel like, say, somebody who writes a really great play, or somebody who gives birth to a child? I mean, is there a personal satisfaction aspect to it that drives entrepreneurs?

HSIAO: Absolutely. There’s a place in the world that you feel like you have an impact now. You made people’s lives easier, better, and hopefully in that process we made our own lives easier and better.

ABERMAN: Yeah, there is an element of that. I mean, I think the entrepreneurs, we like the journey, but we also like to reap the benefits.

HSIAO: Absolutely.

ABERMAN: You’ve been through this cycle a number of times now, living on ramen noodles, and starting the company, raising money, not raising money. Finding customers, not finding customers. You’ve exited a few times, now. What do you think is the biggest challenge any entrepreneur faces if they really want to pursue this journey that you went on?

HSIAO: I think number one is no fear. It’s just going forward, and not worrying about it too much, believing in yourself, and being open to the possibilities. If there’s somebody out there that could do it, you could do it. So, that’s first of all, the attitude. Second, you obviously need a team. So, don’t be afraid to talk about your idea, because unless you talk about it, unless you’re really passionate about it, it is difficult to get together a really good team to help you to get that vision, turn that vision into reality.

And then, number three is what you mentioned, the perseverance, the persistence. It’s the falling down a hundred times, and still being able to get up, and brush away that dust, and then keep going. It’s really funny, when people would define success, it’s really a series of lows, a series of failures that define success. Nobody gets up in the morning and just is successful. You have to do stuff, and then you have to keep doing it until something happens.

ABERMAN: You know, it’s funny. I think that what happens here in town is, a lot of the panels that you and I do, is victory lane entrepreneurs. You know, be like me, and people are talking from a position of having been successful. And there’s not really an understanding of the granularity of all the terrible things you have to endure to get to that point.

HSIAO: That’s absolutely true. It’s a long, lonely journey, and then you obviously, you have to manage lots of things like greed, and fear, and a lot of times, conflicts.

ABERMAN: So, before I let you go: out of all things you just described, what do you think is the personality attribute that’s most important for entrepreneurial success?

HSIAO: I think it’s curiosity. Unless you’re curious about certain situations, how things work today, without that curiosity, you don’t really do much about it. So, I always think that curiosity is the number one personality attribute that I would say at least defines how I got here.

ABERMAN: Terry, thanks a lot for being so earnest in sharing real depth of information about how all of us should look at entrepreneurship, and congratulations on your exit with Hook Mobile.

HSIAO: Thank you so much, and special thanks to you, Jonathan, for believing in me and Hook Mobile.

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