The amazing team at our portfolio company Twilio has done it again: taken something that was previously complicated and made it super simple. This time they set their sights on business telephone systems (formerly known as PBXs, which — if anyone remembers — is short for Private Branch Exchange).
Most legacy PBXs are incredibly hard to program. For instance, the one we have at Union Square Ventures, has some completely proprietary setup which essentially requires us to pay someone every time we want to add or remove a line or change a call flow. Thankfully, over the last few years hosted PBXs have emerged, such as OnSip which are easy-to-use web applications. Another example on the consumer side is Google Voice.
But even the modern hosted PBXs leave quite a bit to be desired. While they are easier to use, they are generally closed which makes it difficult if not impossible to integrate them with other business systems. Enter Twilio’s OpenVBX. OpenVBX is an open source hosted PBX (the VBX comes from virtual). It is easy to download and run on any server — in fact, DreamHost offers 1-click install already. Like Wordpress, OpenVBX has a plug-in architecture that makes it super easy to extend functionality and to integrate other systems.
For instance, suppose you want to set up a PBX for a trucking company. With OpenVBX you get all the PBX functionality out of the box. But it is also trivial (at least from the OpenVBX side) to integrate with the dispatch system so that a caller can check the status of a shipment right over the phone in a fully automated fashion. The beauty is that this is now fully integrated so that if the caller needs assistance they don’t need to be transferred to some completely separate system (how many times have you punched in a bunch of information to an automated system only to then have to repeat all the information when you get an operator on the line?).
I am excited to see all the plug-ins that developers come up with and the vertical applications (e.g. trucking, medical) that get developed on top of OpenVBX. And of course I can’t wait to get rid of the existing PBX at Union Square Ventures and replace it with an instance of OpenVBX. I can then connect the foursquare plugin to let people now which city and time zone I am in!