First Black-owned phone company offers ownership
Helping small businesses jump on board with new technology
Jimmy Stewart has the nation’s only Black-owned telephone company. Now he wants to help small Black businesses do the same. He is traveling the country to explain this and other technological issues that Black businesses should be aware of.
“Most small businesses don’t have large technology corporations trying to cater to them. Most small businesses can’t afford a video conferencing solution or a unified communications solution. Our mission is to take features that large enterprises take for granted and bring them to the small business at a very affordable price with better quality and more features. It puts you on the leading edge of where things are going business-wise and puts you in the front seat.”
If anyone is to qualified to pull off such a venture Stewart is it. He is an engineer by profession—computer science and electrical. He has been a consultant for more than 25 years, working for such companies as IBM, Microsoft Hewlett Packard, and large phone carriers such as MCI WorldCom, “I’ve spent a lot of time working as an independent consultant,” Stewart told the Louisiana Weekly, “My expertise is building large enterprise communications systems. I am a unified communications specialist.”
Stewart was born in Dallas, raised in New Orleans and spent some time in New York. He is the son of home-schooling advocate and proud mother Khemlah Lacey, who now lives in Shreveport. He currently resides in Plano, Texas.
But what is My Own Telephone Company? Stewart explains the multifaceted endeavor he has launched, “The concept is to allow micro businesses the same opportunity that large enterprises are afforded as far as telephone solutions are concerned. Most large companies, have their own internal telephone systems. They get high-capacity from carriers but they have their own access and they run their own systems. So they control the allocation extensions and resources under that system, but most of our companies don’t have that opportunity.”
Where does that leave the average Black or small business? “Most small businesses buy phone lines from the phone company and as such the phone companies activate where you get to use that phone line, pretty much your place of business or wherever they terminate the line. They dictate what type of phone you can use at your location. But you don’t have control of the phone itself or the resources. You’re the endpoint user.”
Stewart explains how MOTC is different, “My concept with My Own Telephone Company was to give small businesses some of the same opportunities that large companies enjoy by allowing them to have their own telephone companies. Our service is similar to Vonage or Skype or other Internet-based services. The difference between our service and the others is your RTP stream (actual voice conversation) does not come through our network.” According to Stewart, MOTC eliminates the digital “middle man” to get their customers directly into a public phone system.
What’s the benefit of a more direct stream? “By not routing it through our network, you don’t have to worry about congestion or slow downs or heavy traffic that may interfere with the quality of voice being communicated. The only part that we do in the phone conversation control the supervision of certain operations such as ending a call, adding parties to a call or adding video to a call or conference. We have a huge network data center that can handle voice communications,” says Stewart.
The service is designed to be affordable for small businesses and for individuals. There is a fixed rate plan of $17.95 per month for unlimited nationwide calling. Stewart is proud of this. “There are no restrictions on who you call or where you call, you can use your minutes anytime you want. That’s the same way with our mobile plan. We don’t do unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes and then tell you that you can only use a landline for 600 or 700 minutes. When we say unlimited nationwide minutes, it’s just that.”
How does MOTC help people own their own telephone company? “You’re really not buying a phone line from us, you’re buying a phone trunk,” explains Stewart. “You can add as many lines to that trunk as you want. Most of our businesses only want one or two lines, so they have a trunk with only one or two members in it. The benefit for you is that when you buy from us you own it.
You get to decide how many phones you want to place on there. If you have a cell phone with a data plan you can connect your trunk with us and still use your phone service. If you want to have 100 devices on your trunk, you can.”
This means that MOTC customers can sell phone lines. “We have a couple of customers that do that. A restaurant in Fort Worth is doing it to cover the cost of phone service for his business.”
The company’s technical support is handled via email.
Stewart is frustrated at how far behind most Black businesses are in technology, “There are a lot of businesses that still use flash drives, faxes, e-mails with attachments and shared drives. They don’t realize that collaboration is a big piece of the IT industry now. Businesses are wired up.
Large companies collaborate on documents. They don’t have to send them around with email; they have Sharepoint and other systems that allow people to share documents and information in real time. It’s time for small businesses to jump on board with new Internet technology.”
The challenge that MOTC and others face is alerting Black businesses to the range of possibilities that current technology provides. Stewart is addressing that problem, “A big part of what we do, in addition to phone service, is consulting. If I want to get you to buy a service, you have to know how to use the service for you to benefit. And if there is no benefit for you, there is no point in using our service. The average small business cannot afford the going rates for a consultant in communications. But part of what we’re about to do is provide training online. We have some articles we put out for any small business to read online. If you Google ‘Jimmy Stewart’ and ‘unified communications’ you’ll find three or four articles I’ve done for MOTC to help small businesses understand the technology that is available to them.”
But Stewart plans to go further than that. “Another piece that will start in August is a weekly teleconference seminar consultant services. The good thing is that once you show people how to use the technology it can drive their business. If you have a training session with three or four employees, you can find a place to meet physically or you can set up a video conference. You are all joined virtually online and don’t have to use the travel time or the gas; you can use your home computer. These are the things that we are bringing to Black-owned companies to drive their business practices and consult with them on the best ways to do that.”
Stewart will be traveling doing a seminar on unified communication entitled “Black Speaks.” His purpose is clear. “We want to make sure that this time around, as the next technology wave is being developed, that we are not left out of the conversation. It’s time for us to wake up and see that this technology is available to us, and we’re the last to use it.”
MOTC can be reached by phone at (469) 453-8026 or at their website motctelcom.com.
A movement urging Verizon to get rid of wireless contracts appears to be gaining steam.
A petition calling for the carrier to end contracts for smartphones and “create an affordable way for consumers to purchase their devices” had attracted more than 55,000 signatures by midday Tuesday on Change.org, the online petition platform.
Recycling Black Dollars (RBD) encourages members to patronize Black-owned businesses to further expand the economic power of African American merchants and the households that support them.
A corporate client of mine was recently searching for an investor to make a capital infusion in the 5-year-old company. They contracted with another company to receive an investment in exchange for the sale of some of my client’s company stock. Before long, however, it became apparent that the potential investor did not actually have the necessary capital to make the investment. Rather than let the deal die, the parties found a third-party investor. They wanted to amend the original buy-sell agreement for the company stock to substitute in this new third-party investor.
Admit it. Your business is your pride and joy, second only in importance to your family and closest friends. You’ve nurtured it, sacrificed for it, and painstakingly infused into it all of your passion and the best part of your personality. You know that the desire to be in business and an earnest work ethic are not enough alone to guarantee your business’ long-term success. The question is how do you ensure that your business will outlast your founder’s touch and yet maintain your vision and passion?
Broadway Federal Bank will soon close its Wilshire Boulevard and Leimert Park branches as part of “a broad recapitalization plan,” according to a statement released by its parent company, Broadway Financial Corp.
“The recapitalization will strengthen the bank’s capital base and lower fixed cost, which in turn will position the company for future growth and improved profitability,” said Paul C. Hudson, chairman and CEO.
The two branches, which are the least busy of its five retail offices, are set to end operation on Nov. 7.