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Small Business Spotlight: FreedomVoice Systems

Eric Thomas has grown his business into a $5.2 million-a-year company in nine years.

Thomas is the president and chief executive officer of Encinitas-based FreedomVoice Systems, a provider of toll-free communication services.

With 12,000 customers, FreedomVoice helps businesses have the feel of a larger company and allows them to work more efficiently by offering an answering service, which can direct the phone call to the client’s home-based business or a firm that does not have a receptionist, he said.

And the service seems to be a hit with smaller companies that want to give off the image of a larger corporation but may not have the capital to do so.

FreedomVoice, which produced a nearly 95 percent increase in revenue from $2.7 million in 2002 to $5.2 million in 2004, also offers a toll-free hot line lead generation system for real estate agents and mortgage brokers and a service that allows a client to send and receive faxes from any computer through a broadband connection.


Resum & #233;

Name: Eric Thomas.

Title: President and chief executive officer.

Company: FreedomVoice Systems.

Address: 169 Saxony Road, Suite 206, Encinitas.

Phone: (800) 477-1477.

Founded: January 1996.

Prior experience: I had started a laboratory supply company, B/T SciTech, which, in its early years, was a home-based business and then a small business.

Source of startup capital: $120,000.

2004 revenue: $5.2 million.

2003 revenue: $3.3 million.

2002 revenue: $2.7 million.

Number of employees: 17.

Web sites: www.freedomvoice.com, www.adtrakker.net, www.faxfreedom.com.


Background

Born: June 15, 1962, in Plainfield, N.J.

Education: Master of arts in biochemistry and molecular biology from UC Santa Barbara.

Residence: Rancho Santa Fe.

Family: Wife, Julie Bryant; her parents, Roly and Brenda Bryant.

Hobbies: Soo bahk do, which is a Korean martial art, kayaking, photography and travel.


Judgment Calls

Reason for getting into the business: I had already done well with my previous company but I saw this as a way of doing something more useful.

How I plan to grow the business: Our primary means of growth is to listen to our customers. Based on what they tell us, we continually add features to our existing technology and introduce new services. We will add conference calling and Web conferencing services in the first quarter of 2005 and are looking at Web and e-mail hosting.

Biggest plus of business ownership: I get to do something that makes a difference.

Biggest drawback: Lots of responsibility.

Biggest business strength: We’ve hired really well. The employees at FreedomVoice are top of their class and very talented.

Biggest business weakness: It’d be nice to have our own Telco network, which is a network of switches connected through the public service telephone network, to make some of our future vision happen, but we can overcome that by partnering carefully and with long-term goals in mind.

Biggest risk: Changing technology.

Smartest business decision: Marrying my wife. Of course, I married her because I love her, but she’s so good at business and she’s been able to teach me a lot about how to be successful.

Biggest business mistake: Mistakes are teaching tools so they are only bad in the short term, but it would have to do with overestimating the character of someone whom I thought was trustworthy.

Toughest career decision: Leaving my 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job and starting my own company.

The most important part of my business: The quality of our client services. We have a feature-rich technology that can be used in many ways for the exact same business objective.

How your business has changed throughout the years: We’ve grown quite a bit in terms of number of employees and I’ve been fortunate to see people grow within the company.

Best way to stay competitive: Listen to your customers.


Goals

My five-year business plan: I think one key element is going to be client services. I think the power and availability of technology will continue to increase.


Philosophy

I would sell my business only if: My customers, distributors and employees were looked after.

Guiding principles: Product first make the product or service and the support as good as I possibly can.

Most admired entrepreneur: I like Richard Branson’s ability to take risks, and I like Donald Trump’s business philosophy in that he’s very direct and straightforward.

Important lessons learned: Always deal with the truth. Don’t try to lie to yourself so you can feel better in the short term.

Advice for those looking to go into business: Persistence. I can’t tell you how many times I would have been perfectly justified in walking away. But if you believe in what you’re doing, you have to keep going.

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