By PAUL LEVERING, special to LTW

Editor’s note: Paul Levering is Founder and CEO of FeatureTel LLC, recently named to Inc. magazine’s Inc. 5000. Started in 2003, FeatureTel provides hosted voice and data communications services over a private network for businesses across the Carolinas.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Getting it right, starting and growing a business often means a great idea, good timing, lot of risk and a solid belief in what you are about to do. In the eight years since I started , we’ve experienced our share of successes and challenges, but throughout it all, we’ve relied on what I call our “Five Rights” — the things that you need to get right in order to create and maintain a path to success.

Right Place

In 2002, I was on the ‘“front lines” of business telecom. Working for a local telephone system sales and service company as a technician and sales engineer, I got to experience what small businesses needed from their phone systems and service. I also got to learn about new technology, and I had nothing invested in “the old way of doing things.”

When we started FeatureTel in 2003, we realized hosted VoIP was going to transform an entire industry. However, there were a lot of phone system manufacturers that seemed to be blindsided by this new way of delivering phone system features. Hosted PBX service was simply the better mousetrap – catching mice without having to buy the trap. The then-future has begun to play itself out now – the mousetrap manufacturers have begun to go out of business. In fact, according to In-Stat market research, VoIP penetration among U.S. businesses will increase rapidly over the next few years, reaching 79 percent by 2013, compared to 42 percent at the end of 2009.

Right Time

In late 2002, I was fortunate enough to get laid off (although at the time, I didn’t exactly feel completely “fortunate”). When I was forming the early business plan, it was just becoming possible for a non-Goliath phone company to provide hosted VoIP service. My early research yielded only 13 U.S. companies providing the service – and in a tough economic time, not many were looking to get started. Although all economic indicators didn’t point in this direction, we decided to take the risk we felt would be worth the outcome.

Right Work Ethic

In the beginning, my CTO Jon Carnes and I were willing to work our tails off for nothing. We weren’t afraid of hard work, and we dove in. I was responsible for sales, and we each took on the jobs of provisioning, installation, training and support. Today, even though we have grown the company to a much larger team, customers can still count on us to help wherever necessary.

Right Culture (aka Right People)

At FeatureTel, we are all reasonable people who care. That’s true today with our team of 15 as much as it was when it was just two of us. Within our relatively flat organizational structure, everyone does what it takes to be Smart and Helpful for our clients. Our service-oriented culture is based on being flexible, understanding and just plain nice – and we believe our clients like that about us.

We are small enough that clients have direct access to every member of our company, and we are big enough (and wise enough) to have a solid, profitable and stable business foundation to ensure we will be around for the long term. Steady and organic growth also ensures we don’t overextend ourselves.

Right Outlook

When you are a business owner, the risk-taking aspect never goes away. But what never goes out of style is being able to deliver value and meet the needs of your customers better than anybody else. As the only area provider who can guarantee call quality (because we deliver it over a private network), we do have a unique offering of great value.

We believe in our technology and providing the best solutions available to our customers. We believe in sweat equity. And most importantly, we believe in superior customer service.

About the author: Paul Levering is Founder and CEO of FeatureTel LLC, recently named to Inc. magazine’s Inc. 5000. Started in 2003, FeatureTel provides hosted voice and data communications services over a private network for businesses across the Carolinas.

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