Circles.Life co-founder: Crazy? Wait till you hear what's next
Mobile virtual network operator shaking up local telco scene
It was a "crazy" idea.
Mr Rameez Ansar and his two co-founders wanted to start another telco but did not own telecommunication infrastructure nor had plans to build their own.
"How were we going to convince a telco to share its network capacity with us?
"We've seen it being done in other industries. Uber and Grab operate without their own fleet of taxis and Airbnb without its own hotels, but this was a whole new platform," he said.
So it came as a series of surprises when the now-defunct Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) awarded them with a service-based operator's licence before they went on to clinch a deal with M1 to lease its network.
Today, Circles.Life, a consumer brand of Liberty Wireless, is a fully operational and growing mobile virtual network operator.
It offers flexible, contract-free plans and rewards customers bonus data perks for referrals or to celebrate an anniversary.
After six months in operation, Mr Rameez says that 80 per cent of its customers are aged between 25 and 45, although he declined to share the company's total customer base.
"We believe that our existing telcos' customer service needs to improve significantly and with more competition, we hope to do that," Mr Rameez, 34, told The New Paper in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
We also did away with the golden handcuffs — the contract — because why do you even need one? Circles.Life co-founder Mr Rameez Ansar
Just hours after the interview, the Infocomm Media Development Authority announced that Australian telco TPG Telecom had won the bid to become Singapore's fourth telco, with operations set to commence in mid-2018.
Mr Rameez said: "Since our launch, we've seen existing players improve offers and consumers are finally getting more choices.
"We hope TPG Telecom will continue to support our ambition to bring more innovation and choice to the market. Ultimately it's innovation and innovative players that will succeed in the market."
Circles.Life's entry into the market had raised expectations as consumers expected to see a slate of never-before-seen offerings.
Analysts told The Straits Times that Circles.Life's flexible mobile plans and no lock-in period were two areas it should focus on to shake up the market.
The last high-profile virtual mobile operator launch was by Virgin Mobile in 2001. It bought bandwidth wholesale from Singtel and resold it, only to exit Singapore a year later, citing weak market conditions..
Mr Rameez, formerly of Temasek Holdings' portfolio management and investments, said: "We have full access to the bandwidth (from M1). Virgin Mobile was marketing the finished product, hence it had a lot of limitations."
One of Circles.Life's strengths, said Mr Rameez, is its customer service.
He said that about 90 per cent of its customers were happy with Circles.Life, more than the industry average of 70 per cent.
It was disgruntlement with the quality of customer service from the three big telcos that prompted Mr Rameez and his other co-founders - former private equity investor Abhishek Gupta and telco analyst Adeel Najam - to conceive the idea of starting their own telco.
"When you enter a space that has not had any new players for 15 years, was it going to be crazy? Yes, but we've done a lot of work to set this up.
"Today, we make sure that when you chat with our operator, you get a response quickly, within about a minute. Any alterations to your plan, you can do it online (on the app).
"We also did away with the golden handcuffs - the contract - because why do you even need one? That is, unless you are not sure your customers will stay with you," he said.
Other telcos in the region had contacted Circles.Life to study its model, which he said was conceived in Singapore.
"It was a bit of innovation, a bit of luck of setting up in the right country at the right time.
"But if you think we are crazy, wait till you hear that we are looking to expand into the international market. Now that's crazy," he said.