John Caudwell, Sir Charles Dunstone, Peter Jones… many of the iconic innovators who built the mobile industry have moved on to pastures new. But one household name is making a welcome return. Eight years after selling out to Vodafone for a reported £30m, Keith Curran is back. And he's returning with a plan to shake things up. Again.
Last time round Curran (pictured, left) built Yes Telecom into a £40m-turnover business based around listening to dealers and resellers. This time he’s pooled his industry experience with the knowhow of Dan Craddock (pictured right) - a private equity investor with a track record in IT wizardry. And their ambitions are even bigger.
‘What we want is world domination,’ says Craddock, adding: ‘We are not in this to be small.’
Their brainchild is Plan.com, a unified comms provider, set to launch in June this year. Last time round service was the key. This time, knowledge is power. ‘People have said are you doing another Yes Telecom? If they are hoping for that, they are going to be unbelievably pleased. This will go way beyond that,’ promises Curran.
The crux of Plan.com's idea is to give dealers and resellers access to 'atomic' information about customer accounts to allow them to pitch bespoke tariffs, based on what is profitable. And all this happens through a hefty back-end that plugs into the heart of network suppliers, O2 and BT.
Curran and Craddock are players with ambitious ideas and a track record to match. Sales director Curran’s distribution business Yes Telecom became one of the major b2b forces in the mobile world, offering a trusted, bluechip service. CEO Craddock, meanwhile, is the founder and owner of Bramden Investments, a group with turnover in excess of £170m, and investments in finance, property and construction, legal, banking, internet, technology and leisure companies.
So what makes Plan.com stand out from any other unified comms provider? Curran says the difference is the company’s technological approach which has created a fast track, bespoke online alternative to the typically cumbersome, time consuming, expensive and spreadsheet-riddled process of deal building, payment and billing, and – from a business point of view – calculating commission income and cash flow.
Plan.com also offers a level playing field for all dealers, with a commitment to having no tiers. It also gives dealers more control of the way they earn their commissions, the ability to request additional upfront funding for kit on an ad hoc basis and fast, responsive account management support.
Curran explains: ‘At the moment [deal building] is a very manual process involving numerous spreadsheets, emails going back and forth, loads of documents sent back to the distributor or network. It’s time consuming and inconsistent - you might get an answer in a day or you might get an answer in a week, by which time what was a hot lead has become at best very lukewarm. It is by far the biggest challenge to the channel.’
As a newcomer to the industry, Craddock, who led the software team that built the Plan.com portal, marvels at how anachronistic the industry’s deal building and commission systems are.
‘It was really Victorian to us. To be honest, what we have developed isn’t exactly rocket science – it is just standard everyday management information and live ongoing results. But partners kept saying to us ‘this is revolutionary, this is amazing’ – and it is, because it is something they have never had before,’ he explains.
He adds that the portal is like the iPhone – a state of the art, complex piece of kit which is nevertheless simple to use.
‘It is so easy to use and so responsive that dealers will be able to put a bespoke deal together and sign it off, subject to online credit checks, in the space of one meeting with the client – and then go off and play golf,’ he jokes.
Although cutting edge technology is at the heart of the business, traditional services such as high levels of customer service, marketing support and training take equal precedence, says Craddock. ‘We have taken a software-driven business and moulded that with Keith’s old school experience of customer service – and we have spent a lot of money and time getting the right fit,’ he says.
Curran is keen to empahsise that Plan.com is not simply another Yes Telecom. He says: ‘This goes way, way beyond what Yes achieved. Dealers say they love the fact we bring the underlying Yes ethos of trust and transparency but with a completely new spin on it. What they especially love is that we have given them control to do what they want, when they want and that we have established a level playing field that does not treat some dealers as gods and others as if they are at the bottom of the pile.’
So what is stopping competitors from launching something similar? Curran and Craddock say it is a combination of the set up cost and the distributors’ lack of access to networks’ raw data.
Curran adds: ‘our relationship is very different to distributors. It’s a strange thing to say but we almost want nothing from O2. We don’t want their tariffs, we don’t want their ratings, we don’t want their billing. So what is it we do want? For us it is simply that live link into the sales science to get those raw, core CDRs [call data records]. Once we have the atom we can make whatever we want from that.’
Craddock adds that O2 is also attuned to Plan.com’s model. ‘O2 gets it. They are a cool company which does not refer to itself as a network but as a content service provider and at the same time is a solid business with excellent coverage and known as the best network for b2b.’
Early reaction to Plan.com is showing promise. The company has been test-driving deals for mobile dealers through the portal ahead of its launch in June.
Curran reports that participants have been so impressed that over 40 mobile dealers have already signed up as Plan.com partners, with many more making enquiries as word of the proposition spreads.
‘They range from some of the biggest dealers to the smallest dealers in the country and I think what has swung it for them is being able to put together bespoke deals on the fly,’ says Curran, adding: ‘People love that we have introduced a level playing field, whether you are the biggest or the smallest player. There are no partner tiers. We are all about transparency, openness and trust. One dealer said to me the other day, ‘I have been waiting 25 years for this.’
Who does Plan.com challenge?
Craddock: ‘It will upset those that have rested on their laurels, those with ‘me too’ propositions, those that haven’t invested in their technology, their marketing, their route to market and their proposition and who offer no value-add.’
How big will this be?
Craddock: ‘We want to be in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of connections. We have to be doing 20,000 plus connections inside twelve months.’
Curran: ‘O2 is the smarter pipe. They are forward thinking and they wanted to listen. Their pitch is as a digital network and that has a strong alignment of where we want to go in terms of our content play.’
Who is your inspiration?
Curran: ‘Steve Jobs because he always challenged the status quo and asked why do you have to do it this way?’
How much have you invested?
Craddock: ‘It’s in the heavy tens of millions.’