After our preview of Samba Mobile (a network with an interesting business model) a couple of weeks ago, we got together with CEO and co-founder Ben Atherton to chat some more. Some of you had some interesting questions and we tried to get as detailed answers as possible.
Ben, first of all can you explain a little more about the genesis of the company and the ideas behind it?
The idea came about in 2009. The 2 founders, me and Dilip, had worked in the ad industry and the telco industry since the early 1990s. We knew the web was moving more towards video (and brands were reacting to this), we knew that people wanted better value from their mobile providers for data on laptops (this was pre iPad) and we knew that operators wanted to drive money from advertising.
Put these three trends together, and we came up with Samba.
What can users expect from the adverts they have to view and how are you choosing advertisers?
Adverts are varied and high quality. At the moment we are running Virgin Media, Volvo, Star Wars Kinect, Samsung, Next, Nissan, Microsoft, Schweppes – amongst others. Major brands. Most content is between 30′ and 60′. Viewers watch on average 3 per day (we know this because we did a trial with 300 users in 2011 over 3 months and 50 brands, some 90,000 ad events were played).
We aggregate ads and other video content from social and viral video partners such as Unruly Media.
Going forward, we will also offer music, film and sport content.
Over time, as we offer more and more ads and content, people will get more and more of what they want as we can show them stuff they like based on what they have clicked on before.
The MVNO market is incredibly competitive and saturated – apart from your pricing plan, how else are you going to distinguish yourselves and get the word out?
We are very attentive to who else is out there, but so far see nobody like us. Because we are free, and there is a fair ‘value exchange’ (ie users watch high quality content and get data in return) – we expect to see high satisfaction with the service and therefore good word of mouth.
Only today one of our triallists was invited to return, signed back up and sent this quote:
“Thank you in advance and I look forward to using your great service again“
I asked him if we could use the quote and he said “Yes that’s no problem” – so we think it fair to say have happy customers.
This revenue model has been attempted many times before in other markets – why do you think it will work better now and in this particular niche?
Its all about the value exchange – we offer a valuable service – which in the market most people place at being £10-15 (for a month’s worth of mobile broadband data) & for the most part our customers are entertained watching ads and content to earn this data.
Blyk was very interesting (there are some similarities) but at the end of the day the voice minutes and text being offered was worth a lot less in the market than what Samba is offering. People value mobile broadband access.
Freeserve was a similar model and they gained 1.5m customers over a decade ago.
Mobile broadband demand is soaring, everyone should have a right to have it. Why pay?
The other key thing is that right now, in the middle of the worst downturn in living memory, nearly everyone wants a bargain, not just traditional ‘bargain seekers’.
All the above is from a customers POV (and quite right) but from a brand POV we also provide benefit. We know from our trial our average CTR (click thru rate) was 7 times the market average. For us the only logical reason for that is because our customers responded well to the ads. So brands are happy too.
What is your target market? How has adoption been so far and do you have growth forecasts?
Its everyone who wants a high quality mobile broadband service. We are attracting everyone from teenage men to 60 year old women. We only went live this afternoon and are already seeing significant sign ups. We have 7000 people pre-registered.
Right now we are only offering iPad micro sims, but soon we will offer dongles. Once they are available, we see no reason why the customer base should not grow into the hundreds of thousands and beyond. Mobile broadband penetration in the UK is only around 15-20% right now, and we see that growing (as do the likes of Gartner and other players) to 40-50%+ in the next few years. This means over 20m connections out there for grabs. There are currently only 6 providers in this space (including Samba). There’s no reason why we shouldn’t attract a good amount of those 20m connections.
That’s it for now. Stayed tuned for part 2 of the interview in the coming days. We’ll have the full lowdown on how to order a Samba Mobile SIM and what being a customer actually entails. Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed and follow us on Twitter to be notified once we’ve published the post 🙂