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23 May 20130 Comments by Jon M

The People’s Operator interview

the peoples operatorThe People’s Operator is a new virtual network that launched last year. It’s got a pretty fresh USP in that it aims to make it simple to make a difference while using your mobile in a completely normal way. It combines great value with the ability to help out good causes at no extra cost to its customers. It’s an idea that’s now a year in the making and very much realised.

A quarter of their profits are given away to a charitable foundation (chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly) and you can ask TPO to donate 10% of your monthly mobile spend to a cause of your choice. It’s that easy. Just grab a SIM and start doing good.

They have a great team behind them including Sam Tillotson as Operations Director and their Sales and Marketing Director Jon Fawcett. Their co-founders are Andrew Rosenfeld whose been involved in some very successful businesses and is Vice President of NSPCC, Mark Epstein who has a great track-record in communications and Tom Gutteridge an expert digital communications entrepreneur.

It’s certainly refreshing to see a business that works in a completely different way to what we’re used it. In a bid to find out a bit more, we got together with CEO Alex Franks to ask a few questions about this new venture.

Alex, how are you? Thank you for doing this interview with us. To start off, please can you tell us more about your background, where the original idea came from and what motivated you to use a mobile operator?

The founders of the business have an extremely strong background in business, mobile and the third sector. Andrew was chairman of the NSPCC Full Stop campaign and helped raise over £250m. He was also previously chairman of Minerva PLC. Mark and Tom have run a hugely successful communications agency for a number of years, working closely with causes up and down the country. It’s the blend of all of these skills that the company’s principles were built upon. The founders strongly believe that business can be done in a different way and this is why we have built our business in a way that enables us to raise funds for good causes while still being commercially successful.

So it sounds like you all have a strong background for entering the mobile market. Can you tell us why customers should use you for their charitable contributions rather than donating directly themselves?

Our customers can do both. If they are already a supporter of a particular charity why not join TPO so that we can pass 10% of all of their mobile spend to that, or any other charity of their choice. It doesn’t cost our customers any more to do even more for their chosen cause, TPO do it all for them.

That’s a great point. Which network do you use to provide your infrastructure and why did you choose them?

We use the UK’s number 1 provider of services to MVNO’s and the only 4G network in the UK. An easy choice.

That would be EE then. They seem to be an increasingly popular choice for MVNOs these days. Going back to how the charity side of things works, are the staff salaried or volunteers and if they get paid, are they encouraged to donate some proportion of their wages too?

Our staff are paid, they are a hugely talented team from across the telco sector. We are all on TPO and 10% of all of our employees monthly spend goes to the charity of their choice. Indeed, we are launching a corporate service in a few weeks where any business can switch to TPO so that their employees can direct us to pass 10% of all of their monthly spend to their chosen charity. We think this is a compelling model to help businesses fulfil their CSR commitments.

And how do you decide how to apportion the donations and is it possible to split your donations between several causes?

Customers are given the choice who they support, this is an important part of the way we built the business. A customer can choose any partner we are currently working with or nominate a charity or cause via our customer services team. In addition to this we have a large number of causes that have applied for grants from The TPO Foundation. The Foundation is chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly and managed by a board of trustees, they decide how grants are administered on a yearly basis.

So, how much do you expect to give away in the first year?

We are not making predictions at this stage but will publish what we have given away at a later date.

Great, we look forward to hearing more about that. Although you have reduced your rates, lots of people are saying that your data charges are putting them off even with the bundles – do you have any plans for lowering these rates further?

We have just halved our data rates, we think they are competitive. We are actively working with our partners to drive down costs so that we can continue to make ourselves competitive in the market place. We have also now launched our PAYM service and the bundles we are offering are extremely rich.

What do you think the impact of 4G and the exponential rise of smartphones is going to be on data pricing?

Data pricing has seen a downward trend and no doubt this will continue. We will make sure we stay in touch with the market so we can offer the best value possible to our customers. We will launch 4G as soon as it is made available to MVNO partners.

That sounds promising. I’m sure a lot of customers are dying to get access to 4G speeds on virtual networks. Finally, can you tell us how sign-ups are going at the moment and where do you see yourselves in five years?

We are not commenting on exact numbers at the moment but take up of our service by partners and customers alike has been fantastic and we are ahead of plan. We want to be a significant telco, not a niche player.

So what do you make of it? What do you think about The People’s Operator? Do you find it difficult to donate as much to charity as you’d like and fancy an easier way to give to good causes? This certainly seems like a better deal that Green Mobile which we looked at earlier. The prices are reasonable and it’s much more conscionable than going with tax-dodging high-street brands. It seems like a simple way to make a difference in your everyday life but what do you think? Is it enough to persuade you to switch? Or would you rather give to charity normally and get rock-bottom rates? Grab a free SIM today and let us know.

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