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An insight on digital transformation

Hamish White
I see the next evolution of Mobilise around eSIM, and being an enabler of a new way of connectivity for consumers and for IoT.

Nathan Anibaba is joined by Hamish White, founder and CEO of Mobilise, a leading provider of software and services to the telecommunications industry. Hamish shares his experience of building his business from the ground upthe transition from consultancy firm to software providerand its exciting new product launch, eSIM. 

Transcript:

Speaker 1: 

This is Clientside from Fox Agency. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Hamish White is the Founder and CEO of Mobilise, a telecoms entrepreneur with 20 years experience supporting Tier 1 and Tier 2 international telecommunications operators. He has a track record of successfully launching and growing startup telecoms related operations. His experience also includes the launch of eight mobile virtual network operators, MVNOs, in five different markets. I’m very much looking forward to the conversation. Hamish White, welcome to Clientside. 

 

Hamish White: 

Hello Nathan, thanks so much for having me. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Absolute pleasure having you on the show. Let’s get into your background because it’s really fascinating. Your background is in engineering and since leaving Australia, you’ve got a lot of international experience working in Southeast Asia, France, the Middle East, the Netherlands. How did those experiences lead you to setting up Mobilise in 2011? 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah, that’s a really good question. So yeah, I mean I think by nature, Australians have a bit of a desire to want to explore the world and stuff. But telecoms, it’s a really international business model as well. So you can transport your knowledge to pretty much any market. And yeah, I gained some amazing experiences jumping around different countries, setting up telecoms companies. And I think one thing that I noticed when I was in these different countries is that there was a bit of a gap in the market for a telecoms consultancy that was providing consultancy services to this specific niche of business model, the MVNOs. And so I felt there was an opportunity there. But then at the same time, I was also pretty keen to do something of myself. I’d spent many, many years setting up companies for other people. 

And it just was timely. It was the right time for me to look at something. And yeah, I think working in different markets, the diversity of markets that I’ve worked in, it gives you, yeah an extra rounding in terms of… Every new market, every new culture, it gives you a little bit of a different perspective into how people do business. And I think that’s super helpful, just day-to-day managing business operations and dealing with different clients and looking at different commercial scenarios and stuff. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really interesting. So we’ll come back and talk about Mobilise in a moment. But let’s talk about the telecoms industry before we do that, because as you look at the industry today and how it’s evolved over the last 20 years or so since you’ve been in it, what in your mind have been the most significant either milestones or markers in technology innovation regulation? I don’t want to put any ideas into your mind, but what have been the most significant milestones that have led us to where we are today would you say? 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah. I mean I think if I go all the way back, I mean I started in telecoms in 1999, so that’s going back a little way now, showing my age a bit. But I think- 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Aging yourself. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah, that’s right. I think that one of the biggest shifts was when we went from 2G second generation mobile to third generation, so 2G to 3G. There was a heap of hype around what 3G could offer to consumers. And that’s the same with every generation. But what you end up with is often a subset of what the heart suggests. But that was really quite transformational in terms of what you could do with a smartphone, enabling the internet in a different way and all the value added services that came with that. So it suggests that was probably, in my career, one of the big moments. And then obviously, you can’t go past the iPhone. When the iPhone came out in 2007, 2008, it was just a completely different model from a handset perspective. And then a couple of years afterwards, I think it was the App Store that came on top of that. 

So that, again, just added another whole layer of capability and value opportunity into the mobile industry, which wasn’t there before. So I’d suggest that they’re probably two of the biggest shifts. But I personally think that we’re not even where the full potential of the mobile technologies can be taken. I think a few things are starting to come out now, particularly around things eSIM capability, which basically removes the need for a SIM card. Technologies like that are really going to start to open up connectivity, I guess I’d call it, into different verticals and use cases that we don’t see today. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really interesting. Okay. So let’s expand on that in a bit more detail then. So if you were to look in your crystal ball the next five years, it’s impossible, if 2020 has taught us anything about the future, none of us know what’s happening around the corner. But if you were to look into your crystal ball in the next five years as to what are the most significant changes that will take place in the telecoms industry? I mean a lot of hype and talk has been… A lot of people have been talking about 5G and the significant increases in innovation that will come off the back of that. I’m not sure whether that’s hype or whether people inside the industry like yourselves are as excited about it as other people outside. Talk about some of the most significant innovations you see happening in the telecoms industry over the next three to five years. 

Hamish White: Yeah. That’s a really good question. That’s the 64 million dollar question that everyone like me is trying to answer so that we can ride the wave. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Yeah, where should I invest? 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah, exactly. But yeah, I mean there’s a couple of really key things that I think are going to be quite transformational in the industry. So I think that there’s a big shift happening towards digital. So we hear a lot about digital transformation across different industries, and you’ve seen that a lot with the likes of the banking industry or content streaming industries like Netflix. And there’s been a lot of innovation moving away from physical bricks and mortar type service to customers and into an all online type digital service offering where basically a customer doesn’t have to do anything in the physical world. They can do it all via… By the physical world, I mean our shop or speak to a customer care agent or whatever. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Sure. 

 

Hamish White: 

They can do everything via a mobile application or on online. And there’s big shifts happening in other industries around that digital transformation, like banking as I suggested. But that hasn’t really happened in telecoms yet. It has to some degree, but not to the level that we’ve seen in other industries and certainly not to the potential of what could be done. So I see what’s going to happen from that perspective is that we’re starting to see some sub-brands. So that’s where an operator launches a second brand that what we might call is digital first. So they look to do something different that doesn’t cannibalize their existing customer base, but they’re targeting a new type of customer which invariably tends to be a more youth-orientated customer. So you might be looking at between 15 and 35, 30. Well 35 is not youth, but up to that age range, who are much more familiar with using digital technologies. 

But what that digital transformation does is it totally turns the telecoms model on its head. At the moment, telecoms companies have massive costs to deliver physical infrastructure to their customers. So for stores, physical distribution of devices and SIM cards, call centers, all that kind of stuff. So if you remove that cost, then it really makes for a different operating model and a different cost model. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Sure. 

 

Hamish White: 

So I think that’s going to be quite transformational and I think that’s starting to happen. But there’s a big opportunity there. The other is definitely 5G. Again, like I mentioned at the outset when we were talking about transition from 2G to 3G being transformational in the industry, 5G has got a lot of hype around it, probably more hype than I’ve ever seen with any other generation shift, to the point where at some points, I’ve been saying to myself, “This is a bit reckless,” the way that some of these more driven out of the telecoms vendors that are selling that kit, where they talk about some of the use cases as a possible… Like autonomous driving and remote surgery and all that kind of stuff. The technology is just not fit for that. It doesn’t suit those types of use cases. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Sure. 

 

Hamish White: 

But it does add another layer of speed of connectivity. And also, the technology model that’s used to deliver 5G is very, very different to the traditional model. And that opens up much more agile, nimble ways of managing that technology. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

So 5G, just so we’re clear, is not responsible for coronavirus and the pandemic. That’s one thing that most people have put it down to. 

 

Hamish White: 

Exactly. It’s conspiracy theories. I got a 5G phone the other day. I was due for an upgrade with EE, and I got a 5G phone. And I was telling my wife, “Wow, look, I’ve got this 5G phone. It’s great.” And she says, “Is it going to give you coronavirus?” I was like, “Hang on.” But no, I’m quite certain. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a doctor, but I’m quite certain it’s not responsible. Yeah. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

That’s not the way it spreads. Okay. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

All right. So that’s a nice segue then to talking about Mobilise, considering that you talked about the big telecoms operators being able to launch other offerings to subsets of their customer base in order to not cannibalize their existing install base. So talk a little bit about who are Mobilise, what problems do you solve for your clients and why does Mobilise exist? 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah. So originally, I started the business, as I mentioned, as a consultancy. And we were helping telecoms companies launch new businesses basically using mobile technologies. But as the business evolved, about 2013, 2014, we started another division of the business which is all around software and technology. And that’s where the main focus of the business is today. And really what we do is we help telecoms companies make that transition from the physical world to the digital world. So we have a software platform called M-Connect, and all of the components of M-Connect are really designed to help service providers and telecoms companies make that transition. And we have all sorts of bells and whistles that sit off the back of that. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Mm-hmm. 

 

Hamish White: 

But yeah, we’re really there to help telecoms companies or even companies outside telecoms that are looking to enter into telecoms, we really help them with services to achieve that objective or product platform to enable them in a digital way. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

So give us an idea of how the company has grown since you started in 2011 until where we are today, people, locations, revenue, any significant milestones that you want to talk about as well. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah, sure. So I started as a one-man-band. I had one contract with a customer based out in Woking. We were working on a new operator launch. And then from year to year started adding more customers, bringing more people in to support those customers. And it’s just grown ever since. We come probably the first five years was just difficult. It was just a constant grind, constant, constant grind. And managing time and figuring out how to balance resources and cost and budget and all that kind of stuff. But then we started the technology side of the business and we were working on a particular piece of technology for a client who felt that that piece of technology to their business was very valuable. So they approached us and said, “We’d like to invest in Mobilise. We see that you’re building up this technology platform, but we see that you’re bootstrapping it. So how about we give you some funds to accelerate that? ”And at the same time, we’ll protect a little bit of our IP.” 

 

Hamish White: 

So we took investment and we’ve taken two rounds of investment after that, or from the same guys, which is cool. And that really put a little bit of a rocket ship under the business. So we started to grow the team, we had the flexibility to be able to really go out and have the right conversations. So the team is now just under 50 people. We’ve got offices here in the UK. We have a small office in Hong Kong, which no one has been to in the last 12 months, which is frustrating. And then we have satellite presences in different parts of Latin America and Southern Spain and in North America as well. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Yeah. 

 

Hamish White: 

And from a revenue perspective, first five years or so, it was tough going. But we always had good percentage increases on our revenue base from the previous year. So it was always a good trajectory. Last year, we did well as well. We obviously didn’t do as well as we wanted to because of the coronavirus and stuff. I think everyone is pretty much in the same boat. But we increased considerably, so double digit increase on our revenues. But over the last three years, it’s over 130% increase in revenue. And this year, we’ll probably double revenue if I can incentivize the sales guys to close the deals that they need to. But it’s growing well. Yeah. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Keep selling. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Yeah. Fantastic. Really good to hear. So you said that you transitioned from a consultancy business to a software business. That’s a very different… For people that haven’t made that switch, they’re probably thinking it’s relatively easy to do that. But you need completely different muscles, completely different skillsets, talents, processes, sales processes. What advice would you give to other people that are trying to make that transition? And how did you do it in a way that wasn’t too disruptive? Talk us through how you made that change. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah, that’s a really good question. So yeah, when we went into it, I thought most of the people in the business at the time had came from a technology background. So I thought this transition shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s going to be hard, but it shouldn’t be too difficult because the skillset should be the same, but actually in reality, a software business is just so different. I’m sure every business is different from one another. But it was a really big learning curve. And we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes. Some mistakes took us right to the brink, and I’ll put my hand up for those. But yeah, we grinded it out. We learnt the lessons and we iterated, we trusted each other. And we also supported each other when the decisions weren’t the right ones as well. So I think that if I break it down, it’s probably the team that has helped us get to where we are and the fact that we’re a supportive team. There’s lots of other things that play into that as well. 

But if I was to give advice to anyone who was considering making that transition, I would say surround yourself with advisors that have done that transition before, find perhaps some folks that you can bring into the business that are from where you’re trying to get to. So whether it be product people, whether it be sales people, some people who have already been through that transition and are already on the other side. And I think what we did, which I wouldn’t change anything because we are where we are, but what we did is we thought we would grind it out with the resources that we had and not try to up-skill in resources of the target we were trying to get to. But yes, I think surround yourself with people that have been through the journey, whether they be advisors, whether they be people that have that experience in product, et cetera. And I think that’ll just accelerate things. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

What was the most surprising or difficult thing to you when making that transition? 

 

Hamish White: 

I think it was just how different it was. I mean the sales process, the resource requirements. So the people that we needed in the business to be able to deliver on… The skillsets that we needed in the business to deliver on what we were trying to do. I think the thing that probably surprised me the most, which I think is very specific to our situation, but delivering quality software. I mean top quality software is really hard, really, really hard. And a lot of people I think, particularly sometimes customers in particular, when we’re having conversations, they’re like, “Oh, but it’s just a mobile application.” Or, “It’s just a platform. It’s just a website.” But there is a massive delta between what a developer on his own can deliver you versus what is a first rate customer experience and user experience that can compete with the best guys out there. You know what I mean? 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Sure. 

 

Hamish White: 

And we went through that journey and we wasted a lot of money, we wasted a lot of time, a lot of effort to learn those lessons. There’s a whole methodology and a whole quality process around really getting good quality software design out there and that works long-term. That was a big lesson for us. Yeah. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really interesting. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Let’s talk a little bit about your customers. Give us an idea as to who the typical customer for Mobilise. What typical problems do they have in their business and how are you specifically helping to solve them with this software product? 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah. So we deal primarily with telecoms companies, mobile operators, or fixed line operators, or ISPs. Definitely mobile operators is where we have a bit of a specialty, because that’s a lot of our background. But a subset of that is also… There’s a size of operator that is usually suitable for us to go after, and that would be Tier 2 operators. And to give you an example, someone like Vodafone or EE would be a Tier 1, and someone like maybe a Tesco Mobile or a GiffGaff, they might be a Tier 2. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Okay. 

 

Hamish White:a 

And they’re the types of customers that we go after. And for a few different reasons in that they’re of a size that we can manage, like the size of our business versus the size of the business of Vodafone for example, we’d just get eaten up in there sales cycle, we’d get eaten up in their delivery cycle. And they’re almost too big. But then also, these other guys, usually their strategy to procure technology is more of a buy and not build strategy. So they’ll look to partner with a vendor that can provide them the capability that they need as opposed to building themselves, which is what some of the bigger guys do. Plus, the cultural fit of the business and the size of the businesses benefits, so it’s easy for us to manage those projects. 

So that’s the kind of customers that we go after and we have now. But one day, we will be going after the Tier 1 guys, there’s no doubt about it. It’s just a question of where do we put our finite resources to the best use. And that’s that target customer segment. And the other part of the question about what problems do we solve, or what value do we offer? So one of the things that I guess you could say our platform, it provides some very traditional support to telecoms companies. Our platform helps telecoms companies run their back office systems basically in one sense, plus it also helps to manage customers on the mobile application and the web store side of things. But what we’ve developed within our platform is also this almost like an ecosystem of value added services. 

And so what we’re able to do is provide this basic capability that they need. We like to say we do that well. But then we’ve also got this opportunity to present them with additional revenue opportunities. And what that ties into in the overall macro trends in the industry is that it is becoming harder and harder to maintain profit margins in the telecoms industry. It’s competitive, particularly in mature markets. Margins are getting squeezed on a regular basis, data consumption’s going through the roof. But average revenue per month is going down. So operators are looking for ways to increase their revenue per customer. So our platform helps in that way. We can add additional capability, revenue capability to what they have today. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Give us an example. 

 

Hamish White: 

So one of our customers, we delivered our platform to them and it gives them the opportunity to sell a global wifi product. So one of the value added services that we have integrated into our M-Connect platform is a global wifi service and gives customers access to 60 million hotspots around the world. And basically for this operator in Germany, what they were able to do was add this wifi service, fire our technology into their existing technology platform, and start selling that as an add-on to their existing tariff plans. So yeah, they do it in two ways. They do it one as a bundled service. So customer pays a maximum ARPU tariff plan. They get this service for free included. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Right. 

 

Hamish White: 

So you’re driving customers up the value chain. Or the other way is they sell it as a standalone and the customer just pays for it on a monthly basis. Yeah. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really interesting. So as you think about the next chapter in the businesses’ history or evolution, what do you think is the most effective next chapter in the business? What might that look like to you? 

 

Hamish White: 

So I mean we’ve just recently launched a new product, which I think is going to be really transformational. We’ve spent about 12 months working on that. It’s called eSIM, And I mentioned it at the outset of the call, but it removes the need for a SIM card. And I think where I see Mobilise being positioned is an enabler of that transformation. So we do a lot of stuff today, but this specific piece of technology has got massive amounts of use cases and applications within telecoms, but outside of telecoms as well. And you could think of it as enabling connectivity into almost any piece of software, whether it be other mobile applications, whether it be PCs, whether it be fridges that are smart, whatever it might be. So I see the next evolution of Mobilise around this piece of technology and being an enabler of that new way of connectivity for consumers and also for the internet of things. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

You mentioned at the top of the show that the telecoms industry has been slower to digitally transform relative to other industries, banking, healthcare, I don’t know, go down the list. What do you think are some of the reasons why telecoms has been slower to adopt newer forms of digital transformation, to innovate, to change in the way that other industries have? 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah. So that’s a good question too. I think that if we were talking to someone in the banking industry who is in the same situation as myself in the telecoms industry, they’d go, “No, it hasn’t been quick. It’s been long. We’ve taken ages to get this. It’s a question of perspective.” 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Sure. 

 

Hamish White: 

But I mean I’ve thought this myself quite often why is the banking industry where it is and telecoms for no obvious reason is further behind. But I think they’ve started that journey earlier in the banking sector. But I think one of the reasons why the telecoms industries is still struggling with this, because it should be further ahead, and this transformation is accelerating, right? So what might’ve been an acceptable timeframe to do digital transformation 10 years ago, it might’ve been three years to do that transformation. But today, an acceptable timeframe to perform digital transformation might be 12 months. So the expectations- 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

A couple of weeks. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah, a couple of weeks. Exactly. So the expectation is changing. But I think the telecoms industry, there’s some fundamental challenges in the telecoms industry, one, which is outside the operator space. And I think that’s around regulation. So there is a lot of regulation in the telecoms industry. There isn’t banking as well, but in particular around the amount of money that operators need to pay in order to be able to buy spectrum, to acquire licenses, and that’s all government related regulation. You can’t just change that. It’s there and it exists. And the operators pay billions and billions and billions for the licenses and what that does is it drives behavior, protectionist behavior. So they know what’s going to work for them, voice, data, text. They want to drive the value out of that as much as possible before they start taking risks and jeopardize the investments that they’ve made. 

So there’s regulation that plays into it. But there’s also a lot of legacy mindset within the telecoms industry. I mean 10 years ago, or maybe even 15 years ago, it was quite a stuffy industry. It was almost arrogant I think you could say. You went into a lot of operators and you proposed new ideas and they’d be like, “No, that’s not right. We know what we’re doing and what you’re saying is not right.” It was just quite often a very walled garden approach, we know what- 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Traditional, legacy, old-school. 

 

Hamish White: 

Yeah, exactly, exactly. And so there’s a cultural shift that needs to happen, a mindset shift that needs to happen in these operators. And that goes down to all sorts of different things like development methodologies, to business processes, to the resources and skillsets that you need in the business. And it’s super difficult to change that stuff, particularly if you’re a business that’s 30, 40, 50-years-old. I won’t name names, but that takes time to shift that culture. The other is legacy technology as well. I mean there’s some genuine problems about the technology that is in some of these operators. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Sure. 

 

Hamish White: 

It’s been in place for 10, 20 years and they’ve got live customers and live revenue that is running off those platforms. And they’re worried about making a change. And that’s one of the reason why some of the more forward thinking operators that have launched these sub-brands that I mentioned before, they do it on a completely different technology stack. So they implement an entirely new technology stack that sits separate from their existing systems. And it’s siloed and isolated because they’re concerned about messing up anything that they’ve got at the moment. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Maybe what the telecoms industry needs is a banking scandal, very similar to what happened in 2008, because that’s really what led to PSD2 and open banking where the government stepped in and said, “Right, we need to regulate these banks. And because of that, here’s all this customer data that needs to be opened up to other smaller players.” And that’s where you saw the rise of Starling and Monzo and all this amazing innovation that we’ve now… This has now become normal. But that came out of this huge financial crisis and almost this meltdown. So maybe the telecoms industry needs something similar. 

 

Hamish White: 

Interesting. No, you’re absolutely right. I think absolutely right. Nothing like a scandal to make change, right? 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

We’re fast running out of time, Hamish. But I want to ask a couple of my favorite questions and then we’ll get out of your way. You’ve lived and worked in many different countries all over the world. If you could live and work anywhere in the world now, where would it be and why? 

 

Hamish White: 

Oh, yeah. That’s such a loaded question, isn’t it? Anyway, I would say probably, yeah, San Diego or the South of France. But that’s driven a lot. It’s driven a lot by personal life and probably… Yeah, with weather. Probably influenced by the fact that we’ve all been and may have been locked indoors for the last 12 months. All I want at the moment is to sit on the beach. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Definitely. Yeah. You and me both. What excites you most about your current role and position? 

 

Hamish White: 

Just the diversity of challenges that I face day-to-day. We’re doing some really cool stuff in the business and we get presented with challenges every day and it’s exciting. I was up at 4:45 this morning typing emails, and I like to do that. I want to do that. And it’s exciting. So I’m probably overworked by definition, but I wouldn’t change anything. I love the fast-pace. I do enjoy the pressure as well at times, and we’re working on cool stuff. Plus, I just love my team. I’m so proud of them, everything that they do, they all work so hard and we’ve got such a great culture and a great team. Honestly, I think that’s probably the thing that I enjoy the most about it is just working with the team and achieving things together and watching them grow as individuals as well in the business. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

And our last question, Hamish, if you were approached by a graduate or a young person who wanted some advice to get into the telecoms industry, what advice would you give him or her? 

 

Hamish White: 

I would say try to pick a part of telecoms. So pick a vocation within telecoms that interests you because it’s a very, very diverse field. And there are heaps of graduate programs out there for… I mean we’ve got one ourselves, but for a lot of the big companies as well, they’ve got good graduate programs. I mean I hope none of the graduates that work in our business hear this, but I would suggest if you’re a graduate, get into one of the big operators and stay there for a couple of years, because those are some of your most formative years and learning about process, learning about structure, learning about how those big businesses work and having that foundation into the rest of your career is super valuable I think. And it’s hard sometimes to find that structure and that good governance and the processes and all that kind of stuff when you’re not in some of those big companies. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really interesting, really good advice. Hamish, thank you very much for being on Clientside. 

 

Hamish White: 

Nice, and thank you very much for having me. It was fantastic. Appreciate it. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: 

If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of Clientside, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email zoey@fox.agency. The people that make the show possible are Zoey Woodward, our booker/researcher, David Clare is our head of content, Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba, you’ve been listening to Clientside from Fox Agency. 

 

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