Getting a cab or a meal, sending or receiving money, or shopping for a last-minute birthday gift: All of these everyday tasks are easy to complete from a smartphone. But updating your phone plan, adding some extra gigabytes of data or activating a roaming plan while abroad? Those require an old-fashioned phone call to the carrier.
Why is it that phone technology is so advanced, yet making any changes to how, when and where we use that technology is so, well, archaic?
“This is out of touch with the way it should be,” said ItsOn Vice President of Technical Sales and Marketing Robert Oberhofer. “ItsOn set out to provide the solution for carriers to change that. Ultimately, we want to simplify the way that users interact with their carriers in the same way that Uber simplified taxi services.”
The cloud technology company’s goal is to make customers love their wireless carriers again. It’s doing that through next-level customer service and a cloud solution that lets wireless users get real-time, contextual notifications; see usage information; and manage or purchase plans with just a few taps.
Though America’s biggest carriers haven’t cottoned on yet, cloud startup ItsOn has made great inroads in overseas developing markets, with Saudi Arabia leading the charge in customer-centric marketing.
PYMNTS caught up with Oberhofer to hear the news re: how this cloud-based data enabler and automation company is changing the mobile phone industry one market at a time.
PYMNTS: How does your business overlap with the payment processing or e-merchant world?
RO: ItsOn includes many of the critical commerce capabilities that carriers need, with payment processing being only one part when a purchase is made. What’s unique about ItsOn is that it virtualizes business services such as billing, charging, rating and payments by moving these functions to an operator-managed cloud environment.
ItsOn allows end-users to fully control their plans and services on-device — all in real-time. A great example is roaming. Imagine you are traveling for business and forgot to call your carrier prior for a roaming data plan. In our world, you get a notification when your airplane lands, and you can purchase your roaming plans with a few clicks.
PYMNTS: Can you give the history on the founding and launch of the company?
RO: ItsOn was founded in 2008 by wireless and internet industry pioneers Greg Raleigh and Charlie Giancarlo with the goal to make customers love their wireless carriers again. The company launched the world's first end-to-end solution for virtual billing and policy management in 2014 and counts global operators such as Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Telefónica Mexico and MTN as customers.
PYMNTS: Can you show me some data or proof points on how the company has helped retailers?
RO: ItsOn recently partnered with STC to launch a digital mobile brand called Jawwy. In Saudi Arabia, two-thirds of the population is under 30 years old. This young demographic has one of the highest penetration rates of smartphones and online platforms in the world.
STC noticed this shift happening and knew it could lose mindshare to OTT players. Jawwy, which means “my way” in Arabic, is a new offering for STC’s young subscribers that allows them to build, share and manage their plans in real time.
Since launching, Jawwy from STC has scaled from three cities to more than 100 and now engages with nearly all of its customers online and/or via social media, a first and only for Saudi Arabia and rarity in the entire Middle East.
PYMNTS: Looking back since founding, what has been the proudest moment for the organization?
RO: The shift to allow managing your plans all on your phone seemed so radical at the time to carriers that ItsOn had to show that this works and will be accepted by consumers. You could buy a device and service online, get it shipped, and enable the service all on your phone from boot without having to call anyone. This was totally new in the market.
PYMNTS: What is next? What does the future look like?
RO: Ultimately, we want to empower mobile carriers to become digital service providers. This includes two areas.
First, switch the interaction with customers to predominantly via digital means (e.g., mobile app, web, messaging) and make it simple and transparent to the user. This includes no surprises (or bill shock!) and everything done in a few clicks.
Second, we want to enable carriers to go beyond offering just voice/text/data bundles and be a go-to point for additional services. A great example is the bundling of Spotify with a data allocation that comes with your cell phone. Carriers have to move to these new services to stay relevant, and we want to empower them in a way that makes it simple for the end-user.
PYMNTS: What has been the biggest hurdle? How did the company overcome it?
RO: Working with mobile carriers and changing how services are offered and sold is a tall order. There are no new carriers in the world that can start from scratch, thus there’s a lot of existing technology that has to be considered. We’ve grown over the past two years from fewer than 100 people to almost 200 globally with our headquarters in Silicon Valley and new offices in Europe, the Middle East and Mexico.
PYMNTS: What’s the company culture like?
RO: Being a Silicon Valley tech company at heart, the culture is truly based on innovation. ItsOn employees and executives draw upon years of engineering and development experience from Silicon Valley’s largest and most influential companies. As such, we both operate and strive to be just as innovative and agile as any other more established technology company. We are upending the way that carriers traditionally worked — and that requires grit and stamina.
PYMNTS: To what do you attribute your success over the years?
RO: Believing in the vision. What seems unreal and farfetched in 2008 at the founding of the company has now become now an industry shift that’s described as digital transformation in telco with the goal of becoming a digital service provider.