Circles.Life about disrupting the telecom sector, challenging incumbents

Since its launch in 2016, Circles.Life has rocked Singapore’s telecommunications industry and joined major players such as Singtel, M1 and StarHub.

In a live chat at Tech in Asia’s 11th annual conference yesterday (September 21), Rameez Ansar, co-founder and director of Circles.Life, shared his journey. company and talk about how he is challenging incumbents in the market.

He described Circles.Life as a brand that is eagerly trying to take on the telecommunications industry in a very different way, fundamentally by building an operating system for all telecom companies.

Their goal is to provide a better customer experience to the end users and offer a variety of services along with that.

Driving change to an established industry

Abhishek Gupta, Rameez Ansar and Adeel Najam, co-founders of Circles.
(LR): Abhishek Gupta, Rameez Ansar and Adeel Najam, co-founders of Circles.

But what drove the founders of the mobile virtual network (MVNO) Circles.Life to start up and against the incumbent telecommunications companies?

Sharing about his motivation in disrupting the telecom space, he said that it all stems from his personal experience. Back then, nobody seemed to love their telco.

“We’ve all had personal experiences with the telecommunications industry, whether it’s standing in long lines or on the phone trying to fix something. If anything, it’s an inconvenience,” he pointed out.

It confused him how an industry that ‘touches’ most people in the world could last so long.

Today, I think we [still] It’s a long way from turning this industry into the most innovative industry you can think of. Nobody in the world ever said telco, and that was the mission. We’re up there, and that’s what still drives me.

– Rameez Ansar, Co-Founder and Director of Circles.Life

Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey so far, he said that if he had known everything he knows now, he really might not have stuck at this.

“I mean it’s in all ways honestly, because it’s probably 10 times harder than I thought,” he quips. The fact that they will be trying to change “one of the worst, old industries in the world” feels pretty naive, and obviously, makes no sense.

But being an analytical person himself, Rameez felt that such innocence was needed.

“The long-term value of that decision is probably negative. But the question isn’t what could go wrong? The question is, what could be going in the right direction? And if it goes right, so what? We imagine this industry will change into something we all love and can really get a lot of service from.”

“I probably didn’t think logically that day when I decided that this was going to happen. So you have to be naive, but prepared. I think is more naive than prepared. “

Be clear on the ‘why’ first

rameez ansar tia conference 2022
Rameez Ansar at the fireside chat during TIA 2022 Conference / Image Credit: TIA 2022 Conference Screenshot

Although Rameez admits that building the company has been difficult, he shares that it is equally meaningful.

For him, every difficult moment serves as the foundation for the company’s growth and makes it purposeful, especially when they are pursuing something “crazy” like change. an industry.

Moments like these come from time to time, and a memorable one is the time before they hit the market for the first time.

“This is a telecom company now, with no MVP (minimum viable product). You can’t just say ‘I built an OS and I’m going to launch an MVP and see if it works.’ You have to be completely ready and prepared,” he said.

However, they face human resource problems and only have 20 people – half the number of people needed. “This is 4 months ago when the company was running out of money,” Rameez said bluntly, adding that every startup can run out of money a few times in its life.

They need to launch quickly within a few months to gain traction and only then can they start raising money.

To add fuel to the fire, Rameez shared that he woke up one day to discover that one of their competitors had launched something very similar to them on the market.

“They are a great player with the same name [and colours]even though we had full IPs and everything. “

He is disappointed by the news and every lawyer he consults has said that while they are indeed entitled, they warn against engaging in a legal battle and fighting it in court.

At the same time, he also received calls from investors saying they had seen a competitor’s ad and that they were voicing similar concerns. “You guys are done and should go home” – that was the gist of what the investors told him.

However, when he regrouped with his team, it was all on the same page. They strongly believe that they are doing something different and that the launch is worthwhile.

“Money will not defeat us. That’s the other way we’re thinking about it,” Rameez emphasized. Recalling a book he read titled ‘Tough things about difficult things’, he said that founders always live with some doubt – and this is where the weakness and the doubt are. suspected to have taken him.

I think everyone faces this and I think you need to make it clear why you are doing this, because I can tell you that every moment takes something from you. , but also gives you something back. Meaning and purpose will only come if you have a clear understanding of the ‘why’.

– Rameez Ansar, Co-Founder and Director of Circles.Life

Building sustainable technology and business

When Circles.Life first started, they relied on two key insights. They feel that the industry is “too bad”, especially in terms of customer experience and legacy technology – and this is not a problem confined to Singapore; it’s a global problem.

Not only are customers unhappy, the industry is also experiencing an all-time low profitability. An industry simply cannot exist if neither the customer nor the business is satisfied, so the only solution to that is essentially to think of a technology solution.

“You can’t solve it by just trying to do things differently. You have to get rid of it,” he said harshly.

He went on to give an example of how ride-hailing has disrupted the taxi industry. Today, each region has its own taxi companies and ride-hailing services, but he questions why no taxi companies have come up with the idea of ​​hailing the first.

Not because they are stupid people. It’s not because they can’t do it mentally or imaginatively. It’s just that, unless you remove the technology and rebuild it, you can’t really solve what is essentially an industry problem.

– Rameez Ansar, Co-Founder and Director of Circles.Life

Circles-X R&D Center
Opening ceremony of the Circles-X R&D center / Image credit: Circles.Life

This is why Circles.Life built Circles-X, the company’s unique technology system that allows the company to launch new services in weeks instead of years and quickly launch in countries new family.

“Many people are trying to change the telecommunications industry – they’re doing it by adding components, the kind that give telecommunications something that we said we were going to do, which is to have a comprehensive solution – rebuild the whole thing and then go out there and do it. It’s like building your own end-to-end rocket solution,” he explains.

If someone wants to use their operating system, they can simply give them the platform without them spending 5 years R&D and billions of dollars.

After a high-growth launch in Japan, Rameez said that Circles.Life is approaching a “balanced revenue situation” between B2B and B2C businesses.

“This was a $0 in revenue two years ago, and now it’s almost half [entire] business,” he said, adding that their total annual sales have reached over $200 million.

He also emphasized the importance of building a sustainable business. “You can’t change the industry if you run out of money,” he said simply.

While there are some businesses with high burn-through rates such as those that acquire customers at ever-increasing costs and ultimately hope that it turns into a profit, he considers this a very risky move. dangerous.

“It’s like betting a few times and I don’t think we’re that kind of company, although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with such companies. I don’t think the founders at Circles.Life were like that because we didn’t know how to run that kind of business. I would probably freak out every day because I could see the end of the line. “

“The bottom line for us is that we’ve always built the business in a sustainable way. We have never had a negative gross profit.”

Innovation is in their DNA

Although Circles.Life has its roots in Singapore, Rameez admits that it’s really “not the ideal space” to build a global platform.

However, he sees a strong need for a “catalog creator” in the region. Circles.Life is well positioned to fill this gap, but he finds it difficult to achieve because no one has done the same.

“There are many dead ends and many more challenges. It’s also a lot harder to keep people engaged because we have to go through a lot of detours, dead ends, and different things.”

Regardless of whether it is limited vision or talent, this is exactly what founders are determined to change.

“We wanted to make a statement – ​​that you can build a category creator, no matter how tough, from Singapore and Southeast Asia. There is no guarantee of success, but you know what? Let’s see what happens.”

At the end of the day, every business has its own “curves”. If you don’t innovate every three to four years, he warns, you will stagnate.

You have to think about your business in the long term. No business in the world exists with just one action, so you must keep thinking about these actions along the way.

– Rameez Ansar, Co-Founder and Director of Circles.Life

Featured image credit: Screenshot of TIA 2022 Conference

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