Today I spoke in Berlin to serial entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of the airline easyJet and other successful low cost product ventures. It was during a press conference about the launch of easyHotel.com, which wants to open 10 budget hotels across Germany over the next four years. But much more interesting I found what we talked aside: His mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) easyMobile will come back and offer free cell phone calls, sponsored by advertising.
Until not long ago there already was another easyMobile, planned as pan European MVNO. The Danish operator TDC had licensed the brand from Stelios' easyGroup but things didn't turn out so well. TDC got bought and changed their business strategy which made Stelios retract the brandname. In just 48 hours the German branch changed its name into callmobile. „You always have to be cautious that the franchisees don't damage your established brand name“, Stelios said today.
Now he is planning to start a new MVNO under the name of easyMobile early next year. „The MVNOs brought the cell phone costs down but until now nobody offers completely free phone calls“, he said to me today. „People are used to pay for mobile communication and still cannot imagine that it could be free like televison.“ Therefore he is looking for the right partner to start a free phone calls MVNO, sponsored by advertising. A similar approach we already know from Blyk, a UK based start-up by the former president of Nokia Corporation, Pekka Ala-Pietilä, which is due to launch this summer.
Before every phone call Stelios wants to play an advertising message, which is not necessarily an easy business model, he admits. „To found a cheap MVNO is easy“, he says „but the trick is on the advertising side“. In his plans the advertising should be location based, at least on city level, and requires a lot of personalization. „A person that every thursday night orders at Pizza Hut could be played a Domino's advertising“, he jokes. But to use all the personal data that's necessary for such a service the new easyMobile needs ample permissions from its customers. „People are aware that they give away their data in exchange for free phone calls“, Stelios dismisses any doubts.
Actually he is looking for the right advertising partner to provide the necessary technology and data. He even asked me for a recommendation. When I mentioned Google/Doubleclick he said „yes, but Google today is very much into everything.“
So let's wait and see. After all I wouldn't even be surprised to realize that Blyk is in fact just a place holder for the new easyMobile. The two companies have not yet launched, they share the same business model, are located in the same city and want to start their businesses in the same market at nearly the same time.
Maybe they just are the same?