Germany, 2005. Another online disrupter was brewing. A group of four men had an idea. They wanted to create a mobile service provider where customers could order their SIM card, then manage the related account and service through an online operating model. The business was to be called Simyo.
Simyo was well ahead of its time. Thankfully for the founders – Rolf Hansen, Thomas Enge, Andreas Perreiter and Christian Magel – it wasn’t so far ahead that they couldn’t be around to see their idea bear the fruits of their labour. Perhaps they didn’t know it then, but their idea would radically redefine the traditional telco business model.
Australia, 2009. Julian Ogrin was close friends with Peter O’Connell. “I’d worked with Peter for about 10 years and he said, ‘You know what, I need to bring these four German founders to Australia’,” Julian says.
“Peter was on the board of an Irish telco called Eircom. I was COO and we were introduced to Rolf Hansen, one of the founders of Simyo who was also its CEO. We were obviously looking around the world for smarter operating models as we moved into the online and digital era.”
That idea was born as amaysim in 2010. By then Julian knew for sure where the telco industry was heading. “We were in tough times. There was a lot of capital investment for data networks, but the revenue wasn’t following suit,” he recalls.
“You could see very quickly a new operating model needed to happen for the industry to flourish. Peter and I were attracted to amaysim because it defied all the key performance indicators a typical mobile network operator had. It was disrupting the industry and it was effective.
“I was on the carrier side at the time and was offered a promotion to become CEO of Tele2 in Croatia. I accepted the role, but eventually, I came back and took over the running of amaysim. I had been in regular contact with the guys and was always keen to return to Australia and join forces. Fortunately, it turned out that way.”
In 2013, Julian joined amaysim as Chief Commercial Officer. By 2015, he became the Managing Director and CEO.
Think of the major online disrupters around the world that have really taken off over the past five years, and you’ll find there is definitely a trend towards the asset-light business model.
“Today, we can offer mobile, NBN, electricity and gas, and devices, all through our online channel.”
Uber and Airbnb are often touted as shining (if cliched) examples of asset-light at its best – the largest taxi company that doesn’t own any cars or the largest hotel chain that doesn’t own any property, respectively.
Julian says amaysim is doing pretty much the same thing but in a different industry. “We get to invest all our capital expenditure dollars into the customer experience because we’re not investing in physical infrastructure. If you were to walk around our office, more than 50% of our staff are either software developers, IT engineers or architects.”
Much like the way the lighter backs can respond faster than the heavier forwards on the rugby field, a company with fewer assets can adjust to change more readily than the carrier company lugging around legacy infrastructure.
“That’s why we have such a strong, fast movement and energy against the competition because you can see, not only in Australia but around the world, carriers haven’t really caught up to the digital experience that we have. That’s what gives us the edge.”
The success hasn’t stopped there. In July 2015 amaysim listed on the ASX following a successful initial public offering. At the time, it had just over 700,000 customers. By February 2018, the company had over 1.14 million.
“We’ve had significant double-digit growth in our customer base and, despite it being increasingly competitive in the mobile market, it hasn’t slowed us down in terms of growth. That’s why we have grown to Australia’s fourth largest mobile service provider with over a million customers,” says Julian.
The company has also completed three acquisitions since then. First was Vaya in January 2016. AusBBS followed in August 2016, allowing it to enter into the broadband and NBN market. Most recently, amaysim acquired Click Energy in May 2017, giving it exposure to electricity and gas.
“Today, we can offer mobile, NBN, electricity and gas, and devices, all through our online channel. Essentially, we have created that household service platform under the amaysim brand.”
With all the benefits the business model can offer, going asset-light wouldn’t work without a strong partnership and amaysim has a symbiotic relationship with one partner that can provide the necessary backing and infrastructure.
“We rely on our partnership with Optus because they own the infrastructure. While there’s a commitment to work together on service-level agreements and so forth, we trust them in terms of their investment in the network,” Julian says. “We need to make sure we always have a strong product, but also that the physical network satisfies customer needs.”
Julian admits he doesn’t hold all the answers to being the best CEO in the world. He has learned over his 25-year-plus career, however, that strategy and change is all about leading from the front. While it is important to “believe in your own model” and “run with it with all your conviction”, it also doesn’t necessarily mean “my way or the highway”.
“What you do is surround yourself with people who are the subject-matter experts, who are probably smarter than you in the main areas of business that sort of drive the success,” Julian says.
“Then you create the landscape or vision of where you want to take the business and work with the team to reshape and cement it. Once you’ve landed on it, push it out throughout the organisation.” It’s a tried and tested formula Julian most likely learned around the time he entered the industry in 1994.
He recalls strategy sessions where there were discussions around whether one day the mobile phone would become the remote control of everything we’d do in the future.
“At that time, we didn’t even have SMS,” says Julian. “What was a mere vision back in the mid-90s is now actually happening.” Many of the technologies we take for granted weren’t even invented until the internet became more prominent in the late 90s, symbolised by the dotcom boom.
The industry moved from 2G to 3G, allowing for more data communication, then from 3G to 4G, meaning telcos could bring in the smartphone era that emerged in late 2008.
“All of a sudden, you saw all that unfold, and here we are today. It wasn’t because of the telcos. It was because of the online disrupters – the Apples, the Googles, the Facebooks of the world – that have leveraged the mobile platform to create a whole new experience,” he says.
Julian knows there is no perfect model for success. Because, after all these years, in the same way, business models keep changing and evolving, he understands that people too keep changing and evolving.
Reflecting on his younger self, Julian remembers starting his career working in different departments. “You’re not even in the food chain early on.” His advice? “It doesn’t matter where you’re at or what role you’re in, you still give it 100% and carry out that role like it’s your own business.
“You think differently, you question things, you come up with ideas and you communicate those ideas with your peers and your bosses. That’s what starts to make you think differently because you actually begin to think outside the box, as opposed to just knuckling down, doing what you’re supposed to do, and keeping under the radar.
“Make yourself heard, make yourself known in the organisation – lead by example, ask a lot of questions, and become a sponge and learn from other people. You’ll quickly see who you want as mentors, and then you’ll start aligning yourself to people who you believe can help develop your career.”