Gorilla Mobile, Singapore’s latest telco, aims to shake up crowded market with novel offering

Xanne Leo, the founder and chief executive officer of Gorilla Mobile. — Gorilla Mobile pic
Xanne Leo, the founder and chief executive officer of Gorilla Mobile. — Gorilla Mobile pic

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SINGAPORE — A new telecommunications company here will be unveiling its upcoming service in Singapore tomorrow with a proposition that the firm’s founder believes could shake up an already saturated market.

Xanne Leo, the founder and chief executive officer of Gorilla Mobile, told TODAY in an interview on Tuesday (June 15) that the Singapore-based firm will be offering a proprietary feature known as SwitchBack.

Using blockchain technology, this allows customers to turn their unused mobile data into digital tokens, known as Gorilla Go Tokens.

These tokens may be used to offset future bills, redeem other mobile services or be shared with others such as colleagues, including those overseas. The tokens do not expire.

Leo, a 43-year-old Singaporean, said that such an offering should appeal to both business travellers for its convenience and the small-business community who could use it as a means to cut down on costs spent on corporate phone bills.

The firm will not be reaching out to mass-market consumers for the moment, but they would be able to sign up for its services.

Leo is new to the telco scene. She spent 15 years in the financial services industry before she entered the tech world, where she co-founded healthcare startup eBeeCare in 2015. Before starting Gorilla Mobile, she also co-founded the blockchain application Infinitus Token in 2017.

Gorilla Mobile, Singapore’s 13th telco, is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that received its licence from the Infocomm Media Development Authority in March.

It will be leasing its network infrastructure from telco M1.

Leo said that it also has live network coverage in more than 61 countries, covering most regions except Latin America and Africa.

The firm was established in 2019 with US$3 million (S$3.9 million) in seed capital.

Without going into detail, Leo said that the company was in talks with several notable venture capitalists in Asia. It aims to raise US$5 million for its Series A or first significant round of financing.

Gorilla Mobile employs 15 people at its Singapore office, located at Ubi Vertex, and has three other employees in Thailand, Leo said.

At an upcoming event tomorrow that the firm is calling a “pre-launch”, interested customers may sign up through its website for its Switch25 mobile plan, which starts at S$25 a month for 20 gigabytes of mobile data, 100 minutes of talk time and 100 SMS (short message service) messages. It will also feature the SwitchBack function.

Leo said that this is the only plan the firm is offering at this point, though more options may be added during the full service launch in September, depending on how the market responds.

The firm said in a statement today that it runs on a “service-on-demand” model.

This model, the first of its kind in Singapore, provides users with access to its services without a contract, subscription fees or activation charges, and users pay only for what they use.

On whether it will be a fully virtual business, Leo said that the firm has yet to finalise whether it will be partnering other channels or retail stores to carry its products in future.

As for its market expansion across Southeast Asia, she said that the firm would start expanding to other markets once travel restrictions related to Covid-19 are lifted.

“We are targeting to first expand to Malaysia and Thailand in the next 18 months. The company will enter Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea and Taiwan in the longer term,” she said.

Fresh eyes

Leo said that being new to the telco industry means that she can see it with a fresh pair of eyes.

“Perhaps it’s because of my lack of experience in this industry, I am not burdened by certain legacies or mindsets like how things are done, how things were done and how things should be done.”

She said that the firm’s head of operations, Ken Ng, previously worked at an MVNO in Singapore. He was senior manager of product development and commercial at VivoHub Mobile.

She also has business advisers from the telco industry on board, and the firm’s backend tech team has experience in telco technology, voice and international calls.

Leo said one of the problems that Gorilla Mobile was trying to solve when it started as a travel SIM (subscriber identity module) card company was finding a way to reduce the hassle that business people faced when they had to fly to multiple countries.

Often, this meant that they are buying multiple mobile data plans, which could not be finished, she said.

Rather than find ways to introduce even more mobile data plans, the company decided to look into changing the user experience.

This contributed to the formation of the firm’s SwitchBack feature.

Plans were in the works to launch its roaming data product in May last year, but it was scuttled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, Leo said that the company decided to focus on pushing forward its MVNO plans to this year, ahead of what it had originally scheduled on their roadmap.

She noted that she would be entering a landscape that has a high market penetration and that has been fixated with a fierce price war over the last five years.

“The quickest way to get attention is basically to slash your price,” she said.

“This phenomenon typically happens when there is stagnant growth or when innovation is lacking, or has ceased to exist.”

Yet Leo believes that when a significant level of innovation and technical advancement happens, people will move away from price and start looking at product differentiation instead.

“Gorilla is definitely not the cheapest in the market, but we are also not the most expensive,” she said.

“We do not want to engage in a price war because we think that our innovation for accessibility, sharing and payment is still meeting a lot of unmet needs of the PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) and the SME (small- and medium-sized enterprise) market.” — TODAY

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