Former Motricity CEO Ryan Wuerch is getting back in the wireless game with the upcoming launch of Solavei, a mobile virtual network operator with an unusual business model that will use its customers to tout its $49 per month unlimited voice, text and data plan to their friends and earn extra cash in the process.
The MVNO will operate on T-Mobile USA's GSM network. Customers will pay a $49 startup fee and then $49 per month for service. They can use their existing unlocked GSM smartphones or purchase an unsubsidized device from Solavei, which will range in price from $160 to $500. The first device is the HTC One, but the company will also sell a model from ZTE.
The service is currently in beta mode with about 2,000 users. Another 12,000 people have signed up to join when Solavei officially debuts at the end of September.
According to Solavei's Head of Products Jim Ryan, another former Motricity executive and the former vice president of data at AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), the basic value proposition for the company is that consumers are hooked on data, yet data keeps getting more expensive. "We saw this as an opportunity. How can we do this more efficiently than a mobile service provider?"
The conclusion was to eliminate some of the costs by not offering phone subsidies, reducing customer care costs by delivering the experience online, and getting rid of marketing and advertising costs by having the customers sell the service to their friends. "We will create a social commerce network that appreciates people's participation," Ryan said.
That participation from customers is what makes Solavei different from other low-cost MVNOs. Since the company relies on customers to sign up other customers, Ryan said Solavei will pay each customer $20 for each "trio" or three customers that they sign up. Customers will also get paid when the people they sign up then sign up others.
Ryan said that the company plans to target the 70 million or so prepaid subscribers currently in the U.S., but he also sees opportunity in other areas, such as people who are coming off postpaid contracts. In addition, he expects some people will even break their contract with their existing operator once they realize that they can potentially earn back the money they lose from breaking their contract by referring Solavei to their friends.
Solavei is well funded, having just closed on its second round of funding; the company is valued at more than $120 million. It also comes with a high-profile board of advisors including David Limp, vice president of Amazon, John Miller, chief digital officer at News Corp., and Sue Nokes, the former COO of T-Mobile USA.
Wuerch left Motricity in August 2011 just days after Motricity reported second quarter losses of $4.3 million, less than the $11.6 million net loss it reported a year earlier.
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