Learned helplessness is that human behaviour when you’ve given up trying to change a situation and accept the loss of control. It’s what I, and I’m certain many others, feel about our mobile contracts with the big three telecom operators in Singapore.

Rameez Ansar (above) did not want to accept this fate. He did not want to be handcuffed to a rigid contract. “I have been frustrated for so long. I just could not accept that there wasn’t a better solution out there,” Ansar shared. He ended up creating the solution – Circles.Life.

Could you describe Circles.Life in a nutshell?
Circles.Life was an aspiration. We wanted to build a telco company that was centred around the digital-savvy customer. Who is this customer? What does he aspire to be? What are his needs? Can we build something around his life that meets those needs?

I understand 90 per cent of your customers are happy, higher than the industry average of 70 per cent.
That’s right. The average response time for our customer service officer to get back to you is 56 seconds. When we designed Circles.Life, we thought about what we ourselves wanted as customers. It’s really very simple and yet, no one in the industry has done it the that way we have.

Yes, why is that? The solution seems so simple and yet none of the big three is doing it.
They’ve been in business for a long time and therefore, that makes it difficult to change because everything – contracts, plans, the works – is linked to their company finances. Jumps in innovations usually happen when an outsider comes in because it can start from scratch. It is hard for an existing player to forget everything it has done for its entire life and do something completely different. The telco industry has not experienced an innovation in a long, long time.

Except M1 I suppose? You convinced them to lease their infrastructure to you, after all.
I can’t speak for them. I can only imagine that M1 saw where the future was heading.

I imagine the question for M1 was whether it wanted to be a part of this future or not? It’s going to happen anyway. If we did not do it, someone else would have done it. We had the idea and approached M1 and the people in there believed in our idea.

Won’t it cannibalise M1’s market share though?
That’s a good question to ask and I suppose M1 is saying that it doesn’t really matter because the majority of our customers will come from the other telcos anyway. We’re also piloting the future so it makes strategic sense for M1 to partner with someone who can deliver this new model.

“We went through thousands of names before we decided on Circles.Life. The idea is to build a metaphorical circle around your life. Also, now, when you start something new, the number one consideration is whether another website has taken that name (laughs).”

How will TPG Telecom’s entry into the market affect you, if at all?
We always encourage more competition. When the market is raised to a higher level, the consumers benefit in the end. Our plan right now is to build a formidable position for ourselves within the next two years, as I think that’s how long it will take before TPG will finally enter the market after building its infrastructure. And even when it eventually releases its offerings, I believe that its success will depend greatly on following whatever we’re doing right now, which is creating the perfect customer experience.

Is Singapore big enough for five telecom companies?
From my personal point of view, yes. In fact, I think it will be good for Singapore and the other players. Ask yourself: why haven’t they already innovated? Why did they have to wait for a new player to come in, get scared and start changing their plans?

Nothing happened in this space for 15, 16 years. Then Circles.Life launched and everyone started coming up with SIM card-only plans, bonus data offers, etc. in the last year. When TPG Telecom comes in, everyone else is going to come up with additional promotions. But why can’t we take the lead?

I think competition helps me. I get sharper. I get more customers. But if I can get sharper by myself without competition, then I can get even more customers, right? There will always be space for innovation, and as long as there is space for innovation, then there will be space for those innovative companies to get a market share here.

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