The telecommunications industry is not known for its excellent customer service - but for those who can get it right, the rewards are great. Johannesburg entrepreneurs Brian Timperley and Louis Jardim, for example, have bridged the gap so successfully they've built their company Turrito Networks from zero to R50m in just four years.
"In November 2010 we were just two guys with some good industry contacts and an idea that we could serve small to medium-sized businesses better," says Timperley.
"We pitched our business ideas to MICROmega Holdings in early November, and they pulled the trigger on our investment almost immediately. We were fortunate to find investors who believed in us, set us up with space in their Sandton Offices and set us ticking. Four years later, we're a major service provider in our own right and regularly invited to RFP briefs alongside the biggest suppliers in the industry."
Timperley says he and Jardim started with the commitment to provide SMMEs with the level of service that in most cases only major corporates can get from the networks.
"We'd both been account managers taking care of clients like the big banks, who got proactive management and instant responses," he says. "But when we looked at other account management teams we saw inexperienced resources handling hundreds of customers each, and of course those customers were being neglected. This was no fault of the big providers... it's just the nature of big business, and the only way they could scale to SMME customers. We knew there was a better way."
Turrito Networks started as a reseller of other networks' connectivity services, using some strong tech hires and a network of high-level industry contacts to ensure medium-sized clients got top-level service.
"This could only have happened at the moment when core networking and connectivity services became commoditised," says Timperley. "If we'd tried to do it five years earlier it wouldn't have worked. But today, few organisations care who the backend service provider is, they just want great service and a good price -- most networks are comparable in technical terms, and everyone has the same SLAs. What matters now is being able to identify, package and deliver the most appropriate services to meet business needs. It's far more consultative."
Turrito Networks now offers its customers the ability to mix and match services from over 20 different back-end network and service providers. "They can get their connectivity from provider A, their archiving and backup services from provider B and their application hosting from provider C, according to their business needs," says Timperley. "And they only need to talk to one account manager and pay one bill at the end of each month. That simplicity is really valuable."
Turrito has now become a major client in its own right: "It's the power of aggregation," says Timperley. "We've become a major customer to our backend suppliers, so we have dedicated service teams in each network and can negotiate better terms and pricing. We've built our business around being able to pass those benefits on to our customers."
"It's taken a lot of perseverance and a strong dose of good luck to avoid the pitfalls," concludes Timperley. "Our timing was right and we were able to use our industry relationships to benefit our customers. The same strategy probably wouldn't work now, partly because new entrants are going to find it much harder to conclude non-exclusive supplier agreements with the networks. But there are always new opportunities."
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