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Abhishek Gupta: “Telecommunications has been around for a long time, but it is one of the least developed industries”.

One of the co-founders of Circles Life shares about the telco company's rapid growth.

MANY START-UPS DREAM of being called a ”disruptor”, but few have sufficiently upended their respective markets to earn that moniker. Circles.Life, on the other hand, gets labelled that in spades.

Launched just three years ago, the digital mobile service has captured a 5 percent share of the Singapore telco market by offering its customers lower prices, no-contract plans and the freedom to manage their own mobile plans digitally, among other sweeteners. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the fact that newer telcos have copied Circles.Life’s business model speaks volumes. That older, bigger telcos have also scrambled to restructure their subscription plans says something else.

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On the marketing side of things, Circles.Life raised eyebrows with its full-page open letter published in newspapers in April 2019 mocking established rivals for their ”lock-in contracts, poor customer service and rigid mobile plans”, and their subsequent efforts to overhaul those plans. There were other audacious marketing stunts, such as the ongoing ”Telco Freedom” crowdfunding campaign aimed at helping anyone (on a first-come-first-serve basis) bail out of their existing mobile contracts.

For the three co-founders – Abhishek Gupta, Rameez Ansar and Adeel Najam – disruption seems to come naturally. They pull no punches when critiquing their rivals and the industry, and happily toot their horns when they get a chance. Mr Gupta was a McKinsey & Company business analyst and a Standard Chartered private equity associate director before co-founding Circles-Life in 2013. He spoke on behalf of the trio:

How has 2019 been for Circles.Life? You’ve had quite a few milestones.

It’s been both rewarding and challenging. In the past year, many new telco players entered the market, offering no-contract plans and higher data – in other words, following our path. Our biggest milestone of the year, however, is the fact that we were able to launch in two countries, Taiwan and Australia, 2.5 months apart from each other. This the first time you hear of a telco that’s growing at a pace not unlike that of Facebook, Uber and other e-commerce companies. It’s never happened in the telco world before.

If you could invent a technology for tomorrow, what would that look like?

I would invent True Artificial Intelligence that’s different from AI because, well, I have yet to see any AI that makes a tangible perceptible difference in our day-to-day life. The issue, of course, is that no one really has good quality information on us, so it’s a bit of ”garbage in, garbage out”. At Circles.Life, we believe, the natural owner of all this information are the information highways currently being manned by the providers of connectivity. Being a telco hopefully allows us to create that technology sooner.

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As a manager, what qualities do you look for most when hiring someone?

I look for alignment with Circles.Life’s values, which are (1) keep on learning and growing; (2) be open-minded and respect all views; (3) work hard, work smart and take ownership; (4) stay humble and (5) act with integrity. I look for someone with a strong desire to be better. Without an inherent desire to see a better tomorrow, it is difficult to go through the tough start-up journey. Only by constantly challenging and changing ourselves can we bring better outcomes to our customers… I also look for long-term intent. Start-up life exposes you to dizzying heights and the absolute pits in a matter of days – if not the same day. Knowing that you are in it for the long run is key to being able to take those ups and downs.

Tell us about your daily workflow, and what you do to relax.

On weekdays, I wake up earlier than anyone else and do all the ”thinking work” before the day even begins for the rest of the country. The morning pre-work session gives me the opportunity to step back and take a bigger picture view of things. The rest of the day is then for single-minded, in-the-moment ”doing work”. This single change has made me and my teams twice as productive. My downtime is on the weekends. I used to love kayaking before I became a busy entrepreneur. Now I just read books and spend quality time with friends and family.


This article was originally published in The Business Times.