Interview with UK telecommunication entrepreneur

Cristian: I must say that while I always had foreign customers I never tried special international phone numbers and did try to get 0800 numbers from the big providers. So when Robin from Planet Numbers contacted me for an interview I thought to myself: that’s going to be an interesting interview and discovery. Is it still possible to make a good margin from a telecommunication business? Hi Robin, to put things into perspective what does Planet Numbers do?

Robin: Hi Christian, I suppose you could summarize our business in two ways. We help businesses meet their telecommunications needs and help people save money. For the first part we supply organisations with telephone numbers, 0845, 0800, 0345 and even highly memorable local numbers. For the second we run a dial around service, it allows people to circumvent the typical large fees for international dialing.

Cristian: Talking about calling international numbers, I wonder what would be the benefits over using a service as Skype?

Robin: I’d say the key benefit is that you can just pick up your landline or mobile and dial. There’s no need to set up an account or deposit any credit. In this case simplicity is key. Secondly our system is not affected by number of users, no slow down or downtime for busy periods.

Cristian: So I guess that while Skype does the trick in some cases there is still a need for a regular phone number when calling international? What kind of businesses should look for your service?

Robin: We have quite a variety of businesses using our system; we recently set up a service specifically for business users. Primarily we have recruitment agencies and universities signing up to use the system.

Cristian: What about the 0800 number. I never thought that I could get this service from anywhere else than the big providers like Vodafone. Why should I get the service from a company like yours and not the “big guys”?

Robin: I’ve always felt our key strengths in this are flexibility and how easy it is to get through to us. You’ll know your account manager by name and they’re very unlikely to change. You get more of a personal relationship than the big providers.

Cristian: How does this really work? Do you need a new line? New phones?

Robin: No, no new lines and no tech is needed, the numbers are essentially “virtual”. We route them to existing landlines and mobiles. A customer calls your NGN, your landline or mobile rings.

Cristian: Can you fax using your international services?

Robin: We have the capability to set someone up a number for international fax routing but we often find our fax to email system is better. Faxes are sent traditionally but received via email as a PDF.

Cristian: What if you are a foreign company; can you get an UK number?

Robin: Absolutely, we have quite a few foreign customers who sourced numbers for their UK operations

Cristian: What would be your elevator pitch to a customer?

Robin: Give us a chance, we’ll design a system based around your needs. You’ll get more business and hopefully save some money along the way.

Cristian: When I think about telecommunications I think that technology and services have become a real bargain. As you’ve worked in this field for the last 15 years I guess you witnessed a lot of changes. How did the industry evolve?

Robin: I’d have to say the biggest change is the increasing link between telecommunications and standard Internet use. The rise of VOIP and apps like whatsapp and snapchat present new challenges and opportunities for telecommunications providers. Secondly the rise of mobile technology, 15 years ago there was no IPhone, now we have a new, more complicated model every year.

Cristian: Do you think that cheaper telecommunications helped small businesses thrive?

Robin: Definitely, cheaper systems and the spread of knowledge. One of the biggest examples I see is routing to mobile phones. Many people run a small business via their mobile phone. In previous years routing to these mobiles was prohibitively expensive. As the price drops more and more people are signing up.

Cristian: How can a small business spot the difference between telecommunication services? What should a start-up look for? And does this change as the business grows?

Robin:  I’d say there are a couple of key factors you really have to look for. Firstly just capabilities, what can this business do for you e.g. the range of services they have available. Secondly just dependability, we use multiple carriers to ensure a customer isn’t at risk if a carrier fails. In truth there are many more factors than the one’s mentioned here. Look for a company that’ll support your progression.

Cristian: What would be the impact of a bad service for a small business?

Robin: Bad service in this case literally means losing business. If your calls aren’t routing correctly your customers just can’t reach you. In today’s world there’s no room for error in these matters.

Cristian: Robin, how did you start 15 years ago? Just saying, “I’ll start a telecommunication company” sounds scary. What was the plan?

Robin: Well before Planet Numbers started I was working for an established telecommunications firm. One day the company was audited by the HMRC and the company closed soon after that. By this time I had enough contacts within the industry to make a go of it myself. From there on in it was a case of ringing through the yellow pages just selling numbers.

Cristian: Was there any moment when you thought about giving up? This happens to most entrepreneurs at some point.

Robin: Absolutely not, the hardest points have just motivated me further.

Cristian: Does the future look promising? Where do you see yourself in the next 15 years?

Robin: Now that is really difficult to predict.  There will be a lot of adapting to various changes in a fast paced industry but we’ve managed that for years we won’t be stopping anytime soon.  We’re launching our new website soon, we’ll be adding VOIP, broadband and a variety of other services to our repertoire, stay tuned!

You can find more about getting your 0845, 0800, 0345 and international call services at www.planet-numbers.co.uk