Jessica: Hello and welcome to World Mobile’s Bridging the Gap! My name is Jessica and today it is such a pleasure to be joined by Andrew Soper Chief Commercial Officer at World Mobile. So Andrew thank you so much for joining me today.

Andrew: Thanks for having me.

Jessica: Great to talk to you! I would love for us to start just by covering your day-to-day runnings and what your role really means.

Andrew: I’ve been involved in World Mobile since the beginning so really my role is supporting the senior team and the board with anything and everything. You know the title of Chief Commercial Officer is what was available so that’s what I got, but really my experience is in running businesses and growing businesses.

I support Micky, Alan, Charlie, and Antonio with anything that’s needed and I bring my experience of working over a decade in Tanzania. Then having grown up in Africa, Kenya, and South Africa all of that experience I just bring to the team and help guide their ideas and build processes to implement the vision that the senior guys and the rest of us are creating for the company.

Jessica: So maybe you can share your background before you joined World Mobile and what led you to where you are today.

Andrew: So I actually lived with Micky at University when I was doing my Master’s in Plymouth back in the day, and we’re both very entrepreneurial. We love business. We love ideas and creating things and we actually built a telecom company terminating minutes together. It went well.

I went to Tanzania after that to support my family business, which was voltage protection and solar power. Back in those days, every couple of years you’d have these blackouts and they would last all day like literally nine to five no power. So by adding a solar panel onto the battery systems you basically end the day with your batteries full, so that means your batteries now can work at night and you’re still ready the next day to carry on work. You’re not spending any money on diesel. And that to me that was like a real winner — you get a happy customer, you’re reducing diesel spend and use in the world and you’re giving the customer a really reliable product.

We basically built on that and we ended up doing loads of projects. I did a lot of work with telecom batteries so I was the representative for North Star batteries in Tanzania or East Africa actually, but mainly in Tanzania. Anything battery, solar power, I was all over.

Jessica: And this led you to see a gap in the market. So when you did reunite with Mickey?

Andrew: So during my travels, I was looking for many opportunities. I had a different business partner in Tanzania — somebody really experienced with grid utility power and we analyzed the entire market from minigrids, microgrids, solar home systems, battery backup, solar farms. You name it — we looked at it. And we ended up going with the solo home system market. We were distributing all the products but we found that that market, in general, was really compelling. We work with over 3,000 farmers producing cocoa, and on average they were living three and a half kilometres away from the shop, and they had no power. They’re using candles and kerosene. The quality of light is terrible so by providing these farmers with clean, safe, renewable energy and the latest technology, you know, we were using the first lot of lithium-ion batteries, these systems are still working six, seven, eight years down the line, and we really solved a lot of problems.

The one problem we didn’t fix or what we didn’t anticipate was although they don’t have to walk to charge their phone anymore, they still have to walk to get reception. That business is still going today. Even though I’m full-time at World Mobile, they’re still selling systems and working with those cocoa farmers today.

Jessica: We’ve discussed renewable energy solar and green energy. How much of a significant role does that play in World Mobile?

Andrew: As a company World Mobile we will be implementing as much green energy as we can through the network. We’re also going to be implementing circularity concepts. We already saw second-life batteries, so these are batteries that have been used in electric vehicles, electric buses in China and then they’re repurposed for a “second life” so they’re perfect for Air Nodes.

Then there’s a potential for third-life (battery) use cases as well so they could actually become a solo home system in a farmer’s house after ten years. So we want to explore those concepts even further.

“The energy grid in Africa is never going to reach the last mile.”

In order to build a kilometre of electricity lines, imagine you’re spending thousands and thousands of dollars for every 100 meters for a customer that’s going to be spending $10-$20 a year. The utility will never connect those customers even with political pressure. They’re never going to get their money back.

So these distributed energy generation and storage solutions are so important when it comes to connecting up opening up this market to a new world. It’s so transformative because without the power you can’t bring the connection. Without the connection, you can’t bring goods and services to these farmers. I mean, for example, we’re working with a group of farmers over a hundred thousand of them. We’ve seen a lot of people hitchhiking more than 100 kilometres for farming inputs, so what happens is they can get a lift in January to go and buy fertiliser, but they’d only need it in June, so they sat on fertiliser for six months. It doesn’t do the job half as well as as it should do and then they’ve locked up their money for six months as well.

It’s purely down to not being able to communicate to the vendor that they need the fertiliser in June or that they have the cash in January because they’ve just done a harvest and that’s the only time they can pay for it because they don’t have a bank or they can’t access loans.

“So our core driver as World Mobile is opening up that new world and bringing these masses and masses of users online. It’s absolutely life-changing transformative stuff.”

They won’t have to hitchhike and they’ll get this fertiliser delivered to them instead. It’s going to be half the price and we’re going to be able to facilitate financial inclusion through loans, through crop insurance, through all sorts of goods and services that are available out there in the world. That’s what we’re trying to fix.

Jessica: And it’s so exciting! There have been some key milestones that I feel have already been met in 2021, and even before when it comes to partnerships. When it comes to the next steps of the rollout what kind of things are particularly exciting to you? Things that you’re looking forward to that will really help bring World Mobile to the next level?

“We’ve split our strategy into three layers. We’re not going to talk about the third layer because it’s internal still, but it’s going to be very disruptive to the entire telco business model.”

Andrew: So at the moment our business model is to roll out WiFi and hand-off Air Nodes, so this is how the user connects to the Internet. In order to connect those WiFi hot spots, we use different types of backup so we’re not one-size-fits-all. We’re not building a tower using the traditional spectrum to connect it all up and then within, you know, a few kilometres you get good 3/4G coverage. That’s not our business model.

“We’re using all types of solutions to get to the village as cheaply as possible and give them the internet that they need.”

If a village is just getting started they don’t need 200 Mbps. We give them what they need. Even if it’s just enough internet to access a portal so that they can order that fertiliser and get it delivered, that’s life-changing stuff.

“We realize that we’re not trying to roll out 5G across Africa. That’s not the solution Africa needs. They just need some connection to get started and we’re going to build this hybrid network and give the best solution where it’s needed.”

Jessica: Fantastic! So the next few years you’ll focus a little bit more on the short term and you’ve said there’s a third layer which we can’t mention yet — it’s still internal. But in the next few years when it comes to goals or objectives of World Mobile are you able to pinpoint some that are open to the public?

Andrew: We’re going to be releasing our mission, vision, and values fairly soon. We will definitely have user acquisition as a mission, so however many millions of users in a time frame. We will have revenue targets to hit as well, but I think in the short term it’s not about the network.

“It’s about creating the ecosystem and the foundations for us to scale. At the moment it’s exactly as difficult to install one Air Node as it is to install a thousand.”

We’re in a forming process where we’re building the teams, we’re building the contracts with vendors, and we’re doing all of this market entry assessment.

“In order to build physical infrastructure, it takes time to get started but once you start the momentum carries you through and you can scale exponentially.”

Yeah, in terms of our targets it’s more about just building a team. Building a process so that we’re ready to scale in a really organized way, and we don’t have to go back in six months and start fixing things or changing ideas.

“We get it right from the start and we scale from there.”

Jessica: Andrew thank you so much you’ve actually provided a lot of clarity on things that are happening on the ground with World Mobile. I’m really excited to see how the next few months play out and congratulations! It sounds like you’ve been very busy indeed. So thank you so much for taking some time to share your thoughts with me and the rest of the community.

Andrew: You’re welcome, Jess. Thanks for having me.

Watch the full Bridging the Gap series with Jessica Walker on our YouTube channel.

World Mobile Staff
World Mobile Staff