Greek-born British billionaire Stelios Haji-Ioannou wants to get the chattiest folks on earth to talk even more. Haji-Ioannou, considered the founder of Europe’s budget airline industry (easyJet), is looking for partners in India for an innovative venture that will allow Indians to talk to each other using their cell phones for free in return for listening to advertisements.
“I am here (in India to meet people). We (the easyGroup) have not done this anywhere in the world, but we feel India may be the right market for this,” says Haji-Ioannou the group’s chairman who prefers to be called a serial entrepreneur. India is not only the fastest growing market in the world for cellular telephony, but also has the world’s lowest call rates per minute.
“We are talking to various companies involved. We could outsource the management of the telephony part to other telecom operators, who would take care of providing the cellular service. We would take charge of selling ads to companies which will pay for the costs of making the call,” says Haji-Ioannou. The company would make profits by garnering ad revenues that are more than the call costs it pays to the operator.
In the UK, Blyk plans to offer free calls and texts to teenagers in return for listening to ads from Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Buena Vista. In the US too, Virgin Mobile has launched ‘Sugar Mama’ that gives customers some free airtime if they agree to watch ads and give feedback on the effectiveness of the same. Xero Mobile, another US firm, is testing an ad-funded service aimed at 16-24 year olds.
If the easyGroup venture fructifies in India, it could cause call rates to fall further. The model could also see advertising spends move from print and television to the mobile medium.
The talk-for-ads phone service will be easyGroup’s second venture in India. The company recently announced that it would launch easyHotel, a chain of low-cost hotels, in India. Meanwhile, Haji-Ioannou is looking to launch a third business, easyOffice, which aims to provide temporary office space to start-up entrepreneurs. “Start-up businesses want temporary solutions to office needs, especially in a growing economy which spawns a number of such firms,” says Haji-Ioannou, who is scouting for potential partners for this venture too.