UNSHACKLED.com is on mission to disrupt the phone industry
When Phones4u went into administration in 2014, John Whittle, John Morris and Steven Lloyd were just three of the senior managers who lost their jobs.
Two years later and few people could have predicted the turn of events that would see the trio running a new business that aims to turn the phone industry on its head.
But that’s precisely what they’re doing with Manchester-based disrupter UNSHACKLED.com.
In simple terms they’re offering a one-stop shop that lets consumers split the phone and the SIM purchase – thereby saving money on expensive contracts.
Whittle is the CEO of UNSHACKLED.com having spent 14 years at Phones4U, where he ended up working as the chief commercial officer.
He says the current industry is broken and customers are being ripped off by expensive contracts.
“There’s no value for the customer,” he says.“Unfortunately it’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to assessing customers’ credit worthiness when they apply for a contract in the current market.
“Either you pass or you fail. It means that, on one hand, you could end up paying huge generic APRs. On the other, you might never have the opportunity to get a contract at all.”
Whittle says half of mobile phone new contract applications are rejected, forcing many people into eBay and other markets. He says there’s also evidence that some mobile phone retailers are selling customers contracts with more minutes, texts and data than they actually need.
"UNSHACKLED.com is readdressing this injustice by putting the customer, not the networks, first,” he says.“It’s a new way to buy your phone on a personalised payment plan (with illustrative APR as low as 9.7 per cent) and split with a SIM separately which saves you money.
“We are unique in that we sell every phone, every SIM and most importantly, we are the first truly independent mobile phone company.
"With no ties to any network, we’re free to find you the best deals.”
It’s a complicated sector and Whittle gives a simple analogy that compares a phone to a cooker and the SIM card to the gas that powers it.
"You wouldn’t feel obliged to buy your cooker and gas from the same supplier but people feel compelled to get their handset and SIM from the same retailer because they think they’ll get the best deal.
“It’s just counter intuitive to a customer right now not to think that by buying a contract package with their network provider would not be the most cost effective route,” explains Whittle.
“Customers upgrade all the time and don’t think about how much they can save. We simply want to educate customers that they can save more by splitting them and getting the best deal.”
Sitting behind UNSHACKLED.com’s offer is technology that links the products with personalised payment rates and plans.
“We assesses customers’ individual credit ratings to provide real-time, personalised loans for phones,” says Whittle.
“The result is fairer rates which reflect customers’ specific financial circumstances.”
Whittle points out that UNSHACKLED.com’s APRs range from 9.7 per cent to 24.9 per cent - substantially lower than the upwards of 50 per cent rates of some rivals.
“We’ve also created MobileWatch, which scans the market for the best SIM deals if we find one which is better value, we let the customer know,” he says.
He adds that he and his former Phones4u colleagues John Morris and Steven Lloyd are chasing the same thing.
“We simply want UNSHACKLED.com to counteract the industry’s bad practice and transform the way consumers buy mobile phones,” he says.
The start-up has been backed by John Caudwell, the billionaire founder of Phones4U.
“We pitched the UNSHACKLED.com concept to John as an investment opportunity and we were delighted that he chose to invest,” explains Whittle.
“We are not at liberty to disclose the amount of the investment but the day to day running of the business is left to the management team.”
Launched in May 2016 from Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Whittle says business is going “really well” but insists they’ve got no contracts or obligations to sell a certain volume of phones or SIM cards.
And he denies suggestions that the last few years can be summed up as poacher turned gamekeeper.
“UNSHACKLED.com is borne out of the experience of industry experts from Phones4U, who recognised that there are too many historic contracts controlling the mobile marketplace and not allowing customers true choice,” he says rather emphatically.
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