The People’s Operator: The Charitable Network Plotting Big Things

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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The People’s Operator’s Mark Epstein reveals what’s next for the charitable business

The People’s Operator (TPO) launched earlier this week, promising to donate a quarter of its profits to charity and allow customers to give ten percent of their total call, text and data spend to a good cause of their choice.

Co-founder Mark Epstein told TechWeekEurope that TPO was born out of a desire by himself and fellow shareholders Tom Gutteridge and Andrew Rosenfeld to make it easier for people to donate to charity and without it harming their pocket. He said that the response from charities had been amazing and that it had plenty of announcements for the next few weeks, starting with the launch of pay monthly plan.

The People’s Operator opens

“My business partner Tom and I, we deal with a lot of causes and we’ve done a lot of work for causes, as has Andrew. We all know each other, we’re all friends,” said Epstein, who explained that charities often came to them, stating the fundraising challenges that they are faced with. He said there had been reports that fundraising across the UK is down by as much as 20 percent.

“They know there is support there, but it’s difficult to fund raise and provide ongoing revenue for projects all across the country that do a lot of good,” he added. “It’s a huge challenge. Times are hard.”

Epstein said partners did a lot of work in mobile and they wondered: what if something that people use every day could be used to help raise funds?

“We took that idea and said let’s do some research on this and see what we can do. Let’s see if we can do this and make a phone network,” he said. “We went around the country and spoke to loads of people and we asked them what they wanted out of a phone network and what you needed to make it as easy as possible to support causes.

“They told us they wanted great coverage, great deals and great customer service. On a giving side they were saying it’s got to be easy to give, because not everyone wants to run a marathon – which is great – but not everyone can do it.”

‘Exceptional’ response

Epstein said they were using the largest network in the UK (almost certainly EE), and that TPO offered “great deals and great coverage” and that supporting causes was as easy as it could be. He added that the response from charities had been “exceptional.”

“Before the launch, we were going about our business very quietly, getting everything in place and building the infrastructure up. The response from charities was already really good,” he said. “The response from charities was already really good. We’ve got great names for the launch, from NSPCC, the Trussell Trust, who are three time charity of the year award winners.

“Since the launch yesterday we’ve been absolutely inundated with inquiries from charities and causes from around the country. We’re in the process right now of contacting those people and bringing them on board.”

Epstein, Gutteridge and Rosenfeld are the only three shareholders of TPO, which is funded privately through Rosenfeld’s company Airnet. The People’s Operator is a for-profit company, but Epstein says that this does not conflict with its charitable aims.

“We’re a business but the best thing is that the more profit we make, the more we can generate for good causes,” he stated, adding that there would never be a threat to the 75-25 split of profits. Similarly, he said that the ratio would not be increased, even if the company became more profitable.

“We’ve got it about right,” Epstein claimed. “We’re really happy with it.”

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