TECHNOLOGY

This Malaysian Start-up Lets You Sell Your Excess Mobile Data

Simplify wants to redefine the way we connect

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 17 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

You’re traveling to another country and you soon realize that, as in many Southeast Asian cities, free and fast Wi-Fi in public spaces are not as ubiquitous. To fulfill your connectivity needs—and avoid the high cost of data roaming—you buy a local SIM card, only to go through the hassle of verifying your new number just to be able to use a simple chat app.

But what if locals can turn their smartphones into a hotspot and sell you their mobile data only as you need it?

Enter Simplify, a platform that enables users to sell their unused mobile data to others on a pay-per-use basis. “This opens up new possibilities of on-demand Internet access and brings affordable Internet to the masses,” founder Yen Pei Tay says, adding that unlike ride-sharing services which regulate the fare, Simplify lets sellers set their own prices and how much data they are willing to sell. The company takes a 25% commission off their revenue. Users can pay through their debit and credit cards, and sellers can collect their payout on PayPal wallet.

Simplify automatically creates a secure hotspot and lets users connect to the seller’s personal hotspot without having to key in any password. As for security concerns, Tay explains that both the hotspot SSID and password are encrypted. The encryption mechanisms used are also embedded in a random codebook within Simplify, leaving no room for anyone to guess the correct cryptographic mechanism used for password decoding. Lastly, Simplify does not store or forward passwords outside your smartphone.

Simplify in Numbers

Simplify is initially targeting Uber and Grab drivers, as well as tour guides, to be able to tap the tourist market. Another group is that of students who want to share their mobile data with classmates.

So far the app has been downloaded 50,000 times and has 8,000 active users. Tay notes that the platform has enabled 10,000 hours of Internet usage, with the highest volume of data in a single connection at 5GB and the highest data revenue transacted in a single connection at $64.

The start-up was incorporated in Malaysia in February 2016, and launched its Android app in August of the same year. Prior to founding Simplify, Tay spent 13 years in the telecommunications and software industries and worked as an engineer for Motorola and Nokia and as a consultant at IBM.

He also took part in the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and had “an inspiring brainstorm” with Erdin Beshimov, founder of the program. Tay was also able to do primary market research with other “bootcampers” about Simplify.

“Our mentor from MIT was advising us to bootstrap as long as possible to raise our company value. We are staying frugal and right on track now,” Tay says.

Mobile carriers are not competitors

Simplify’s main challenge has been on the iOS platform. Apple, Tay says, has tight security restrictions to allow third party apps to control the iPhone’s personal hotspot.

And while the company does not consider mobile carriers to be its competitors, Tay recognizes they might retaliate in three different ways: One, they might drop mobile data charges, giving more data quota at lower costs; two, they might begin charging or even block hotspot tethering; or three, they might pursue legal action.

Still, Tay says, “We are seeing progressive carriers who want to work with us more because Simplify provides them an opportunity to offer their data packages to foreign tourists without having to swap the SIM cards.”

Local partners can run the show

As for potential business partners in other markets, Simplify is introducing its Global Franchising Program beginning May 17. It will enable them to bring Simplify in their home markets (through a profit sharing model), where payment modes and the commission rate can be localized. Tay believes that opening up their platform through franchising will allow them to scale quickly.

Letting local partners run the show—figuring out best use cases, marketing strategy, and payment channels—he says, is also an innovative way to grow.

Tay has big dreams for Simplify. The company is exploring the possibility of building its own Wi-Fi routers, so merchants can potentially resell their fixed broadband bandwidth in shops, cafes, and at some tourist spots.

“I believe one day, when you purchase a new smartphone, you don’t have to trudge into a mobile shop getting a SIM card anymore. You can just subscribe and change your data plan on Simplify. If Uber can be the world’s largest transportation company without owning a car, I guess Simplify [can] aspire to become the world’s largest telco without owning a mobile tower,” he says.