SlimTel and the South Asian niche

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Kashif Amjad’s business philosophy may seem to revolve around two basic ideas: simplicity and economy. However, there’s more to his company SlimTel than just simplicity and economy. Firstly, simplicity and economy, for an entrepreneur like Kashif, are not mantras or catchy business slogans that aim to attract customers. Players like SlimTel are largely about the markets that they target, and the specific characteristics of the demographics of their niche. That might sound like commonsense or a business cliché but sometimes clichés are worth a second look.
When businesses speak of multicultural marketing, the ethnic market, the Chinese market, the South Asian market etc they are not talking solely about numbers or the size of a market and its potential; behind all of this is the realisation that these markets or niches call for different service offerings, and businesses that can meet these needs.
Kashif summarises his business by saying that providers like SlimTel “buy excess capacity from a network and resell it at a low price”. Yet, in the decade since SlimTel entered the market many players offering similar services have come and gone. SlimTel has in this period consolidated its position by focusing on the South Asian market, refining its services and stepping up its ambitions as new technological capabilities open more doors for entrepreneurs in the South Asian space. Definitely, all of this required entrepreneurship, but entrepreneurs don’t work in a vacuum. While they sense opportunities and seize technological innovations, an entrepreneur is only able to do all of this if s/he, to state the obvious, has a market for it.

The SlimTel FetchTV partnership
“The future’s the internet. All paths lead to the internet. That’s where TV is heading, that’s where the media is heading. We need an NBN that is cost-effective for the consumer as well as the service providers,” argues Kashif. To mark its 10th anniversary, and in an attempt to reposition the company, SlimTel launched its FetchTV based television service. Aimed at subcontinental audiences, SlimTel will bundle TV, DSL and home-phone lines. Calls to India will be “price aggressive” and there will be Hindi customer service. FetchTV, says Kashif, is 50 per cent cheaper than the legitimate competition in the market. All this will be in line with SlimTel’s philosophy of simplicity, and low rates that are variable in cost structure.
FetchTV CEO Scott Lorson singled out SlimTel as a persistent partner and restated FetchTV’s commitment to foreign language communities. “I think we have a role to play against the likes of FoxTel,” said Lorson recently.

The South Asian niche
While technology and a changing market enable businessmen like Kashif, the crucial piece of the puzzle will be the niche audience that SlimTel aims to service. The growing criticality of South Asian audiences and consumers is evident in the story of SlimTel. This is not to say that South Asian audiences are an assured route to business success. As with any other local business, the “South Asian market” in Australia has its share of failures and problems. Kashif himself is critical of many practices and ideas within the South Asian entrepreneurial community. And this criticism is also a way of differentiating his business.
“There is a mentality of getting into business to become an overnight millionaire,” he says. “Many immigrants expect to come to Australia to become rich. Often these people are willing to do anything to get rich. They resort to illicit and shoddy means to get rich quick. Usually this is at the cost of the customer. Even small businesses like grocery stores have no qualms about selling products that are past their expiry date. The aim is to get rich and not to build a business from scratch by providing a genuine service and winning the trust of customers,” he explains.

How to succeed in business
Kashif says that a commitment to the industry/sector one is working in, and the ability to take advantage of the larger developments in an industry, like technological change, awareness of regulation (read the rules of competition) are indispensable for any long-term business success. In his words, these are: a unique product/service that has quality and that is competitive; sound marketing; being legal in one’s business undertakings; well-managed financial processes, like up-to-date billing; and the ability to adapt to a constantly changing market are the only ways to succeed, no matter which market or niche a business is targeting.
Kashif, as a businessman, has always been an active participant in his industry, “campaigning for consumer rights, including the ability to bar premium text numbers as a separate call category so debts are not put on consumers unknowingly without affecting their day-to-day use for normal calls: approaching and making submissions to the ACCC on costs of making calls from fixed lines to mobiles; making representations to the ACCC on Apple iPhone handsets not being sold on a wholesale basis, just exclusive sales to carriers only; offering reduced international calls at the price of a local call from a mobile 10 years ago, well before Lyca and Lebara etc. SlimTel was also the first company to bring in bill shock products such as a 50 per cent discount on calls if you go over your monthly limit. In the telecommunications industry SlimTel has also been an advocate of recognition from the industry ombudsman for good and ethical operators whose complaints as a percentage of its customer base is below industry average.
In the global age, and in a global industry like IT& T, SlimTel has assisted and consulted to many MVNO start ups in Spain, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China, and Kashif has written a detailed whitepaper for MVNO consultancy Mind Commerce titled Capturing the Opportunity, MVNO Market and Product Suite Development. SlimTel consulted to the government of Pakistan for the sale of its state-owned entity PTCL. As an Australian business SlimTel had its lessons from privatistion of Telstra and the post-sale regulatory environment. Kashif also often speaks at industry forums and other global conventions on developments within the industry.
SlimTel’s innovations and industry record earned it the Money Magazine Best of the Best Awards a few times. SlimTel has also been featured on A Current Affair as a cheaper alternative brand for the consumer. Speaking at the company’s 10th anniversary celebrations, Kashif said, “10 years in a business is not a significant factor, but 10 years in IT&T is a lifetime”.
To go back to our initial points in this story: an individual business may owe its existence and success to the entrepreneurs behind it, yet what gets the entrepreneur going is the existence of an audience/market and the potential to provide it with an offering that other players are not. To insist on this point can lead to a chicken or egg type of debate on business and entrepreneurship. But SlimTel’s story shows that too much faith in a niche market or an entrepreneur’s ability can hide the fact that business success is more often than not a mix of a varied set of factors.
Published in The Indian Sun, Sydney

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