GQ feature “The founders of MATE have a radical new approach to telco: friendliness”
WE SPOKE WITH THE BROTHERS BEHIND AUSTRALIA’S MOST DISRUPTIVE TELCO TO TALK HOW THE MOTTO OF MATESHIP HAS CARRIED THEM THROUGH AN INDUSTRY STACKED AGAINST THEM.
The idea of mateship is about as far removed from the general sentiment surrounding Australia’s telco industry as it’s possible to get. We doubt, for instance, many people feel a particular bond of mateship with anyone they’re talking to after spending 40 minutes on hold.
Within this, however, lies a gap in the market, and it’s proven to be a fairly simple one. Plenty of telcos out there have made names for themselves by being cheaper than the opposition, but upon switching to them, you always run the risk of running into more red tape than you bargained for. Most importantly, you’re still dealing with the same people and the same bullshit if something goes wrong.
But no telco, up until now anyway, has come into the market with the express goal of being the nicest in the market. Which is where Mate, a Sydney-based telco founded by identical twin brothers Mark and David Fazio, comes in. What they sell is simple: no-contract, no-frills internet and phone plans at a competitive price.
But there’s more to it than that, because everything Mate does is founded on the core principle of Mateship. Think a 100% local call centre, staffed mostly with tradies who have been injured and wanted to be retrained. Think zen music in the bathrooms and they have a full gym set-up, including a sparring cage, in the basement.
Still confused? We were too, so we decided to sit down with the founders and dig deep into what that means in an industry that’s normally so reviled.
GQ: The idea of setting up a subversive telco is great and so is the idea of building a business with the core value of mateship, but how do you tie together the two concepts? What aspects of mateship do you think are best applied to help revolutionise the telco industry?
Mark: It’s the approach of treating absolutely everyone we deal with like a MATE. Our business statement is, “Choose a provider you trust like a MATE!” We want to deliver conversations to customers that are down to earth, easy to understand (as best as possible) and comforting – making the customer feel good about the service they are buying. The stigma around Telco’s is that you can’t trust them or they try to lock you in to something that you don’t understand.
The purpose of the MATE brand is to build trust as instantly as possible and then back that up with our actions. Our brand positioning is all about no contracts, unlimited data and Aussie based, easy to understand service.
More and more businesses are pushing towards setting up their offices as spaces for wellness and in this case mateship, but is this something that you’re active in keeping female employees involved in? How do you make sure the culture doesn’t become too ‘Bro-ey’?
Mark: We are conscious of this and think we do this in a number of ways. We start with our core business values of authenticity, inclusion, simplicity & family. Having my aunty come to our offices and personally cook ‘team lunches’ for us each day demands a certain type of respect from the team in general and also delivers a family type atmosphere that you don’t get in regular businesses.
Kids of our employees (male or female) are welcome anytime in the office and we make sure they have space downstairs allocated to them to play and have fun in and that the office overall is a space that is ’safe’ for kids. We also think about things like the music we have on display for those who visit.
We play zen music in our bathrooms to support clearing minds and the we play jazz music downstairs to make it feel like an environment that is soothing and vibrant. Everything is designed to be inclusive for all staff and not too masculine.
Is Mateship something you employ when faced with a challenge that has the potential to affect the company? How so?
Definitely! Our recruitment strategy is 100% based on recommendations from other employees. In fact, we don’t hire someone we don’t have some sort of connection with via someone we know or work with. We also hire mainly based on ambition and motivation – we hire the person for who they are, not exactly for what they can offer at that moment. We do feel that skills can be taught (not for all roles) but work ethic and the people themselves are what makes a good employee.
By valuing our current employees and using them as a pool for recommending others (their mates), we ensure everyone in the business is always thinking about how they perform and how it affects the person next to them. It’s a true family atmosphere and we all know that you’d do anything for your family. That is the culture we have delivered to the business and this is what we use to overcome any challenges we face.
What approaches have you found work best when dealing with bureaucracy and corporate red tape? The telco industry, and the act of setting a new one up, must come with a lot of hurdles.
Mark: There are endless hurdles that we are faced with and the more successful we become, the more hurdles seem to arise. But, the approach to me is simple. First of all, don’t take anything personally in business and secondly, always expect the worse – then every else is just going to be better from there! I work in a rhythm that is all about process, planning and communication. In my career, by following this rhythm, I feel like I can’t fail as I know what I need to do, when I need to do it by and everyone who needs to be included in the process is also aware.
David: To add to this we can’t worry about the things we can’t control so we need to work with what we have in the best way possible for our business.
Without naming names, have you encountered pressure from the Telco’s big players or moves designed to keep companies like Mate from growing into too much of a threat?
Mark: From a PR, marketing and sales channels point of view absolutely – we even recently had an issue that meant we were not able to push forward with some significant coverage opportunities because it was not well received by some of the bigger players. Also, when it comes to buying marketing, the big guys will out-bid you or pay more to take the space.
Something as simple as paying for key search terms that our business owns or is relevant to us on Google can turn into a huge expense that we just can’t continually battle over. The other is paying more for communications in sales channels to ensure channels choose other telco solutions over ours.
This sort of behaviour doesn’t get us down or stop us from moving forward though, we think it just shows that the method to our madness is something the bigger guys wished they had thought of first!
David: From a supplier scenario they don’t intentionally try to stop you to grow but they are big business and lots of people in their organisations have their own agendas or they are pressured to do things based on share price. The suppliers don’t take enough time to understand what a business like us is trying to achieve which all of this hurts our business growth.
A lot of start-ups end up losing sight of their core values (in this case mateship) due to the pressures put on them due to rapid growth. How do you avoid this?
Mark: It can be simple if you break it down. Have a plan, agree to the plan, and then stick to the plan. If you have a business plan (which most companies do), then unless that changes – all of the core values that come with the initial value stay – no exceptions.
We ensure that we take regular step backs to check ourselves, listen to feedback and then realign the business where needed, always ensuring its mapped back to the bigger picture. I put it much simply to our team during team meetings.
David: Our business is all about winning a customer and then keeping that customer by delivering on our promises – so everything we do in this business should be done around achieving this and we need to keep reminding our self of this every single day.