“Waste Not, Want Not” Your Unused Data

By Sally Coldrick and Rachel Hentsch

Trading unused data bandwidth for money — a benefit for when you are travelling overseas

This is a story of persistence. One of a relentless and ruthless quest to solve a problem that the majority of us face too often. And doing so in a very smart and simple way. Their world-first technology allows users to trade unused data bandwidth for money. In short, with Simplify, you get to become an internet service provider! This raises many questions: What does this mean for local carriers? What role can locals play in scaling Simplify? How can this benefit you when you travel overseas? And why is simplicity for the customer experience so important?

Yen Pei Tay, Founder of Simplify

Yen Pei Tay is the Founder of Simplify. As with all honestly told tales, you’ll find that his path to this point has been rocky but most definitely not insurmountable.

Simplify creates a marketplace for users to buy and sell excess mobile data from their monthly plans, extending sharing economy to the mobile broadband space. Simplify enables sellers to set their data prices at one touch and the service dynamically creates an encrypted hotspot password so buyers can seamlessly piggyback on another person’s internet access on the fly. Simplify is headquartered in Malaysia and the technology that powers Simplify is US Patented.

What was the catalyst for starting Simplify and what problem are you trying to solve?

Simplify’s mission is to “Simplify the way we connect”.

I’m a great fan of Design Thinking and when I look at smartphones, despite their name they are pretty dumb. We have to tediously toggle in between Wi-Fi and mobile data, searching for Wi-Fi, asking for password and keying in those long creepy passwords on a tiny little touchscreen. This is a struggle that every smartphone user has to go through but nobody is solving it. Thus, we came up with a technology that enables smartphones to seamlessly connect to Wi-Fi without having to ask or key-in any password. It just connects.

Having built our technology first, we had no idea how to push it to the market. Prior to launching Simplify app, we were talking to device OEMs on a possibility to embed Simplify’s seamless Wi-Fi technology into their Android smartphones. That did not materialise.

Erdin Beshimov, Founder of the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp helped refresh my thinking around Simplify’s product strategy. I’ve never let go a chance to do primary market research with others about Simplify, and when I showed Semyon Dukach [Managing Director of TechStar Boston] and Waikit Lau (an angel investor) the prototype, they really gave me the much needed “steroid booster” to go supersonic. That was a crucial turning point.

Simplify was listed as one of the World’s Most Innovative and Disruptive Companies by Fast Company. What do you believe contributes to Simplify being recognised in this way?

Learning from our failures in B2B market, we came to realise that we needed a use case to push the technology to the consumer market. That’s when data sharing came into the picture.

To illustrate the use case we arrived at, think about turning your smartphone into a little hotspot and then being able to easily sell your excess mobile data and let others connect to your data pack without having to ask or key in any Wi-Fi password.

Firstly, we are making everyone an Internet Service Provider.

Opening up new possibilities of on-demand Internet access

Never before in history of the Internet have users been able to trade unused data bandwidth for money. Now, mobile users can sell their data bandwidth to people around them, on a pay-per-use basis. This opens up new possibilities of on-demand Internet access and brings affordable Internet to the masses.

Unlike ride-sharing services which regulate the fare, Simplify let its sellers set their own prices and how much data they are willing to sell. In short, everyone is virtually an Internet Service Provider. Simplify takes a 25% commission from their revenue.

Such data-sharing service not only reduce data wastage but also relieving network congestion. With Simplify, much like ride-sharing, instead of every phone connects to the mobile tower separately, which drains battery fast, they can piggyback on a single data channel to a mobile tower which reduce network control traffic tremendously.

Simplify has just created a Borderless Mobile Data Service.

Mobile data is expensive, especially when you turn on data roaming abroad. Instead of buying a new SIM card upon arrival and having to deal with the nuisance to re-verify your mobile number on WhatsApp, Simplify lets you surf on the Internet via someone else’s data.

That is to say, while you are traveling, you could literally piggyback on your Uber driver’s mobile data, buying on demand Internet access from your tour guide or even sharing your mobile data with friends who are on the same group tour.

The app empowers data-sharing regardless of data plans, mobile networks or countries. The coolest thing is, unlike subscribing to those traditional data packages, with Simplify, you only pay for what you use in local currencies. What’s more? You only require one Simplify account for all your mobile devices without having to subscribe to multiple data plans.

It’s an elegant piece of technology.

The technology behind Simplify automatically creates a secure hotspot, letting users connect to the seller’s personal hotspot seamlessly, without having to key in any Wi-Fi password at all. It just connects!

What makes Simplify hotspot so secure? Firstly, both of its hotspot SSID and password are encrypted. This added another layer of security to prevent hacking and unauthorised access by decoding the Wi-Fi credentials stored on users’ phones. Secondly, the encryption mechanisms used are embedded within a random codebook within Simplify. This leaves no room for anyone, including the creators themselves, to guess the correct cryptographic mechanism used for password decoding. Thirdly, unlike any other Wi-Fi apps out there, which send your Wi-Fi passwords to the cloud and share with other users, Simplify does not store or forward the passwords outside your smartphone, for privacy and security reasons.

Simplify has tremendous potential and we are on a crusade to disrupt the traditional mobile subscription model in redefining the way we connect.

What reactions do you anticipate from mobile carriers?

This is an interesting question that I’ve been thinking about. We have never considered carriers to be direct competitors. In fact, without carriers’ infrastructure, data-sharing would not be possible.

Mobile carriers might retaliate in 3 different ways:

1 — First and of course the easiest way is to drop their mobile data charges, giving more data quota at lower prices. But this is hurting their business more than damaging Simplify. Simplify owns no mobile tower and network infrastructure. Thus, the more data you give, the more leftover data users have on hand and the lower price they can resell. Practically, carriers are subsidising the incentive to sell more.

2 — Next, some carriers might block hotspot tethering or you have to pay to tether. Again, this is a simple question to ask their own subscribers. “Would you favor a carrier that blocks tethering or would you be more willing to go with a carrier which gives you more freedom?” I think the answer is pretty straightforward.

3 — Lastly, carriers might pursue legal actions. This sounds like the Uber case and it may get very tricky depending on the country laws governing sharing economy. It is a very grey area, especially when subscribers are not using all of the data they have already paid for. So, who owns those leftover data quota, the subscriber or the carrier? The good thing is we are seeing governments revising regulations and adapting to such change.

Without carriers’ infrastructure, data-sharing would not be possible.

Here is where things get interesting for us. We are finding that progressive-thinking carriers want to work with us more because Simplify provides them with an opportunity to offer their data packages to foreign tourists without having to swap the SIM cards.

What’s next? How are you steering the company forward and scaling Simplify?

In my opinion, many sharing-economy platforms do not live up to the root values of sharing. In fact, these companies excessively control everything, from the imposed business models, marketing strategies to products, embedded with secretive pricing algorithms and complex payout formulas. There is a limit to such model.

How we are doing it differently is that we offer qualified business partners to launch Simplify’s service in their own respective countries, using a profit sharing model. I think the realization of sharing-economy would be incomplete without involving locals. It is impossible to keep flying someone in from the headquarters to learn about every new market and to figure out the right strategy. Therefore, we think it is best to open up our platform via a proven franchising model that allows us to scale quickly.

In fact, we’ve received many enquiries from potential partners in Australia, Middle East and Latin America about bringing Simplify to these markets. We have made inroads into Mexico recently with Octavio Jimenez, an MIT Bootcamper, who is fronting our engagement with Axtel Mexico. Interestingly, we got selected into their accelerator program.

We believe it would be smoother and more efficient to let our local partners run the show. They know their market best so are better positioned to figure out the best use cases, marketing strategy, preferred payment channel to integrate with and so forth, to make Simplify compelling to the locals. This is an innovative way to grow too.

What was the most notable struggle you went through?

There was a really long one year period before joining MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp (Class 2 — August 2015) when I went through “The Monk Moment”. I quit my job, sold my house, living on my savings and placed all the bets on Simplify, against my parents’ advice. I was on a high hope that the negotiation with smartphone manufacturers would go through but it fell apart and at the same period, our global partnership with Nokia died in the womb. Literally, I almost had nothing and was at the verge of giving up.

When I look at the struggles in my daily operational task today, they are nothing compared to those depressing days. Those were the days where cash-strapped situations kept me awake all night, those were the days where my co-founders walked away leaving me taking the full responsibilities to keep the company afloat. However, those were also the days when I took up e-learning courses on edX, trying to upskillrenew myself to find a way out. I think adversity truly differentiates those who throw their towels early, and those who are willing to go the extra mile and fight until the end.

What advice can you give for surviving the startup rollercoaster?

Stay frugal. Having been through many tough times myself, be it psychologically emotionally or financially, I found that frugality is a virtue, not a drawback. When you’re fighting for survival, the only way out is being resourceful and innovative.

It has become the norm for me and my co-founder to run day trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore for conferences and investor meet-ups. We always take the earliest flight out, returning on the last budget flight that same evening, avoiding an overnight stay. Every time we do that, we cramp a few meetings on that same day to maximize our reach. Eventually, that leaves us no time for bullshit. Get the job done and get out.

I also remember when we came to MIT Bootcamp (Class 3 — March 2016) in Seoul on a very tight budget. We had yet to launch Simplify at that time. I spent hours on the Internet looking for an apartment for 3 [for my co-founder and Terence Chia, another fellow bootcamper], which cost us less than $100 each for 4 nights stay in the Gangnam area. It turned out that tiny studio apartment was strategically located right beside the subway station and very well-equipped indeed.

Living frugally has been a natural principle that has shaped me over the years. I have stopped wearing a watch for years now, I don’t even celebrate my birthday [waste of time, money and food preparing for it] since [the age of] 25. I always believe it’s what you do that matters and not how you look from the outside. Driving a luxury car will not get you a ticket to Heaven.

What advice do you have when it comes to hiring?

I always look upon people who have a sense of purpose and shared belief in Simplify’s mission. We hire based on personality and attitude, rather than solely evaluating skills. Skills can be acquired easily, personality and attitude are harder to shape. It takes time to reveal too.

Getting the right people on board is crucial. Spend the time to find the right ones. Inviting the wrong set of people may ruin your startup. That happened during my first venture [Nextwave], we had co-founders who came on board without contributing anything. We had partners who left us too when things went wrong.didn’t go right. We even had an executive who were so risk-averse that he pulled the handbrake all the time. These are huge impediments tong growth.

We even had an outsourced developer who promised everything on scope but did not deliver and pocketed half of the wages in the end. I was too late to learn that they were purely motivated by money.

What are your Bootstrapping tips?

Bootstrapping is not a bad thing at all. To the surprise of many investors, we are still bootstrapping, at least for now. There is this myth that media only focuses on VC-fueled startups, which is not true. I don’t think Simplify is short of any media publicity at all.

Getting funded is good, but I think what’s more important is to make customers love your product first.

Simplify has tremendous potential and we are on a crusade to disrupt the traditional mobile subscription model in redefining the way we connect. I wish to explore how much further we can go without funding.

Who inspires you the most?

Larry Page, the founder of Google. I guess we share a lot of similarities, from an introvert computer nerd with a pair of sneakers to running a technology company as a CEO. His speech may not be as charismatic as Steve Jobs’, [but] one thing I learnt from him is how he could marry breakthrough technologies with innovative business models to bring synergy [to Google]. Look at Chrome, Gmail, apps, maps, Youtube, Android, Loon… each of these is disruptive in their own respective areas.

I remember Larry Page saying “Lots of companies don’t succeed over time. What do they fundamentally do wrong? They usually miss the future.” Sometimes, you just have to scroll the timeline forward and see the world from the future. Then, you build your technology towards that point i.e. A roadmap. It helps me to realise that people [in the future] will hate asking for Wi-Fi passwords so we are “simplifying” that now.

I have also studied why some Google ventures have failed. Google+, Glass, Wave, Buzz… These products were embedded with great technologies but they [Google] just couldn’t do it faster, clearer and cleaner [simpler].

I remember we used to have a feature on Simplify where it allowed two Android phones to send and receive Wi-Fi password with a bump over NFC. That sounds pretty cool but it wasn’t quite catching on. Eventually we just had to cut it out.

Simplify is not a one-hit wonder. We have tried, [and] we have failed. Each time we failed, we stood up and we got on a higher ground. It’s an accumulation of numerous past failures that leaves us with no choice but to make it better and better.

What will the world be like 10 years from now?

I’m looking forward to seeing more and more advanced technologies for good. Technology for healthcare, technology for new kinds of infrastructure and technology to transform our education and communications, these bring great impact to our society.

We are more connected now and we will become more collaborative, both physically and virtually I hope. The human race used to have the wrong notion that we own the world. But in fact, we share the resources in this world. What’s the point to own all the untapped resources if you could not extract them. It might be as well we trade it off with someone who is in need or who can put those resources to better use. It would be extremely ignorant to draw a line that this sunlight belongs to me and that sunlight belongs to you, when you’re working on solar energy. It just doesn’t make any sense but we are seeing governments [today] behaving in such a way.

Let’s keep in mind that pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) without human connection at the heart of it is pointless.

What does your future hold?

Ready to cultivate YOUR curiosity and practice ‘putting yourself out there’? Take the opportunity to rediscover how curious you were as a child and gain new tools that will last you a lifetime.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates.