Madera says the inspiration for launching AwayPhone in 2005 came while working for the merchant banking group London Asia Capital. As director of European operations, she was involved in numerous cross-border transactions that involved lots of travel.
“I’d often be working on deals where the acquirers were in the UK and the backers were in the US, which meant I was using my UK mobile to call clients in different countries at all hours of the day and night. And then I had the sharp intake of breath when I got back to the UK! The charges were absolutely outrageous – I was receiving bills of between £800-£900.”
However, there was one particular deal Madera was working on in China that made her realise there was a real opportunity for AwayPhone in the marketplace: “I was working on a deal which focused on VoIP-type services. I would spend my days talking to my clients about innovative technology that was going to bring the cost of telecoms down and always that phrase ‘It’s going to be a free call’ was coming up.”
With the advent of internet routing technology known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), Madera realised she could bring a unique offering to the market.
“A lot of the new high-end phones coming out in the UK are dual mode so they have Wi-Fi-enabled and the regular GSM services. But those are very much geared towards a user using it domestically. Meanwhile, AwayPhone provides VoIP as a separate function on your mobile handset for when you need to use your phone abroad,” Madera explains.
AwayPhone users simply drop its alternative routing SIM into their mobile phone once they leave the UK. In addition to saving the user the hassle of having to fiddle around trying to connect to a Wi-Fi network, the technology means they no longer have to worry about working out whether it’s pay per minute and the varying charges. “A large number of the corporate clients I speak to say ‘Yes, we tried Wi-Fi and we gave up’,” says Madera.
By contrast, AwayPhone provides the customer with a separate SIM card and activation code that links their regular mobile number into the company’s system so they can still receive every phone call while abroad.
“For me and most businessmen, it would be completely unfathomable to go abroad and not be reachable on their regular number,” says Madera. “But having a local contact number also shows a commitment to the region, which helps to create stronger business relationships.”
With the quality of IP technology improving over the last few years, so too has the strength of AwayPhone’s service which today operates in 78 countries. Madera says: “We’ve grown by acquisition – we currently have 87 different partners and we recently acquired a US company called GlobalFon. We’re only just getting started."