Interviews

KAZAM: The British SME shaking up the "stagnated" smartphone market

7 min read

14 October 2015

As the tech experts and consumers decide what they like and what they don't like about the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, which went on sale at the end of last month, one medium-sized British company has been watching the forum discussions and reviews with particular interest.

Ask most people to name a mobile phone maker and they’ll probably suggest Apple, Samsung or HTC – but KAZAM is a fast growing British brand that aims to disrupt the market.

Co-founder James Atkins said: “The mobile market might be competitive, but it is also stagnated, full of brands all doing and offering the same thing. As far as the headlines go, it certainly appears that the market is dominated by a few established brands. 

“The reality is the smartphone market has become commoditised and is full of companies essentially offering the same thing as one another, with more often than not just gimmicky features that differentiate them.”

KAZAM, he argued, disrupts this with a “differentiated proposition” that includes customer services representatives being able to remotely access customer smartphones and fix a problem in real-time – avoiding costly send-in repairs. A free screen replacement service to customers is available, as well as technicians who provide on-the-fly training on activities such as how to set up email and to how to best conserve battery power.

The KAZAM team also believes that existing mobile phone companies are not providing customers with adequate customer service.

Founded in May 2013 by Atkins and Michael Coombes, both former HTC employees, KAZAM has grown over the past two years to have a presence in 15 European countries and it now employs 180 people. Both men have experience of working at either end of the spectrum, having worked in small startups and multinational blue chips.

“Taking a leap into the unknown can be scary,” commented Atkins of their decision to leave HTC and start their own business. “However, both Mike and I felt that the time was right to challenge the industry with something different. The can do culture of KAZAM has been crucial to developing the proposition and building the brand in the right way. It meant that from day one it has just been all systems go.”

Atkins added: “Every day we’re seeing tech-savvy customers reach the same conclusions, ‘we love HTC but we don’t need Sense, we want native Android’ or ‘we love our Samsung device but we don’t want TouchWiz, we just need the native UI’. We realised this added-value arena between the major players was a distraction from what customers really wanted. If something’s not going to be used, drop it and focus on creating something that’s reliable and fast.”

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But Atkins and Coombes wanted to transform the experience of not just of buying a phone, but of owning it too. Working with remote access software developer LogMeIn, they created KAZAM Rescue, a service which enables customer service agents to remotely fix a problem and teach customers about their devices. This, amongst other things, has been a real differentiator and attractive selling point, they believe.

KAZAM is funded by a group of private equity investors who have previously launched and operated successful mobile telecommunications companies and technology businesses. Some of their current investments include Nichefinder, a research and development company specialising in developing and customising mobile phone devices and tablets. The phones are designed in the UK and manufactured in China.

Breaking into a sector that is dominated by a very small number of strong brands has not been easy. “Establishing a credible brand in this market is always going to be a bit of a Herculean challenge,” revealed Atkins. “You’re up against companies who have thousands of R&D professionals working round the clock to give themselves that edge over competitors with any feature they can create. But it’s about delivering what people want, and that’s good gadgets for less cash.”

Other challenges faced by the company might be familiar to any SMEs owner or manager. Because the office furniture was delivered late some of the company’s initial key decisions were made with the board sitting on the floor.

Products range from the small and basic LIFE B1, which retails at about £14.99, to the super thin Tornado 348 – which has a screen consuming significantly less power, meaning that users can spend longer watching video without running your battery too fast. It has a price of around £189.

Responding to ever greater demand for speed and reliability from customers, it’s also equipped with an eight core MT6592 Octa Core processor with a clock frequency of 1.7 GHz, made by the architecture of ARM Cortex-A7. This allows consumers ton either use all the cores simultaneously, which improves overall system performance, or to disable some of the nuclei for longer battery life.

KAZAM’s plan is to continue on its current growth path and to “challenge the conventions of the market further”, according to Atkins. With total smartphone sales at about 1.3bn for 2014, representing growth of 29 per cent over the 2013 total and with that figure set to surpass two billion next year, according to researchers Business Intelligence, KAZAM are certainly in an expanding market.