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TECHNOLOGY

The Hack That Helped Launch a Company

Start-up Voyager Mobile got hacked--and wound up tripling the media attention for its launch.

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Sometimes being attacked by a cybercriminal might be a blessing in disguise.

Consider Voyager Mobile, the new start-up that's reselling service on the Sprint mobile network, and getting lots of attention for three reasons. First, it's substantially undercutting most mobile prices, offering an unlimited talk/text plan for $19 a month, and an unlimited data/talk/text plan for $39 a month. Second, its founder is 22-year old New York University student John Mardini, who vows he won't drop out no matter what. Third, on what was supposed to be its official launch day, the site was hacked.

Three Times the Press

You'd think that last item would be a disaster for this young firm, but I'm not so sure. Consider this: The service announced its launch, to a fair amount of press. Then it announced it was delayed because of the hacking, which generated another bunch of news stories. Then a week later, the site launched for real. The third time around, some news outlets that hadn't covered it the first two times picked it up, including Inc. Wire.

In other words, the company wound up with three times the publicity it would have had if the launch had gone according to plan. And considering that even the CIA's been hacked, I'm betting not too many customers will be scared away by security concerns–especially once they get a look at those prices.

Though the hacking did result in extra publicity, Mardini says, "That was not our goal. We would have loved to launch on the 15th as we said we would."

Voyager Mobile has called the hack "malicious," but Mardini could not speculate as to who would have attacked his site, or why. "When we saw what happened, we just got into the mode of, 'How can we remedy the problem and not let it stop us?'" he says. "We've now taken the appropriate measures to make sure it doesn't happen again."

How Voyager Started the Company

Voyager Mobile is one of the growing crop of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators). Common in Europe, they're a growing phenomenon here and offer an alternative to the major mobile carriers, usually at a substantially lower cost. They usually operate by buying services from the carriers wholesale and then reselling them to customers.

The fact that Mardini's seven-person company could become an MVNO made me think it must be easy to set one up, and indeed there are instructions online for how to do it. But it was actually quite difficult, Mardini says. "It's a fair balancing act of technical aspects, partnerships, and legal elements with each state," he says. "It was difficult doing that while being a full-time NYU student."

How It Keeps Prices so Low

Nor will the major carriers wholesale to just anyone, he adds. "You have to be able to show what you're going to do that will make you different." In Voyager Mobile's case, the obvious differentiator is its low prices, achieved because the company has only seven employees, counting Mardini and his parents, and has automated and outsourced as many of its processes as possible.

"We are no-contract and we don't subsidize any of our handsets," he adds. "We have handsets ranging in price from around $120 to around $500. But when you're paying $19 or $39 for service, you'll see the savings coming in every month."

That's a much better deal than being locked in, with hefty fees for leaving your carrier, he adds. "There's this mindset: 'I have to get my phone from the carrier, so I'll sign a two-year contract.' We're trying to get people to see that it's much better to be free of contracts, buy the phone, and just pay for what you use."

Last updated: May 23, 2012

MINDA ZETLIN is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
@MindaZetlin




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