Forging A Path To Success: Virgin Mobile UAE Managing Director Rob Beswick "As a digitally driven business, agility and our digital operating model are our biggest competitive advantages, as we can listen to customers, create new propositions, and have new features live within weeks due to the agile development model we run."
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"Virgin Mobile was founded on with the purpose of making mobile better," says Rob Beswick, Managing Director at Virgin Mobile UAE, the UAE's first fully digitalized mobile service that is a subsidiary of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company. And with this one statement, Beswick encompasses the range of activities that enable his company -which was launched in 2017 with a specific focus on younger consumers- to continually innovate, as well as to find ways to improve the digital experience for its customers.
"As a digitally driven business, agility and our digital operating model are our biggest competitive advantages, as we can listen to customers, create new propositions, and have new features live within weeks due to the agile development model we run," Beswick explains. "It allows our team to answer our customers' needs of the moment, which we discover through our constant A-B testing and research lab. This constant iteration can only be driven by a software development focused business that can move quickly to launch new features to market."
Since taking the helm at Virgin Mobile UAE in 2020, Beswick has been focused on analyzing the digital ecosystem in the UAE so that the company he leads is always developing market-leading products and services. "For example, the online subscription-based model we use helps us to differentiate in the market from classic prepaid and postpaid offers, and it was inspired by other digital app businesses," he says. "The advantage for the customer that this brought is that it's much easier for them to tailor their own plans according to their lifestyles." With this approach, Beswick has been able to justify not only the company's position as the country's first telco brand to offer a 100% app-mandatory experience, but its appeal among Gen Z customers as well.
"We discovered that customers would be prepared to pay upfront for their mobile subscription if we rewarded them with a discount for doing so," Beswick says. "We therefore innovated with our 12-month subscription plans, enabling customers to save 50% from their mobile bill, if they sign up with us for a year. We were the first in the market to introduce this proposition, and today, it's become a core differentiator for our business." Another of Virgin Mobile UAE's offerings that has become widely popular is its service that enables data and credit sharing from the app. "This was after finding out that our users really needed to be able to send data or credit amongst their families or friends," Beswick adds. "Recently, we launched groups that allows our users to set up a group of 10 friends, colleagues, or family in the app, and enjoy better data rates to share and also enjoy free calling to selected users in the group. Again, this was born from the desire to use our digital platform to innovate and help create a better value for our customers, and it is resonating well."
Before forging this path to success for Virgin Mobile UAE, Beswick worked on launching and managing other digital businesses in a number of global markets, and when asked to share the key lessons he learned along the way, he starts by pointing out to the importance of building good teams. "People make companies," he says. "Your people create the performance-driven culture that your business needs to thrive. This is particularly true for startups and new market launches where overcoming adversity and resilience is critical. Great people will come together, look for solutions, think laterally to drive innovation. Bring in the right people, empower them, create the right culture, and your people will be the force multiplier for your growth."
That said, Beswick admits that in his experience, building and scaling businesses "can be relentless and tiring," and that is why his second piece of advice is for digital executives to be able to embrace any challenge. "Sometimes, it will feel like nothing is going right," Beswick says. "Your team will come to you with challenges every day, and everyone will feel like they're climbing a hill. Here, learn to flip the narrative, change the negative into a positive, and reframe those issues. If you have the energy to change the story, you can encourage your team to embrace the challenge, and think about it differently. You'll re-energize your people, and create a culture where the business actively seeks challenges, works to meet problems head-on and continuously improves."
Image courtesy Virgin Mobile UAE.
Remaining curious, Beswick explains, is his third key ingredient to success. "We all live in dynamic times, and your business can't afford to keep doing the same thing continuously," he says. "Ask your team to question, 'Why?,' and always promote lateral thinking. As an entrepreneur, you can change the game, redefine your sector, simplify your processes, and rethink and innovate your product set. I think that this is essential to being successful in today's every-changing market. If you don't change, your competitor will, and your customers will react to that. As your company grows, change from being an entrepreneur to an 'intrapreneur'- actively seek those in your teams that think your business could do things better. Challenge them, and empower them to make those changes. Even if they fail, it will drive forward momentum across your organization."
Lastly, Beswick highlights that customer-centricity is critical to driving success. "Customers will tell you exactly what they need, and what they are frustrated by, and by listening, you can use that feedback to improve your product and service," he says. "We ask our team to actively communicate with customers all the time. For example, our product managers actively seek customer feedback, as the team responsible for implementing the innovation roadmap, they can then feel real customer issues, and ideate solutions and features in our app to solve them. In my experience, customer experience is your strongest differentiator, and will continue to be. You need to embrace it."
It is with this mindset that Beswick is looking at 2024, with him and his Virgin Mobile UAE team focused on creating an even better digital experience for the customers. "It is about improving the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) of the app to make the user flows even simpler and intuitive," Beswick explains. "Our investments in 2024 are therefore focused on refining and innovating our platform and our digital app solution, so that we improve our speed to market, position for more scalability, and, of course, improve our customers' experience." In line with the ongoing trends, Beswick also aims to explore how Virgin Mobile UAE can scale with artificial intelligence and machine learning. "We want to understand how this can be used to enhance our value proposition by making customers lives simpler, aiding customers in making informed decisions and unlocking more value," he says. "We think that this is an exciting area."
When asked to advise entrepreneurs in the UAE, Beswick starts by pointing out that scalability should be prioritized from the start. "Invest in people and technologies that address a customer's needs, and that can grow with the business," he says. "Deeply understand your market, utilize data-led insights, listen to your customers, respond swiftly to changing trends and customer needs, and encourage your people to do the same. Agility and the ability to pivot are crucial for rapid growth." He also highlights the importance of differentiating oneself in the business arena- as he put it: "Identify what makes your business different, and focus on creating distinctive value for customers, and then communicate it."
Also, do not be afraid to rethink your business model, Beswick adds. "Always think how you can do things differently from your competitors," he says. "Reframe how to you do things, and challenge your teams thinking. Use technology to innovate and improve the customer experience." And last but not the least, Beswick advises elevating customer experience in all aspects. "Double down on excellent customer experience, anticipate their needs, and stay ahead by learning from customer feedback," he says. "As your business grows, this becomes tougher and tougher, so be prepared to be a customer cheerleader- you need to put a lot of energy into championing your customer across the organization."
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Rob Beswick, Managing Director of Virgin Mobile, on how to fast-track your business to success
- Success is a collective effort, and it should be shared. "Empower your people. Help them grow with you, and always celebrate together. Challenge self-limiting beliefs, learn from others, always ask "why?" and strategically use your network for mutual growth."
- Adaptability is crucial in the region. "The UAE's diverse cultures and business practices demands flexibility, adaptability, and respect. Embrace and respect local customs, and understand the subtle business nuances to effectively communicate and build relationships across diverse groups– always think win-win."
- Foster and reward curiosity and innovation. "In a rapidly evolving market, especially in the digital and technology sectors, seeking innovative solutions and staying informed about technological advancements is key to staying competitive– have a future focus."
- Never stop learning. "Today's dynamic environment requires executives to continuously upskill. In my career, ongoing learning and staying updated with digital, innovation, customer, global and regional trends have been pivotal for making informed, strategic decisions."
- Always focus on your people. "As Sir Richard Branson says, 'Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your business.' Keep your people at the heart of the company, work hard, but have fun too. Your team should be at the forefront of your decision-making, as they are ultimately the key to driving your businesses growth and your success."