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How Yboo gave its founders the appiest days of their lives

Jasper Hart
July 19, 2019

Martyn Gould is one half of the dynamic duo behind the app that calculates the best mobile deals

Martyn Gould, the founder and CEO of Yboo, is an energetic and cheery man. It’s a good thing too, because his disposition is the perfect counterpoint to the circumstances in which we meet, a depressingly dull and rainy day in a cafe by London Bridge in what is apparently June.

Gould is merrily unfazed by the weather. I’ve managed to grab him for lunch between meetings with operators and consultancies, at which he was pitching Yboo’s new B2B Insights Portal. He almost bounds right past me as I wait for him by the front door, before we enter to chew the fat about yboo, as well as the telecoms industry at large.

The idea for deal comparison service Yboo (which stands for ‘You’re Better Off On’) began four years ago with Gould and Paul Doyle, who is chief technology officer.

The two met in the Netherlands in 2010 as employees of Dutch operator KPN and have worked together ever since, either as contractors or in the brave new world of start-ups. After seeing some Ofcom research in 2015 that found the average consumer was vastly overpaying for their phone contract, Gould and Doyle set out to find a way to get a good deal for consumers.

The main proposition of Yboo, which launched in March 2017, is a consumer app that calculates a person’s data consumption. It can then extrapolate this out to a billable month after a week of use.

It then suggests SIM-only tariffs and, from last month, device deals that compare favourably given this usage pattern through deals it has with the operators, and allows the consumer to switch to a new plan if they want. Half of Yboo’s revenue comes from a bonus offered by operators for each successful connection.

The portal effectively removes the need for the consumer to calculate their data use on price comparison sites, instead collecting it anonymously in real time and not favouring any one operator. It is also configured for the recently released 5G offerings from EE and Vodafone.

When I sat down with Gould, total downloads for the app were heading towards 90,000 to date, with between 750 and 1,000 downloads per week at present. He hopes that by the end of the year, it will be achieving those numbers daily.

“Our current numbers are good and our consumer downloads have been doubling organically every month, but if you extrapolate those numbers across the year, that still gets to less than one per cent of the UK market, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

Gould elaborates: “400,000 users in a year is still a tiny dent in the total number of contracts in the UK. If Uber were enabling 0.2 per cent of taxi rides in London, what would be the point of Uber?”

It’s this sort of ambitious rhetoric that makes Gould Yboo’s public representative, but he credits much of the company’s success and growth to Doyle – a much less overt personality for whom Gould is nonetheless full of praise. “Paul is less visible to the public and we’ve got to respect that,” he says. “As with anything in your life, you have to play to your strengths. Paul is great at getting what’s in my head and turning it into something I can sell.

“I can talk, but without a product you’re on a road to nowhere, and Paul’s excellent at defining how to shape product delivery. Without him, Yboo would just be an idea in my head.”

The other side of the company is the new B2B Insights Portal, which big MNOs and MVNOs (though I’m not at liberty to say who) are already using, with more on the way. The portal, which launched at the Mobile News Xpo in March, allows operators to look at the usage of specific consumers and alert them to better deals through Yboo’s in-app messaging service.

Gould is understandably cagey on the details of his current meetings, but it seems his hectic schedule is directly tied into promoting the Insights Portal to operators and MVNOs. Another feather to Yboo’s cap was its provision of crowdsourced statistics from users of the app to help determine the best network by performance at this year’s Mobile News Awards. It provided information to help determine the winner – O2 – alongside IHS-owned RootMetrics and Global Wireless Solutions, something in which Gould takes great pride.

“Paul is excellent at defining how to shape product delivery. Without him, Yboo would just be an idea in my head.”

“IHS is listed on Nasdaq. Find me another start-up from the north-west of the UK that’s supplied data alongside a Nasdaq-listed company,” he enthuses. “It was a massive badge of honour for us. Are we ever going to compete with RootMetrics in terms of large-scale volumetrics, signal strength and latency? Maybe one day,” he rounds off cheekily.

Gould’s road to Yboo has been long and varied. Fresh out of school, he worked at insurance company RSA before moving to BT in 1995, where he started in insurance before moving into the mobile space.

“My career didn’t come alive until I joined BT, he says. “The rest after that is history, because once you were in the mobile domain [at that time], it was just a great place to work. It was at the dawn of mobile and no one knew what it could do; people just wanted to put a load of money into it and see what happened.”

After 11 years at BT, Gould spent four years as an MVNO business development manager at software company Martin Dawes Systems. He was then briefly operations director at short-lived MVNO Desi Mobi, which targeted second and third-generation British Asians.

“400,000 users in a year is still a tiny dent in the total number of contracts in the UK. If Uber were enabling 0.2 per cent of taxi rides in London, what would be the point of Uber?”

Between that time and starting Yboo, Gould has worked in various contractor roles for KPN, Huawei, Fujitsu, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Sky Mobile, as well as in a non-telecoms-related capacity for the Medical Protection Society.

He is understandably grateful for the diversity his career has afforded him. “Time will tell whether it’s all worked out or not, but I’m lucky that over the last 20 years I’ve done stuff I’ve not only really enjoyed, but earned money and always been learning,” he says. “Every day is like a school day.”

Since starting Yboo, Gould has barely had a chance to catch his breath. He has spent his time flitting between the company’s office in the picturesque Yorkshire town of Holmfirth, working there three days a week if he isn’t on the road pitching the Insights Portal to providers, and his nearby home, where he works the rest of the time. While the company has benefited from backing by angel investors, Gould has also poured a significant amount of his savings into the project.

“Since the beginning of 2017, I’ve not had a day where I didn’t have to do something for yboo, and that includes what little holiday I’ve had,” he says. “All these people who go on holiday and don’t touch their emails, please tell me how you do it!”

Gould does still find time to work as a volunteer mentor for the platform Tech Manchester, providing advice and insight to tech start-ups in the North West. His experience with such entities aids him in helping usher in a new wave of creatives, he says.

Yboo’s office was previously located in the picturesque Yorkshire town of Holmfirth

“It’s really important that anyone providing a mentoring service has faced significant challenges themselves, because unless you’ve been there and done it, you can’t teach other people how to navigate through it,” says Gould. “A lot of being an entrepreneur is about having that mental strength so you can deal with it when the odds are against you.”

As a Yorkshire native, the north is dear to his heart and he has enjoyed the slightly incongruous rural idyll of Holmfirth as the home for an ambitious start-up (though by now, the company has just moved to a new office in Media Centre in nearby Huddersfield).

In that part of the country, he’s been able to offer opportunities in an area that’s not best known for its tech culture. “The North West is a region that deserves jobs, training and opportunity, and bringing cutting-edge tech to the region is the right thing to do,” he says. “We could have moved to Silicon Roundabout [in London] but we’ve stuck to our core beliefs.”

Despite the humble rural base of operations, Yboo has the scope to go worldwide and Gould has been looking at Australia as a potential next step on that road. As an anglophone country with a decent number of people to target for the service, it seems like a good next step.

“Since the beginning of 2017, I’ve not had a day where I didn’t have to do something for yboo, and that includes what little holiday I’ve had.”

Lack of innovation
As a man who has spent most of his working life in the telecoms industry, it can be great fun simply to hear Gould’s thoughts on the happenings of the mobile world. Though he clearly loves the sector dearly, he’s not afraid to fire off some hot takes.

“Genuinely, I think there has been a lack of innovation in mobile since the iPhone was first launched,” he asserts over his bruschetta. “I’m waiting for the next time we ask if something in mobile is real or fake because it looks that good.”

Are foldables perhaps the answer to his prayers? “No, I’m not excited about them at all.” It seems not, then.

He is, however, a big fan of medical consulting service Push Doctor, which allows near-instant connection to an online doctor. “I think using mobile infrastructure for the benefits of people that need access is genius. You’ve got to take your hat off for that,” he says, before adding winkingly: “I think Yboo is genius too.”

After what seems like just a few minutes, but is in fact closer to an hour, Gould has to dash off to see a “big consultancy firm” to pursue indirect sales partnerships through the incorporation of Yboo’s services.

Up next in his hectic schedule is some work in collaboration with financial advisory site set to go live in July, a round of private fundraising, a non-stop cavalcade of meetings, and the move to the new Huddersfield office – though I wonder how much time he’ll end up actually spending there.

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