Telecommunications and sustainability? That is a contradiction in itself. At least that is the general opinion when anyone asks that in the community. Yet the founders of WEtell, Alexander Schmucker (Masters in Engineering), Dr. Nico Tucher (Doctor of Natural Sciences) and Alma Spribille (Masters in Industrial Engineering) see it in a different light. That is why they are in this respect committed to making the world at least a little bit better. Their aim is not to turn back the clocks and condemn the use of mobile phones, but to create a symbiosis of modern development and sustainable design. Because, be honest, place your hand on your heart – none of us wants to go without our smartphones anymore. All the more reason, therefore, for us to be able to draw on a unique range of services in this sector when it comes to pollutant emissions, fairness, transparency and data security.
M. of Eng. Alexander Schmucker in an interview with Innovation Origins
How did you come up with the idea to set up Wetell?
In fact, the idea is a bit older, since the first thoughts came to me in 2008. That’s when I started to shift my life towards sustainable things. But there were no other alternative services available back then. Although this annoyed me, I nevertheless put the issue on the back burner. It wasn’t until I joined Alma and Nico in thinking about doing business in the green economy that we picked up the issue again: We were fascinated by the idea of being able to reach a large number of people with a mass product such as telecommunications and thereby help to shape this change. We developed our main focus areas after many discussions and reflections on how to make telecommunications a climate-friendly service product. These are primarily climate neutrality, fairness, transparency and data security.
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Where do you see the specific areas of application or who is your target group?
Our target group are all people who use or would like to use a mobile phone tariff and who live in Germany. Our tariffs specifically address those people who want to make a positive contribution. People who are committed to sustainable management and want to help shape change. So far, there has not been such a comprehensive mobile tariff as we have to offer. We chose D1 for our cellular network, on the one hand because of its good network coverage and on the other because of its data security, as the server and place of jurisdiction are located in Germany.
What makes your product special compared to other similar products?
It’s obvious that our focus is on sustainability. In other words, we are working on a paradigm shift. We are in the process of turning the core of these services upside down.
In the area of climate conservation, for example, our company is climate neutral, even positive. As already mentioned: The money goes directly into the construction and financing of solar plants. It is not an additional ‘socially-aware’ option, as is perhaps available in certain companies, but it is our company philosophy to make the core service of telecommunications sustainable. To achieve this, we are working together with Elektrizitätswerke Schönau (a supplier of green electricity in Germany). The lion’s share of emissions in telecommunications is due to network operation – we don’t have that under our control at present. We are compensating for this by feeding green electricity from newly constructed solar systems into the grid. Naturally, our entire office infrastructure is based on green electricity, and we also act in a consistent and sustainable manner when it comes to business travel, office supplies, etc.
It might be helpful to know that in this context around 60% of emissions are attributable to grid services and 40% to the manufacture and daily recharging of mobile phones.
Fairness and transparency are also very important issues to us. The four tariffs we are offering are clearly structured, comprehensible and verifiable. Because we are convinced that the existing service range is catastrophically confusing. We have no hidden costs, our mobile phone tariffs can all be cancelled per month, we meet our customers on equal terms, customer data is only stored for as long as required by law. We offer genuine personal service for each and every one of our customers.
What was the biggest hurdle you initially had to overcome?
There were and still are plenty of them. At least they always seem huge when you are faced with a challenge. In retrospect, they are often not that big. I think the biggest one was probably conveying the viability of our business model as credibly as we could. And to research whether people would like our services and are willing to spend money on these.
We were able to demonstrate in a credible way that it was feasible: At the start of 2019, we offered vouchers for our tariffs with variable terms via the Startnext crowdfunding platform. This enabled us to raise a total of € 180,000 with 1,200 supporters. This is our proof of concept – proof that there is a market for our product.
Were there moments when you wanted to give up?
No, at least never as a group. I think every team member had already reached that point where progress seemed impossible. But we are a strong team, we talk about these things and together we have always found a solution. Hopefully it will stay that way.
What was the greatest moment for you as far as the launch was concerned, what made you particularly proud?
It is the many small things in everyday life: We talk a lot with our customers via our personal customer service and our community. The feedback we get from them is honest and heartfelt – the conversations have a lot of depth. There are so many people who want to change something, who no longer close their eyes but instead become active and want to promote change. We are not talking about luxury problems, we are talking about what’s already going on. And that is something that touches our hearts.
What can we look forward to in the next few years, in other words: What can we expect from you in the coming years?
Our goal is to put the corporate structure on a steady footing with all our partners this year. Then, at the end of the year, we will put a solid product on the market, grow and become more vocal. The bigger we get, the louder we are capable of being and the more we will be able to spur on a paradigm shift. We don’t want to bash anyone. We just want to show that things can be much better in terms of sustainability.
What motivates you every morning?
A lot; on the one hand the fun and the joy of designing. But above all contributing to the fact that our children might be able to experience the world as we have experienced it.
What is your vision: Where do you see WEtell in 5 years time and what is your ultimate goal?
Well, in five years we see ourselves as an established major player with a stable customer base in the telecommunications market. We also want to be established in such a way that other mobile operators orient themselves to our products and values and follow suit in terms of sustainability.
Once we have achieved this, I can imagine that we might extend our range of services to other service sectors.
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