In the seven years since its launch, telecom company MyRepublic has turned the industry’s business model on its head. In this interview, Group CEO Malcolm Rodrigues discusses disruption, expansion, and his secrets to success.
January 2014 was a watershed month for MyRepublic, a telecom company that had entered Singapore’s seemingly saturated market just two years earlier. That was when it unveiled the first 1Gbit/s fibre broadband service in the Lion City, making it the fastest available service from the newest company in the market. “Today Singapore is a 1 Gbps nation,” says MyRepublic Group CEO Malcolm Rodrigues. “I take credit for transforming the internet landscape in this country.”
From the outset, MyRepublic was unlike other telecom operators in Singapore. It had no legacy infrastructure or systems; using Singapore’s newly created National Broadband Network, rather than building its own network. Plus, with an initial team of six employees, it could not field a large sales or customer service department. “We built a cloud-based tool that automated everything,” Rodrigues says. “Across our markets, 70% of our sales happen online. For a traditional telco, that number is 4%. People don’t want to line up at a store. Customers do things on their time, even at 1am. We have to put the power back in the hands of people.”
The company’s automated online service and low-cost business model means it only needs about 5% of market share to operate profitably and scale rapidly in new markets. According to Rodrigues, MyRepublic launched in Australia in just 90 days, selling broadband nationwide with 40 people based in Sydney. “We are a very digital company, through and through,” he says. “People order on our website, we courier our routers to them, and they plug it in. It’s very automated.” For such a young telco in a contested sector, MyRepublic’s innovative strategy has yielded 200,000 subscribers across its four markets, enough to operate profitably where others could not.
With its lean team and cloud-based DNA, MyRepublic sees itself as a disruptor. Rodrigues calls Singapore, the head office for the regional company, a Petri dish to test ideas and products. “If it works here, we expand to other markets,” says Rodrigues, referencing the company’s recent expansion into mobile services in mid-2018.
The MyRepublic logo even hints at its outsider status — a bright purple rocket blasting through space — imagery that is unconventional, fun, and like outer space itself, free of limitation. Following this philosophy, the company is keenly aware of the need to innovate and reinvent its approach in a world that is changing with ever-increasing frequency. “If we don’t pivot, we’re not going to make it,” Rodrigues says. We are a next-gen telco, we’re cloud-based, but if we’re not nimble and innovative, we run the risk of being left behind.”
To remain current, the company has an ‘innovation renovation’ every six months, where it examines and tinkers with its approach, products and direction. As part of its evolution, MyRepublic no longer views itself simply as a telco, but as an internet platform that can deliver a wide variety of services. Rodrigues likens the company to the Airbnb of telcos, one that does not rely on a vast, asset-heavy infrastructure but is a conduit that plugs into different countries. “We can go global, and we have a platform that can sell anything,” he says.
Rodrigues is passionate about MyRepublic and its impact, especially when discussing the company’s expansion into Indonesia, where unlike in other markets, it is building a new fibre-optic network in 10 cities. “We are bringing the internet to communities that had nothing before,” he says. “This is driving distance learning and e-health. The industry we are in is transforming people’s lives.”
These achievements have been made possible thanks to MyRepublic’s close one-on-one relationship with CIMB Bank, who worked together as partners from the start of the company’s journey. “When bidding for the [Singapore] mobility license, the regulators needed a banker’s guarantee,” Rodrigues says. “The local banks couldn’t do it for us. However, CIMB Bank was able to move mountains when time was running out for us. We’re trying to do some funky things and local banks have a more traditional way of doing things. CIMB fits the disruptive model. It is the bank for SMEs. If you want to grow and pivot, it’s critical … to have someone who can understand your industry and business, and follow you on that path.”
Rodrigues believes we live in an era of great potential. “If you are going to start a business, this is the time to do it,” he says. “In 2011 there was no venture-capital money in Singapore, today there is a very vibrant venture-capital environment.” The company is aiming for an IPO in two years, and once it receives funds, it plans to expand its services across emerging markets in the region.
Yet not solely focused on the future, Rodrigues also cherishes the past. “I collect sports memorabilia: signed baseballs and autographed stuff,” he says. “There are lessons from the past you can continue to look at. People like their icons so you need to try to have a hero approach. You can’t be run-of-the-mill. If you are, you will get lost in history.”
When asked what his greatest aspiration is, Rodrigues quips: “world peace,” before relating to more immediate goals. “Globalisation is everywhere, but it doesn’t have to be a problem,” he says. “I want everybody in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines to have a connected experience. We think what we do is life-changing.”
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