TextNow's Derek Ting on Competing with Telecom Industry Giants and How Businesses Can Attract Millennial Employees

Business Features Derek Ting
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TextNow's Derek Ting on Competing with Telecom Industry Giants and How Businesses Can Attract Millennial Employees

When Derek Ting started brainstorming ideas about how to make wireless phone service affordable to everyone, he had no idea that his vision would lead to the creation of TextNow, let alone becoming a real player in the wireless market.

But that all changed this past November when TextNow made Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and energy tech companies in North America. TextNow demonstrated 277% percent growth from 2012 to 2016.

What is TextNow

Ting, co-founder and CEO of TextNow, has a simple mission: Make wireless phone service affordable to everyone. TextNow is focused on delivering reliable and affordable wireless connectivity solutions that allow users to access phone services wherever they are, without the burden of a costly cell phone plan.

Through TextNow Wireless and the free TextNow app, the company provides millions of users a more affordable alternative to traditional wireless plans and services worldwide. Prior to founding TextNow, Ting was a software engineer at Qualcomm where he collaborated with fellow engineers to develop cutting-edge telecommunication technologies, including the Femto cell and UMB (Ultra Mobile Broadband).

How a small startup is taking on the industry leaders

There’s no doubt that Ting knows what he’s doing. But what we really want to know is how a scrappy 100-person mobile startup is taking on the industry Goliaths (T-Mobile, Verizon, etc)? “We don’t believe there should be a trade-off between high-quality and wireless service, and we believe everyone needs to be connected,” says Ting.

He explains that the idea behind TextNow was to offer something very different in the wireless space and at a lower cost. The team also wanted to provide the most flexibility, highest quality service, and continue to bring new features to their customers. TextNow is disrupting the traditional phone carrier model, taking on the big telecom players with more affordable plans and using its proprietary software that switches seamlessly between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, thereby lowering data and wireless network usage. And as Ting says: “The savings gets passed onto customers.”

And Ting is focusing on something we can all appreciate: Customers are in control of their own phone plan and can upgrade and downgrade at any time. TextNow believes in the customer and making a difference, something many of these millennial startups and CEOs are known for. “Being disruptive is not about making a lot of noise, it’s about changing the norm,” says Ting. “Big carriers are the norm. It didn’t happen overnight, but customers are getting much more comfortable using apps and trusting disruptive players, and in turn are seeing the great value they’re getting for their money,” he adds.

Taking a chance on a vision with very little funding

Ting explains that early on in the startup process, there were times when the company was close to running out of funds. “I spent a whole summer trying to raise money in Canada, but without success and the pressure was growing,” he says. “I found a VC in Silicon Valley that believed in the product and in 2013, I made the decision to expand from being a simple texting app, to a full-service innovative carrier,” Ting adds.

TextNow is experiencing a huge spike in momentum—almost entirely supported by word-of-mouth. “We tracked a 277% growth rate between 2012-2016 and increased our active user base from 8 million to 10 million,” explains Ting. One other impressive stat about Ting’s company is that revenues in 2016 were $32 million vs. $20 million in 2015. “Growth comes from the innovation of our TextNow app, which is available on Apple and Android devices, our wireless service and SIM card offering,” he says.

Ting’s tips for attracting and retaining employees

Whenever a business is experiencing success, it’s important to look inside and see “how” they are making it happen. Paste asked Ting to share a few of his tips for attracting and keeping millennial employees.

Trust and empower your team — I used to see a problem and fix it myself. But, I have grown in my role as a leader and I believe the cornerstone of TextNow’s success is empowering employees and then getting out of their way. Letting go of the reins and giving employees the space and support they need to do what they do best fosters trust and creates a culture employees are proud of.

Promote a healthy workplace — Our workplace environment is much like our service offering—it’s flexible and fun, yet highly productive and professional. We offer benefits including unlimited vacation, free catered lunches, and on-site massages to make sure employees know they are recognized for their hard work. We want to retain the best and keep them healthy and happy on the job.

Create ongoing learning opportunities — At TextNow, you’ll find an open office concept to encourage creativity, communication, and problem-solving. Every team member (not just leads) is empowered to bring forward new ideas and test them out, often ending up in the hands of millions of users just a few weeks later.

Create a deeper connection — Whether it’s renting out a movie theater for a showing or taking the team tubing down the local ski hills, offering monthly “TextNow Connect” events outside of the office helps us get to know our employees on a different level. It’s one thing to interact with each other in a workplace setting, but another to meet employees’ partners and family members and spend time outside of work building deeper relationships.

Seek enjoyment over salary — We created TextNow in 2009 from the kitchen table of our dorm room while seniors at the University of Waterloo and bootstrapped the company with our own savings. I gave up a substantial engineering salary in order to continue to build the TextNow business. Invest your time in something you are truly passionate about.

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