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Tech for Good Is Good for Tech: An Interview with the CEO of Honest Mobile

Sep 02, 2020 | 7 minutes
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It is hardly news that the tech sector is currently undergoing a years-long credibility crisis. The discussion is broad and complex, and touches upon several problems, including:

And countless others. This is just a sample of what lurks beneath the sector’s credibility crisis, but you get the idea: it’s not pretty. 

While some of the problems mentioned above are not exclusive to tech, several promises were made in the last couple of decades, and quite a few remain unkempt, if not forgotten at all

But why did this happen, and how did we get here in the first place? 

Was it greed? Lack of oversight? Deranged marketing practices? 

I can’t possibly answer these questions without letting speculation run wild. Plus, there are several outlets doing excellent coverage of these issues, as well as the deeper questions that come along. 

On the other hand, I feel compelled to say that it’s not all black and white out there. 

A number of tech actors might indulge in questionable behavior, but that’s not the case of the entire sector - and this is what I’ll be exploring today. 

In order to make my case, I reached out to Andy Aitken, CEO of Honest Mobile, to discuss ethical companies, sustainability, automation, and innovativecompetition. 

This is a story about alternative and possibility, and also about the future and the choices we make. This is the story of Honest Mobile. 

Read on!

Automation, carbon footprints and customer satisfaction: Andy Aitken speaks

1. Honesty is one of the most important values there are, from both a historical and contemporary perspective. Why did you choose it to define your company? 

The mobile phone industry has a pretty terrible reputation for putting people on the wrong deal, tying them into long contracts, and hoping that customers don't realize. 

We wanted to make it clear that we were doing something different. We also wanted to highlight some simple truths that people often don't realize, like the impact on climate that technology can have. 

Having a name like Honest holds us to a very high account with our customers too! 

2. What makes Honest Mobile different from other companies offering mobile broadband and telecom services? 

There are three fundamental differences between us and the rest of the industry in the UK. 

First, we are the first carbon-neutral phone network in the UK. This means that for every text you send, call you make, or video you watch we work out the carbon footprint of that usage and offset it through sustainable reforestation. We also offset the amount of energy needed to charge an average phone, as well as the CO2 associated with the manufacture of an average handset over a 24-month period. 

Second, we offer access to multiple networks from a single SIM in the UK, also known as national roaming. This gives our customers access to 3x as many masts as customers tied into a single network like EE or O2. We call this Smart Signal and it's literally life-changing for some of our customers living in more rural areas of the UK. 

Finally, we have focussed on customer service above everything else. We have a Net Promoter Score of 88 compared to industry averages of about 20. If you want to get in touch, just jump into instant chat and we'll be talking to you in 41 seconds on average! It often takes 41 minutes to get through to a call center with other providers. 

3. Honest Mobile's plans are similarly priced than those of big telecom companies. How is that possible? 

Thanks to automation and building a world-class technology stack, our costs are kept low while we maintain our excellent customer service. 

We are not paying for retail outlets, call centers, or infrastructure, which means we can focus on what matters to our customers: the experience. 

4. On the company website, it is mentioned that mobile networks in the UK overcharge customers by £182m a year. Can you tell us more about this? 

This figure relates to the amount people are paying by simply being on the wrong plan once a fixed-term contract ends. Some operators will choose to leave you on an expensive plan when a cheaper one might suit you better. 

We don't think that's fair, so every month we automatically analyze your usage and recommend the best plan to suit your needs. If we get it wrong, you can change any time. 

5. Beyond the ethical aspects, what are other tangible benefits customers get from Honest Mobile? 

Our improved signal and amazing customer support are the biggest benefits we offer our customers alongside the knowledge that they are playing a part in fighting climate change. 

We also offer premium features lots of smaller networks can’t offer like WiFi calling and (soon!) visual voicemail. 

6. What methods does the company use to attain carbon neutrality in its operations? I read that you plant trees -- can you elaborate on this? 

That's right, we're partnered with a non-profit organization to plant trees to offset the carbon footprint of our customer usage. 

We also are a member of 1% for the Planet, meaning that 1% of all our revenues - not profit - go straight to charitable projects. 

We have chosen to use this money for environmental causes too by planting the Honest Forest. You can track the number of trees you've planted in our mobile app. 

7. Honest Mobile is on-route to become a B corporation, a certification for companies that balance “purpose and profit”. What is Honest Mobile’s ultimate purpose?

Our purpose is to change mobile for good. 

That means leading the mobile industry for both sustainability and customer experience. 

The tech industry already creates as much carbon as global aviation, yet not many people know. 

Telecoms are built on a lot of outdated systems which lead to bad customer experience, and that’s why we’ve built Honest from scratch: to focus on delighting our customers and delivering a sustainable option. 

8. I was happy to learn that the company relies on Make for a number of backend processes. What value does Make bring to Honest Mobile? 

Make lets us automate mundane repetitive business tasks as well as prototyping new areas of the app extremely quickly. 

By integrating with so many tools, as well as offering HTTP connections we can connect to almost every third party tool we use, as well as our own backend and app. 

We've been amazed at what can be built, and how quickly it can be iterated. Our developers now often start with an Make workflow to test ideas before doing anything else. 

9. What are your thoughts on automation? How do you envision its role in the near future? 

Automation is key to scaling a technology business. 

You can't onboard large volumes of users if there are manual steps in the process. 

However, maintaining exceptional customer service still needs people to play their part. Our focus is on getting people out of the way where they're not needed but being available instantly when someone needs help. 

10. To conclude, do ethics play a role in the tools Honest Mobile chooses to sustain operations?  

Yes, definitely. We always look to use tools and work with partners aligned with our purpose. 

One of our largest providers is carbon neutral which was a factor in choosing them, other providers are B Corps. 

Sometimes there's not a lot of choice for a particular service or product and in those instances, we will choose the provider that best fits what we are trying to achieve.

Conclusion: On the futures we make for ourselves

It is hard to not be optimistic after seeing companies like Honest Mobile emerge as competitive, innovative alternatives. 

Here at Make, we don’t plant trees to offset carbon emissions, but we do have a code of conduct that we hone and respect. 

It serves as our guide to protecting both our users and the platform from wrongful and abusive behavior, even when it implies taking hard decisions. 

For example, we recently transformed our Twitter app into a premium feature, which sparked some minor controversy among users. Why did we do it? Because botnets were abusing our service through the Twitter app, and we weren’t gonna let it pass. 

There is a very simple reasoning behind this, and it applies to cases beyond ours: tech should not be used for wrongful behavior, nor contribute to it in significant ways. 

We’ve reached a point where the era of promises is clearly over, and we can all take action to start righting the wrongs of the past. 

The credibility crisis won’t go away just because. For change to take place, we all need to understand that tech for good is good for tech. 

And it’s about time. 

Happy automating!

Image Credit: Iconscout


Martin Etchegaray

Content Manager and Senior Editor at Make. I enjoy writing and reading about history, science, and tech.

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