Over the last year, mobile virtual network operator Solavei has built a slick multilevel marketing operation around wireless, encouraging its customers to sell its mobile service on its behalf in exchange for cash. For every three new customers members sign up, they get $20 a month knocked off their bill or deposited on a prepaid Visa card. Now Solavei is sweetening the pot.
On Wednesday it launched Marketplace, a network of 16,000 retailers and merchants that will give Solavei discounts on goods and services if they pay with their Solavei cards. The network is managed by payment processor First Data and includes Old Navy, Target and Starbucks along with other national chains and thousands of independent stores and restaurants.
Solavei is definitely starting to increase its resemblance to the multilevel marketing outfits like Amway that it based its business model on. Not only is it blurring the line between customer and service provider by having its members not only sell but also maintain the relationship with the customer, it’s creating a loyalty network among its members.
The next step would be to move beyond offering members discounts to selling members goods directly – and that’s exactly what Solavei plans to do. In it’s Marketplace announcement Solavei said: “in the future Solavei will also offer its customers reduced-cost primary household goods and services such as general merchandise.”
You’ve probably already run into Solavei members online – likely on many occasions. When the company first launched last year, eager and annoying Solavei converts started spamming message boards (including GigaOM’s) and social networks with their pitches. After a few months Solavei reigned in many of its most aggressive marketers – or site and network administrators s just got better at blocking them – but that hasn’t stopped Solavei from growing.
In August, Solavei said it had 100,000 members, which is pretty good for a boutique MVNO in its first year. While a good deal of its success is attributable to its marketing tactics, it also offers a good value particularly for the heavy smartphone users. It basically has a single prepaid option: $49 a month for unlimited voice and SMS and 4 GB of data on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ networks.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user AnatolyM