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What about the people?

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[qi:006] Sometime later today, there is a good chance Amp’d, the beleagured mobile virtual network provider will turn off its service, leaving over 100,000 of its customers in the lurch. A few days ago, SunRocket shuttered its doors, leaving 200,000 subscribers in the lurch.

While creditors and carriers get their money, the poor sods who end up trying out these new services are left holding the bag – out of either phone numbers, or in some cases a livelihood. It is unfair and amoral.

The executives often fail upwards, and the common man pays the price. It is in fact become a ritual, common place in modern life. While today we have two telecom service providers going out of business, leaving people twisting in the wind, tomorrow it could be dozens of tiny start-ups who are asking us to trust them with our data that could be gone? What happens then? Where does our private information go? Does it become something creditors can pawn off for a few shekels?

And why limit it to start-ups? Yahoo decided to shut down its Yahoo! Photos and focus instead on Flickr. If you forget to switch or rescue your photos – tough luck, because Yahoo isn’t going to be there to help you out.

Is this the new reality of our modern digital lives?

23 Responses to “What about the people?”

  1. Jesse Kopelman

    “Startups that are going down the toilet want to pay back everything possible to their investors/debtors and screw their customers as much as possible.”

    It’s not so much that they want to do as they are legally obligated to do this. This is a case where behavior is based on regulation and the only way to change the behavior is to change the law. Would this stifle investment in certain types of startups? Quite likely it would, but maybe that is not a bad thing. Do we really need an everlasting supply of companies that create value for a select few by screwing over many?

  2. If I were AT&T, I’d be having a big old party today and slamming out a new batch of marcomm around the message “We’ve been here 100+ years, we’ll be here for the next 100. Will your provider?”

  3. You’re asking the right question here, OM. The sad fact is, “What about the people?” is the last question most businesses and investors ask themselves. What’s the margin? What’s the business model? How is this offering different? Who’s the management team? What are the benefit packages? But never, “How will we meet the needs of ordinary folks?”

    This isn’t just a start-up issue. Tons of companies act completely agnostically of the effects they have on people. They’re not immoral, they’re amoral. They simply can’t make decisions for positive benefit consciously, because any kind of consideration for people, any empathy, was left out of the original mix.

    If more companies spent less time worrying about themselves and more worrying about regular people, those businesses would do better and the world could be a better place. Yes, it’s a huge problem that SunRocket customers are getting left in the lurch here. It’s a bigger problem that credit card companies regularly manipulate payment dates to encourage people to miss a payment, incur a late fee and lose their advantageous interest rates. It’s a bigger problem still that billions of dollars get wasted each year to develop products that don’t have a reason to exist.

    We need to rethink why companies exist. They are not just here to self-sustain and make money — they are here to meet the needs of the people who work for them and for the people who buy the stuff they make. If executive teams just ask themselves, again and again, “What about the people?”, the American economy would be in better shape – and America could, too.

  4. Om is right, Amp’d accepted anyone as an act of desperation.

    That being said, this is a classic game theory problem (a Prisoner’s Dillema of sorts).

    Startups as a whole would find it easier to find early adopters if people knew that even if a start-up ran out of money, they would make it a point to provide a smooth transition for customers.

    Startups that are going down the toilet want to pay back everything possible to their investors/debtors and screw their customers as much as possible. The startup’s name will likely not be used again and customers rarely know who the management team is so that same management team can now do another company and their past will rarely haunt them.

    So things will remain as they are. Dying start-ups will screw their customers and new start-ups will have to convince their early adopters that things won’t be THAT bad if they fail.

  5. I found a great company VIATALK They offer a plan $199 a year for unlimited calling, just like sunrocket and they will give you in addition to the plan they offer you, up to 6 months free service , only if you were a sunrocket customer.

    for example , if you sign up for their service for $199 a year and had been a customer of sunrocket and you had 4 months left on your sunrocket plan.. they will give you 4 months free

    here is the link.. copy and paste this link in your browser

  6. Stephen R.,

    Amp’d as a company had to take care in who they wanted to sell their service to. They did not look into the financial viability of their customers, and went for growth and subscriber count instead of putting better business practices.

  7. Stephen R.

    Um…no. Amp’d failed because nearly 50% of it’s 175,000 subscribers failed to pay their bills. Maybe if the “common man” did not have such a sense of entitlement to the newest technology that they choose to go in debt over their heads…guess that’s what you get for targeting hip, trendy, urban youth.

  8. We have the same problem in the work force too. Companies don’t have loyalty to their customers, or employees they’ll do whatever they can to make money. I’ve known this since I was a child.

    The question is what to do about it.

  9. James, I don’t think Om is mudslinging specifically at Yahoo! here. It’s more about who owns the data and what happens to the data. Big companies as well as small companies play a role here.

  10. I don’t think the Yahoo! Photos reference is fair. They went our of their way to help users make the transition. They bugged me to death to transfer my photos when i knew good and well that i had none.

    When finally telling them to just movem’ to flickr, one showed up: my profile picture.

  11. It will be great if the mobile world is as open and free as the web, with equal freedom of choice.

    You got the web one wrong however. Remember there is nothing called Free Lunch. Except Google maybe.

  12. Henry Mensch

    umm, why are people doing important business with firms that have no track record? early adopters take risks, and the risk of provider fading to black is one of those risks.