Giffgaff almost didn’t make it past its first birthday. Now, it is one of the biggest mobile virtual networks in the UK. The people behind its success explain how.

It’s the summer of 2008 and Gav Thompson is on a flight back from a web conference in San Francisco with an idea doodled in the back of a notebook.

He has also just started riding a motorbike “in some sort of midlife crisis thing”. That means he is spending a lot of time on motorbike forums asking questions about spark plugs and finding it amazing how quickly people respond.

As O2’s head of brand strategy at the time, Thompson was aware of a growing group of tech-savvy customers rejecting O2 because they felt it was too big and corporate. They wanted something simple, good value and no-nonsense.

“It was literally just a light bulb moment,” he tells Marketing Week. “We can launch a brand that would appeal to these guys who don’t want bells and whistles and would jump on the zeitgeist of the web of tomorrow.

“There’s such clever technological knowledge in various bedrooms around the world that we can harness, and they probably know their way around the phones better than the people in our call centre.”

Thompson took his notebook back to O2 HQ and pitched his idea, which was a hit, unlike the proposed name ‘2O’, which they hated.

“In hindsight, we had so many arguments about the name that the actual business was allowed to slide through with a little bit less scrutiny,” he recalls.

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