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Stephen Stokols: “Don’t sweat the small things”

Boost Mobile cannot succeed by playing the same game as existing incumbent carriers. Our focus will be on leveraging new technologies, business models and services to offer deeper consumer value beyond voice, text and data. While some of these initiatives are still in stealth mode, 2021 will bring them to the forefront of the wireless […]

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Boost Mobile cannot succeed by playing the same game as existing incumbent carriers. Our focus will be on leveraging new technologies, business models and services to offer deeper consumer value beyond voice, text and data. While some of these initiatives are still in stealth mode, 2021 will bring them to the forefront of the wireless industry and hopefully change the landscape forever.

The world is digital — there’s no question about that. But the industry is still thinking small-scale in what phones and mobile services can really provide to their customers. Internet access is a right, not a privilege, and Boost Mobile is focused on ensuring that no one is left off the grid. With that, we also will be ensuring that access to banking, healthcare and privacy are also accessible.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Stokols, EVP of Boost Mobile.

Stephen Stokols oversees Boost Mobile’s vision and direction as it empowers consumers to make smarter mobile choices. Stephen joined Boost Mobile in 2020. Prior to that, he co-founded FreedomPop, which provides free data, text and VoIP and sells mobile phones, tablets and broadband devices, serving as its CEO until its sale in 2019; he also co-founded Woo Media and the WooMe dating service. He holds an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a Masters of Finance from the London Business School.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve always had a rebellious side which got me in trouble as a youngster, but has served me well later in life. Challenging norms and conventional assumptions has translated into an innovative mindset and appetite to disrupt. This has manifested in both entrepreneurial and big corporate settings over my career.

After serving as an senior executive in the UK’s largest incumbent Telecom, British Telecom, I saw an opportunity to leverage new streaming technologies and launched my first Internet company, Woo Media. When I sold it in 2011, I saw an opportunity to bring my Internet experience full circle with my Telecom background and disrupt the wireless space with a digital only freemium based wireless carrier, FreedomPop. At FreedomPop, I raised over 120M dollars and grew it into one of the largest MVNOs in the U.S. before selling it in 2019.

Can you share one of your ‘most interesting’ stories that happened to you in your career?

It was early in the life of FreedomPop. We’d raised a Series A, but were tight on cash. User traction for our mobile hotspot with free data was exploding, but we didn’t have the cash to purchase the inventory needed to meet demand. My head of product got word of an auction where refurbished hotspots were selling, most of them headed to Korea. We went to the dock where the auction took place, won the auction but then had 3 hours to get 600K dollars cash to pay for them — and move 10 pallets off a dock.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and why?

Don’t sweat the small things.

It is easy to get caught up in firefighting and lose the bigger picture. In business, especially in executive positions, it is critical to be able to see the “forest through the trees.”

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Anyone who reaches a certain level of success undoubtedly has had people help him/her get there. I have had multiple people at each step of my journey. One that sticks out specifically is Mark Tluzcz, the Founding Partner at Mangrove Capital and Chairman of Wix. Mark was the first institutional investor who backed me and evolved into a guiding light.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I started FreedomPop to help bridge the digital divide and bring reliable, free mobile service to anyone. Doing this required a new business model and innovation, but that same mentality is what I’m now bringing to Boost Mobile. As will become more obvious over the coming months, Boost Mobile will not only provide a way for everyone to have consistent access to communications, but other essential services that underbanked Americans don’t currently get. Boost Mobile’s recent partnership with XvsX Sports is an example of partnering with former NBA legends to bring affordable wireless services to economically deprived and underserved communities.

Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech or service that you are working on or with? How do you think it will help people?

Boost Mobile cannot succeed by playing the same game as existing incumbent carriers. Our focus will be on leveraging new technologies, business models and services to offer deeper consumer value beyond voice, text and data. While some of these initiatives are still in stealth mode, 2021 will bring them to the forefront of the wireless industry and hopefully change the landscape forever.

How do you think it might change the world?

The world is digital — there’s no question about that. But the industry is still thinking small-scale in what phones and mobile services can really provide to their customers. Internet access is a right, not a privilege, and Boost Mobile is focused on ensuring that no one is left off the grid. With that, we also will be ensuring that access to banking, healthcare and privacy are also accessible.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology or service that people should think more deeply about?

Obviously, privacy is so important. We’re not at “The Entire History of You” in terms of the data on our phones — but we’re getting there. We have banking information, sensitive emails, contacts, credit card details and personal information, all saved on our phones. It’s time not just to think about the Wi-Fi networks you connect to, but what you can do to make your device safer as a whole. It’s something we’re already focusing on at Boost Mobile with the recently-announced Privacy Premium bundle and something I want to make sure we continue focusing on.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to a breakthrough in your efforts? Can you tell us that story?

There was no major tipping point. Rather the opposite: just a steady and persistent push up hill until you look back one day and you’re on top of the mountain.

What do you need to lead this technology or service to widespread adoption?

The biggest thing you need to lead anything to adoption is a willingness to break conventions and disrupt the industry you’re in, and I’ve shown that in my career over and over again. At FreedomPop, I spent at least one day a month handling customer service requests but also built industry relationships with other carriers to widen the pool of acquisitions. At Boost Mobile, I’m focusing on relationships that are new, different and appealing to a broad swath of potential customers who are looking for something better from a mobile carrier.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

I’ve long believed that Internet access is a right, not a privilege, and in a Zoom-heavy world, it’s clear that idea needs to become a true reality. As we live more of our lives online, we need to ensure that that handheld life is as fulfilling and smooth as possible, and that’s what I’m addressing with the team at Boost Mobile.

What are “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each, doesn’t need to be five)

  1. Don’t sweat the small things
  2. Focus on the customer
  3. Focus on the product
  4. Fail fast
  5. Start building vs analyzing

In my initial start-up, I made the cardinal error of trying to predict all the features customers would want and launch a fully backed product. I had a vision and wanted to deliver that vision to customers to a T. However, rarely is the initial vision 100% spot on. More often than not, the vision is adjusted and evolved to match real customer interactions. Given this reality, it still shocks me to this day how much effort is put into conceptualizing and developing features that may never get any real user traction. Rather, I learned my biggest lesson the hard way. That is, get your half baked vision out fast, let the customers dictate how it evolves and which features you should focus your resources on.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Fight through the urge. Push through that urge to change directions. Life and work are full of challenging obstacles but that’s where we learn the most. Following your own path comes with difficulties and you don’t always win, you will lose sometimes. But you can’t win Game 7 without losing three games first. It’s important to always keep going.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Twitter: @stokols

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stokols/

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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