• Media
  • Jul 19, 2016

Former Telstra boss Sol Trujillo to join board of tech start-up Unlockd

Controversial former Telstra boss Sol Trujilllo has signed up to sit on the board of Australian telecommunications and advertising start-up Unlockd.

The American businessman is one of a number of industry heavyweights recruited by Unlockd as the start-up looks to shift gears.

The company has also lured former Virgin Group co-CEO David Baxby on to its board, with Unlockd co-founder and chief executive Matt Berriman saying that it was time for the start-up to shore up its human capital at an executive level.

“Now more than ever it is important we focus on the growth of our human capital to ensure we are better equipped to maximise future investment,” Mr Berriman said.

Unlockd has also appointed former Atlassian group product manager Craig Rees as chief product officer and Ashley Conn, an executive director of Goldman Sachs’ Mergers and Acquisitions Group, as its chief financial officer. Prior to joining Atlassian, Mr Rees was head of digital technology at Vodafone Australia.

The flurry of activity at management level would indicate a substantial uptick in Unlockd’s ambitions in carving out a niche for itself in the advertising and telecoms sector.

Unlockd delivers targeted advertising to users when they unlock their smartphones. In return, the telco rewards the users with discounted data plans and extra credit.

The start-up has so far secured $15 million from its coterie of heavyweight investors — which include Lachlan Murdoch, former Seven Group chief executive Peter Gammell and Catch of The Day co-founders Hezi and Gabby Leibovich — and is said to have received approaches from interested parties for a series B funding.

It also continues to secure meaningful partnerships with carriers, signing an agreement with major UK phone carrier Tesco Mobile last month and launching into the US market with Boost Mobile, a subsidiary of Sprint Telecom, in January.

Mr Baxby said he has been greatly impressed by what Unlockd has to offer.

“Unlockd represents the best of Australian technology entrepreneurs taking on the world and I am looking forward to helping the team in any way I can,” Mr Baxby said.

The presence of Mr Trujillo on an Australian start-ups board renews a somewhat controversial and terse relationship with Australia. Mr Trujillo’s tenure at Telstra from 2005 to 2009 was crucial in delivering the incumbent telco an edge in the mobile space, but is also recognised for Telstra’s abrasive relationship with Canberra.

Mr Trujillo, along with then Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie, fought tooth and nail with then Coalition communications minister Helen Coonan over the structural separation of the telco and was also at loggerheads with the subsequent Labor government over the National Broadband Network (NBN).

After Trujillo left Telstra, he was quoted in an interview as labelling Australia as racist, backward and like “stepping back in time”.

Unlockd was founded in 2014 by Mr Berriman, former News Corp chief financial officer Craig Watt and senior Herald & Weekly Times executive Chris Kerrisk.

After launching in Australia with Lebara Mobile in October 2015, the company has shifted its attention overseas. Unlockd licenses its platform to telcos. It also owns 100 per cent of the advertising inventory, which it sells on behalf of the telco, with revenue-sharing arrangements in place.

The key selling point for Unlockd, according to Mr Berriman, is that it carves out a new viable revenue stream for telcos while allowing them to offer consumers better prices.

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