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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
'How mobiles made me'
By Laura Cummings
BBC News Online business reporter

As part of a new series on small business, BBC News Online talks to Simon Buckingham, a mobile phone guru who has made his fortune from text messages and ringtones.

"The general consensus was that I was mad as a brush," says Simon Buckingham, describing the reaction of his Vodafone colleagues when he decided to go it alone.

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"I realised that no-one else was going to take the risk with me. But the result is that I owned 100% of the company."

That company - Mobile Streams - began life as a research business in 1998, when Simon published "Data on SMS", one of the industry's first guides to text messaging.

Five years later, it is a multi-million pound mobile content business, with offices on both sides of the Atlantic and contracts with all the major mobile operators.

And Simon is still only 29 years old.

A consuming passion

Timing and knowledge, suggests Simon, are the keys to his success.

I realised we'd made it when we could see the money coming in but couldn't spend it fast enough
Simon Buckingham
Mobile Streams
In 1992, while being sponsored through university by Vodafone, Simon saw the first ever text message being sent.

"I had no idea what an impact this would have on my life. I could see the future, I felt that text messaging was going to be very, very big."

Simon then graduated and was appointed Vodafone's product manager for text messaging.

But he had a growing sense that text messaging was something he wanted to spend more time on, outside the confines of a large organisation.

Online reach

So in 1998 his "madness" got the better of him.

He left Vodafone and wrote "Data on SMS", which he published and distributed via the internet.

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Within a few months, it had sold 30,000 copies.

"Whatever people say about the internet, there's no way I could have done this without it."

By the third day of its online publication, Nokia had ordered enough copies to give one to each of its engineers - a single order was worth $2,500.

"I thought I was in heaven."

The Guru

Reports were just the beginning. For every copy sold, someone was looking for an explanation, some kind of consultancy.

"Timing played its part again - text messaging was just taking off and the industry was looking for a guru to explain it."

Simon filled the role, taking a trip twice around the world to discuss his ideas with network operators, messaging vendors and key players in Silicon Valley, such as Palm.

"I did a one-day workshop for their staff to put together their mobile strategy ahead of their IPO.

"I got paid 20,000 for one day's work," he says, recounting the heady days of his first real financial success.

"It was the dotcom megaboom and people were making out like bandits."

Magic number

But taking three-month trips around the world was exhausting and, however lucrative, not sustainable.

In 2000 it was time for change in Mobile Streams' strategic direction.

Simon's "golden nugget"
Simon decided to register 700 internet domain names, related to all things SMS and text-messaging.

One website - Ringtones.com - became was what Simon describes as "the golden nugget".

The nugget spiralled and "mobile content" - ringtones, operator logos and pictures - became the second arm of Mobile Streams.

"This was the best. I had four people in my flat - me at the desk, a friend on the sofa, another at the top of the stairs, and one at the bottom, shipping out orders.

"It was the boom time. The money was pouring in and we had no responsibility."

Mobile Streams attracted the attention of heavy-hitters, such as Nokia and Orange who asked the company to supply ringtones and services to their brands.

"It was going off like gangbusters."

Ringing up the sales

The business now has publishing deals with nine large music groups - including EMI, BMG and the Association of Composers, Artists and Publishers (ACAP).

In turn, these deals allow Mobile Streams to license content to 50 companies, including Vodafone, BT, Samsung and Sonera 2.

Never hire a friend... the minute you start ordering a friend around, they cease to be a friend
Simon Buckingham
Chances are, if you download your favourite Avril Lavgne song to your mobile, Mobile Streams is ringing up another sale.

The company's recent expansion into the US has also secured partners such as Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer.

For every mobile phone sold, customers get a package of free ringtones supplied by none other than Mobile Streams.

Lessons learnt

But surely it can't all have been plain sailing?

"Never hire a friend," says Simon, when asked if there's anything he would have done differently.

"The minute you start ordering a friend around, they cease to be a friend."

It has also been what Simon calls a "consuming passion".

He has no house, no car, no girlfriend. But he is making money 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"I realised we'd made it when we could see the money coming in but couldn't spend it fast enough.

"We did it the hard way but now we're going to reap the rewards."


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