A Carpenter’s Word

Marcos Prieto

A need, an idea, lots of persistence and, finally, success. Meinrad Spenger could be just one more among many successful entrepreneurs, but there is something special in the story of this 41-year-old Austrian who a decade ago decided to revolutionize the cell phone market in Spain. You can see by the twinkle in his eye and his passion as he explains to participants in the IE Venture Day Madrid how he turned MASMOVIL into the fourth largest operator in the country. And he hasn’t stopped embarking on new ventures.

He learned the trade of carpenter and studied Law at the universities of Graz and Trieste. Then he would complete his education in Madrid where he earned an International MBA at IE Business School, graduating first in his class. It was the year 2000 and Spenger was about to begin work as a telecommunications consultant at McKinsey. He was there until 2006, when he founded MASMOVIL along with a Norwegian, Christian Nyborg. The project was a result of Spenger’s negative experiences with Spanish phone companies and the services they provided.

“There were only three competitors in the sector, and we saw a chance to get into the game. We were very naive and thought we’d get very rich very fast –or go bust just as quickly. We had lots of problems during the first two years. It was a long haul, but it was very important that we were two partners, because one alone would have decided to go home.”

The difficult beginnings of MASMOVIL didn’t discourage Spenger, who applied to this business venture an irrefutable rule from his years in carpentry: “the important thing is to finish things.” This was the time of the economic crisis in Spain and the rest of the world. MASMOVIL was without funds, and in 2009 it was necessary to secure another round of financing. “We learned a lot about efficient growth,” says the MASMOVIL managing director, after recalling that at the time the company had only 15 workers.

This new operator had to find the way to compete with others that already had their own infrastructure and that, in addition, were beginning to add to their mobile phone offers such services as fixed-line telephones, internet or pay television. “We wanted to offer good services at a good price and we became the best alternative,” Spenger recalled.

In 2012 MASMOVIL began to be quoted on the Alternative Stock Market (MAB in Spanish), at a time when the increase in the use of data in cell phones had begun to take off. By now Spenger and Nyborg’s project was unstoppable, and the definitive consolidation would come two years later. When Orange bought Jazztell at the end of 2014, the European Commission named MASMOVIL as “the most appropriate bidder” to receive the assets that the resulting new company was obliged to give up.

MASMOVIL then wanted to become the fourth most important Spanish operator after Movistar, Vodafone and Orange. A stunning ascent that would be confirmed last summer when the company bought Pepephone for 158 million euros –“to gain credibility”– and then took over Yoigo for 612 million. Spenger summed up this double acquisition in hunting terms: “If you can’t go after the big game, go for the smaller game first and then you’ll be able to go after the big one.”

High navigational velocity and more services for the client are the basis of the offer of a company that has “common sense” as its watchword, and that also tries to apply it to its investments. With the Yoigo network now at its disposition, MASMOVIL currently aims “to continue growing organically” and “get into new markets.”

As the principal speaker at IE Venture Day, Spenger assured future entrepreneurs that running a company “is not difficult” and that the difference between people who are successful and people who are not “is not great.” Although he recognizes that in the case of MASMOVIL “there was a lot of work and a lot of luck”, he cites concepts like “commitment” and “passion” to explain the highly successful results his team has achieved.

This Austrian businessman doesn’t think that there is an optimum age for becoming an entrepreneur –“some are prepared earlier than others”– and stresses the need “not to try to be the best in everything.” “You need to surround yourself with people who fit into your corporate culture before trying to find people with experience in the sector.” And this from someone who, when his company was just beginning, demanded that job applicants share at least one of his two passions, “skiing and playing football.”

In spite of having made MASMOVIL an example of organic growth, Spenger doesn’t neglect the need to assume risks so as to achieve objectives. “It’s better to do something wrong than not to do anything, out of fear of failing. When we bought Pepephone and Yoigo we reinvented the way of making these purchases. The 30 million we paid for Yoigo as a deposit was a risk. Without risk, there’s no fun.”