Issa Asad is the founder and CEO of Q Link Wireless which provides low-income individuals and families with a free smartphone and free monthly wireless service that includes voice, data, and unlimited texting messaging through the government-run Lifeline Program. Today, Q Link is the third-largest Lifeline carrier in the U.S. with more than 2 million customers. Mr. Asad continues to transform the telecom industry with novel customer acquisition strategies, unique approaches to customer affinity and loyalty, and tireless advocacy for underserved populations.
How did you get into the industry?
In the mid-‘90s, I began offering prepaid cards in my convenience stores, and when I saw that there was a lot of potential, I joined Reliable Telecard and i-Prepay, Inc. I developed an electronic delivery system for prepaid products that ended up generating hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and revenue.
After selling i-Prepay, I founded my current company, Q Link Wireless. We supply low-income individuals and families living in America with a free cell phone and free monthly service that includes free calling, free monthly data, and unlimited text messaging through the Lifeline assistance program.
Any emerging industry trends?
Right now, the Lifeline Program is shifting to data-enabled phones for all Lifeline phone users, and this move is supported by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In contrast to prevailing government beliefs, low-income families still use the internet regularly. 85 percent of Lifeline Program consumers use the internet, and that makes a huge difference in the functionality of their phones, as well as how we market to our customers.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
One challenge we currently face has to do with overall changes to the Lifeline Program. The FCC has proposed limiting Lifeline carriers to the companies that own and operate infrastructure. It would ban resellers (like Q Link) from the program and put seven million people at risk. This would cause great harm to rural America, because Q Link Wireless current serves over 1 million rural and suburban customers. You can read more on our petition page here.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
I had just sold my company, i-Prepay, and was waiting for my family on a bench at the mall. A woman sat down next to me, threw her hands in the air, and said “Government phone!” I was intrigued, and I learned that the government was subsidizing wireless phones and plans for qualified individuals – and that was the birth of Q Link Wireless. Today, we employ more than 300 people in Florida and were honored as an “Inc. 5000” company. We were also ranked by Inc. as a “Top Telecommunications Company” for our growth.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We will launch Q Link Mobile, which will compete with companies like Metro PCS and Boost. Our new company will go where the competition doesn’t, offering great service on the same networks for half the price.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I believe that you can grow your business while helping your community in the process. As a Lifeline provider, I am very aware of the challenges many of my customers face, and I feel an obligation to help however I can. Many times, that has helped me promote my business, like when we made over a school meeting room for a nonprofit with a local interior designer, but it’s an ancillary benefit. Ultimately, we give back because it’s part of who we are, and it reflects on my family’s values, too.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
The Lifeline Program has its challenges, especially with licensure. Right now, Q Link Wireless holds licenses in 30 states, and getting each one is a process. In 2017, we were the first Lifeline company in five years to receive a license in any state, so I’d say we are moving forward!
Even though getting our license in Akansas was a challenge, it felt incredible when we finally got word we had pulled through. The state has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, and now, tens of thousands of Arkansans have more options for free wireless service.
I’ve learned that you can’t get discouraged easily in this business, and that, when you work in the technology field, it’s inevitable that people will question your approach. But that doesn’t mean you should stop, especially if you believe in yourself.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I want customers to know we’re there for them, and there have been circumstances where we’ve been able to demonstrate that in absolute terms. For example, after Hurricane Maria, Q Link extended free coverage to Puerto Ricans. We even told the Federal Communications Commission that the government should require carriers to do this after a storm to support victims of a natural disaster.
Ultimately, I want our customers to know that we care about them.
How do you motivate others?
I motivate others by putting in as much effort as anyone else on my team. I work hard, I make sure I’m available, and I welcome any and all ideas from anyone in the company. I encourage the same type of electric curiosity from anyone who crosses my path – that’s how Lifeline came to be, and that’s why it’s an “Inc. 5000” company.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Be on the forefront of change. There are tons of pitfalls and challenges that we have to navigate as business owners, but seeing success is a gift. To simplify – don’t give up.