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Profile: Satellite-phone company lets callers dial from anywhere in the world

Posted: September 2, 2010 6:02 p.m.
Updated: September 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Matt Randall started Bird in the Sky Communications in 2008. The company sells and rents out satellite phones to anyone looking for a means of communication anywhere in the world

 

When Matt Randall started his own company, a satellite-phone rental and sale company, he wanted to open a local enterprise because the Santa Clarita Valley is gateway to areas offering hiking, fishing, boating and desert motorcycle trips.

Established in 2008, Bird in the Sky Communication derived its inspiration from Randall’s days as an operations manager for the photo department at the Los Angeles Times.

He routinely issued satellite phones to domestic and foreign journalists who needed absolute, guaranteed communication on their assignments.

“It was more common to find the satellite-phone dealers in Florida, where the use of satellite phones were commonplace due to natural disasters like hurricanes,” said Randall. Thus the idea was borne to open an outlet locally.

Most business from rentals
Randall, 49, both sells and rents phones, but said approximately 85 percent of his business comes from rentals. “A rental costs $10 per day, and if the phone has to be used the customer is charged $1.50 per minute,” he said.

While searching alternative providers on the Internet, The Signal found that one of the satellite phones Randall rents would average about $1,400 for the consumer to purchase.

And while some companies rent the phone for slightly less than Randall, in some cases, companies charged up to 12-percent more per minute to the consumer.

Indeed, most of the companies were in Florida, New York or the eastern portion of the United States, making rentals more difficult for local residents to obtain.

Typical Bird in the Sky clients are adventurers, Randall said.

“I’ve rented to the Boy Scouts for camping trips, boaters going to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and even people taking motorcycle trips to the high desert or Mexico,” he said.

Randall has rented a phone to a climber leaving for an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro.

He recently sold one phone to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ventura office.

Saving money on a cruise
When Kirk Stinson, 44, owner of Plumbing by Kirk, needed knee surgery, Stinson sought a cost-effective means to stay in touch with his employees.

“I knew my staff was going to have to cover for me while I was out,” said Stinson. “So I sent them on a four-day cruise to Mexico as a way to make it up to them.”

After learning the connection fees for his employees’ smart phones could run Stinson $1,200 for the four-day period, he began working with Bird in the Sky Communications for a better alternative.

Smart phones are any mobile phone that allows advanced computing abilities and connectivity such as the Blackberry or the iPhone.

“Because we use our phones to receive business e-mails, faxes and phone calls, the minute any employee would turn on their phone the data would begin coming into the device, making the charges astronomical,” said Stinson.

“With Bird in the Sky, the charge for a four-day phone rental was only $40 plus talk minutes by comparison.”
Stinson sent his employees on the cruise with a satellite phone so that he could communicate and exchange information for a fraction of the expense while the staff enjoyed Mexico.

Despite launching his business during a recession, Randall said, “Business has gone well. I’ve actually had to turn down rentals because all the phones are rented out.”

He would like to expand his business by purchasing more phones.

Preserving power
“The Chamber of Commerce has been a big help in building my business by word of mouth,” he said. He also advertises his business.

The satellite-phone models rented by Bird in the Sky Communications typically remain charged for 30 hours of standby time and three to four hours of talk time.

Asked how practical the phone would be in a disaster area during a power outage, Randall said: “If you keep the phone in off position, it preserves the standby hours and works fine whenever you need to talk on it. The phone can also be charged using your car cigarette lighter, or auxiliary port, just like a cell phone.”

He said solar chargers can also be purchased for $250. “And some companies will buy two or more phones for backup.”

Joining the community
Opening Bird in the Sky Communications gave Randall an opportunity to develop a business that would also help the local economy.

“I found a whole new city once I stopped commuting out of Santa Clarita,” he said. “And opening a local business gave me an opportunity to become part of the community in which I live.”

Bird in the Sky’s business is a mobile service, one in which he typically meets clients at a location of their convenience with a phone and contract. He accepts credit cards and checks as payment.

Bird in the Sky Communications’ website is: birdintheskycommunications.com. Randall can be reached at (661) 406-2499.

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