A portrait photo of Hakan Koc


June 27, 2023

Data roaming outside the EU still sucks — but the AUTO1 founder’s new startup wants to fix it

Betterroaming is tackling the hurdles of roaming globally

Eleanor Warnock

5 min read

If you’ve ever kept your phone on airplane mode for a week while travelling to avoid getting hit by extortionate roaming fees, German entrepreneur Hakan Koç has something for you. 

The serial entrepreneur is today launching his new venture, simply named Betterroaming.com. The company offers eSIMs — virtual "embedded" Sim cards that you download by scanning a QR code, no tiny piece of plastic needed — and sells affordable roaming plans in 115 countries like Turkey, Japan and the US. 

Koç previously cofounded used car marketplace AUTO1, raised millions from investors, including a €460m round from SoftBank, and took the company public in 2021. The transaction made him and his cofounder billionaires at the time. 


But Koç says he wants to go about building a little bit differently this time — and get the help of a few more grandmas. 

Buying telco assets from a Russian oligarch

The first difference between Betterroaming and Koç’s previous venture: the tech already existed. The eSIM tech was built by a loss-making UK mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), Truphone. Koç acquired Truphone’s assets earlier this year with business partner Pyrros Koussios for £1 — yes, one pound — and incorporated them into a new vehicle, TP Global Operations. 

Truphone’s tech was going for cheap for a reason: the UK government had imposed sanctions on oligarch Roman Abramovich and other Russian investors who had backed the company. Koç and Koussios moved in after getting UK government approval. 

The British company had a few things that made it easy to set up Betterroaming. First, it could issue its own SIMs. Second, while it relied on other telco companies like BT or Orange for antennas, it managed its own data flows. In other words, it had its own “core network”. 

We “basically only [rent] the last mile from our customer’s handset to the mobile antennas and from that point on it‘s all us. Our SIM cards, our pricing, our connection to the internet,” Koç says, comparing Betterroaming to a fintech “having a banking licence and issuing your own cards” while a MVNO without a core network is like a fintech that can only sell a “branded credit card”.

Finally, Truphone had its own eSIM server, which means Betterroaming doesn’t have to pay someone to issue eSIMs. 

With all the pain that comes with roaming, why has no one done this before? Koç says one reason is that roaming charges still bring incumbents significant money. 

Then there’s the “defensive mode” of many telcos; there is no incentive for a company in Turkey to lower roaming rates for someone visiting the country if they don’t think that a UK telco will lower rates for Turks travelling to the UK. “Somebody needs to break that cycle,” says Koç. 

Truphone also had 200 roaming agreements worldwide, another reason the assets were so attractive, Koç says. 

Betterroaming’s power users: founders and Turkish grandmas

Koç also doesn’t plan on spending big money on advertising for the new venture, instead relying more on word of mouth. 


That strategy already seems to be working. Koç meets lots of jet-set founders and leaders, many of whom complain about roaming costs and connectivity. One of those — Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss, who cofounded Soundcloud and ebike company Dance — was one of the first 100 users of Betterroaming and quickly became “a power user”.

“At my mother’s in Stockholm, she has crap wifi and my T-Mobile roaming at her house also sucks, Betterroaming to the rescue! I’ve bought like €50+ of credits with you this month,” Quidenus-Wahlforss wrote to Koç recently. 

The service lets you buy different data packages for a day, a week or 30 days. 

Betterroaming lets users buy affordable data packages.
Betterroaming lets users buy affordable data packages.

But Koç says he’s not just interested in serving business travellers, and given his family’s Turkish background, he talks a lot about empowering “Turkish grandmothers”.

“Following my parents' retirement and their subsequent move to Turkey, my siblings and I frequently travelled to visit them. It was then that we realised the exorbitant cost of mobile roaming outside the EU, even in neighbouring countries such as Turkey. I saw this as an opportunity to address a pressing issue faced by many, particularly within my community,” he says. 

“At least for the Turkish community, whenever there is a good solution, people share it by word of mouth.” 

That meant the product has to be easy enough for a Turkish grandma to figure out. Koç’s team used AI to translate Betterroaming’s minimalist webpage into multiple languages; when Sifted took a look yesterday, there were 32 — from Greek to Latvian. 

This summer, Betterroaming is offering a one-week, 1GB package for $1.99 to Germans travelling to Turkey for holiday. 

“It’s accessible for people who don’t speak English period. We shouldn’t be as focused on digital natives or young people.” 

Betterroaming is also selling direct to businesses, enabling them to roll out eSIMs to phones being used by employees through device management tools like Microsoft Intune and JAMF, or to buy a large allocation of data that can be shared between employees. 

Despite taking VC cash last time, Koç isn’t planning on raising outside capital right now, given the company is operating “cashflow positive or break even”.  

“I wouldn’t raise capital for the sake of raising capital or getting an article about our valuation,” he says. 

“Perhaps that’s the difference with the second time [running a company.] I’ve done the Vision Fund $500m round, the IPO. But when you’re on the other side of it, you’re a bit more relaxed. You ask yourself, ‘Do I have to run at that pace?’ or can I just say, ‘This company isn’t burning money. It’s a phenomenal product, and it can scale as is.’” 

Eleanor Warnock

Eleanor Warnock was Sifted’s deputy editor and cohost of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast. Find her on X and LinkedIn