Sprint's Framily friends and family program offers a good deal -- in theory.
Framily's hook is it gives you a bigger discount as you add more members, with the best deal only coming to groups of at least seven. With so many competing carrier options and people on differing contract terms, convincing that many relatives and buddies to sign up could prove to be a Herculean chore.
Now there's an easier fix. Websites such as FramilyMeeting.com and FramilyList.com, Facebook pages, and even a topic on news and commentary-sharing site Reddit have popped up with the mission of playing matchmaker for lonely Framily members looking to team up for savings. While introducing strangers to each other appears to skirt the intent of a friends and family program, these resources have fueled interest in Framily.
Sprint doesn't mind. "We are for it and these sites reflect the excitement around the Sprint family plans," said a company spokesman, adding that Sprint doesn't have an official relationship with these sites.
The nation's third-largest carrier by subscriber base needs all the help it can get. For first fiscal quarter, Sprint last week reported a net loss of 220,000 subscribers -- a number that actually represents an improvement over the rate of customer defection it suffered in the last year. It warned the following quarter would see continued customer losses.
The competition has also intensified, with Sprint's rivals all offering group plans that undercut Framily at the lower level. A group of four people under Framily would still pay a total of $160 a month, far higher than the $100 plan for four people offered by T-Mobile. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has said the company was testing out plans with more affordable offers.
Which is probably why Sprint's isn't too annoyed by these sites. If people can find more Framily members, they will be more likely to stick around.
Helping the Framily out
Sprint unveiled Framily in January. It remains a unique plan in the industry, with discounts ramping up by $5 with each additional member. Unlike typical family plans, each account is managed and paid separately, so there isn't any sharing of data, minutes, and -- more importantly -- liability. The company touted it as the fastest growing plan ever, adding that it hit the 1 million-customer mark in fewer than 40 days.
Entrepreneur and consultant Paul Boudreau was among the first to sign he and his wife up with Framily. Because he was an existing Sprint member, he couldn't join an existing Framily plan, and had to start his own. He then set about trying to find other members, using Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, and Twitter to get the word out.
"I thought it would be easy to fill it, but it was really hard," Boudreau said in an interview. It took him 30 days to get to 10 members.
Boudreau's efforts had triggered interest in other Sprint customers looking to join his Framily plan. "The spigot was turned on," he said.
The San Diego native attempted to play matchmaker on Facebook for a while when he realized the numbers were getting too big to manage, and he launched FramilyList.com. The site charges Framily members who want to list their Framily ID on the site. For $19, Boudreau guarantees at least seven members before he stops promoting the account. For $39, he will continue to promote it until it gets to 10 members.
More recently, he began to offer a "free refill" option for $27, which promises seven members for the plan. If someone drops out, Bourdreau said he would re-list the Framily ID until it gets back to seven members, a handy option since Sprint began offering a 30-day money-back guarantee on service. He's said he has helped hundreds of Framily plans get to capacity.
"We intrusively get our invitations in front of people who would join, like deal seekers," he said.
Neurosurgeon Craig Brooker similarly signed up for Sprint's Framily thinking he could easily tap his large family for new members. But he found out that many were on competing carriers or stuck on contracts that ended at different periods.
Brooker, who lives in the suburbs of Seattle, started FramilyMeeting.com as his personal way of ensuring competition and cheaper pricing in the wireless industry, which he felt was overpriced.
FramilyMeeting.com charges a one-time fee of $15, allowing them to list their Framily ID, last name, and the last four digits of their phone numbers, information that a Sprint sales representative may ask.
The more than 300 Framily members who have paid to be listed on the site got to 10 members, with virtually all of them hitting that mark within a week, he said.
While it's good business for folks like Boudreau and Brooker, both justify it as a useful tool for Sprint. Brooker said he had heard Sprint employees have used his site to convince customers to sign up with Framily.
There's one other site both Boudreau and Brooker recommended (they were cordial about each other's sites): FramilyCodes.com, which is structured more like a forum, but also charges $15 to be listed on the site's "hot list."
Reddit and Facebook too
The popular sharing site Reddit has a subreddit, or a page with a specific topic of conversation, dedicated to SprintFramily, and one of the administrators claims to be Sprint employee.
There's also the Sprint Framily Plan Builder, a page on Facebook that allows members to post their information.
These resources are particularly helpful for an existing customer. A new customer can join any Framily plan, but an existing customer must create a new one, putting them on the hook to fill it up with members.
When asked about the possibility that Sprint shuts down Framily and opts for a new set of wireless plans, Brooker said he was fairly open about it shutting down. Boudreau said he has a lot of momentum with the site and is confident he could do something with the following it has garnered.
Sprint doesn't appear to be abandoning Framily, even if it offers other options. Hesse has even called Framily a platform for additional services, such as its offer for discounted Spotify services based on the number of members.
But even Hesse didn't see this coming. "They probably didn't anticipate this kind of business model," Brooker said.