Jimmy Wales joins The People's Operator, looks to US launch

The Wikipedia co-founder becomes co-chair of UK-based TPO, which raises money for charity and is looking to launch internationally.

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Wales joins MVNO The People's Operator as co-chair. Jimmy Wales / The People's Operator

LONDON -- Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is joining The People's Operator, a UK-based mobile provider focused on raising money for charity, as co-chairman. The company plans to expand to more countries, with the US first on its list.

"I get a lot of pitches for a lot of things, which fall into two camps: they're either well meaning but unworkable, or workable but not that inspiring," Wales told CNET in a phone interview on Monday. "[TPO] has the potential to raise an enormous amount of money for good causes, and I can see how it works."

TPO is a MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, meaning it buys bulk capacity from network operators and sells it on to consumers. Launched in the UK in 2012, its USP is that it passes on 10 percent of your phone bill to a charity of your choice, and donates 25 per cent of company profits to charity too.

Wales met TPO's founder and other co-chair Andrew Rosenfeld socially in London, and will talk about his new role at the DLD14 conference in Munich on Monday. Part of his job will be to take meetings "at the highest level" with major charities, to encourage them to promote TPO and for users to nominate them as their chosen causes. He will also oversee development of software to build an online community around the company.

"Our plan is to open in as many countries as we possibly can," Wales says. "We'll start that process in the coming year. It won't happen [in the US] overnight, but as rapidly as we possibly can." Wales wouldn't name potential MVNO partners and investors, with talks still at an early stage.

The new role won't impact his work at Wikipedia, Wales promises. "I'm very active in the community of Wikipedia, I edit it almost every day, and I'm a very active board member. It's been my part-time work and hobby for many years -- I might have to cut out some travel, which my wife will be happy about."

But what happened to his handsome mugshot asking for our money? "There's a really ugly yellow banner that performs incredibly well. We might use my picture again, but it would have to perform as well as that," he explained.