Unique corporate service relies on good human nature

Last week I was on a call with Frank Hannigan, Managing Director of YouGetItBack.com, and quite possibly the best thing to come out of Ireland since Guinness.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Last week I was on a call with Frank Hannigan, Managing Director of YouGetItBack.com, and quite possibly the best thing to come out of Ireland since Guinness.

YouGetItBack is a lost and found company, the idea created in 2004, probably from a drunken argument about losing a prize-winning sheep. While it took until 2006 for the company to thrive, during this time they researched every point, angle and perspective, and concluded that losing your stuff is a universal, worldwide problem. However, finding your lost things is a much bigger issue.

Business partners and customers end up losing things in hotels, airports, train stations, taxis - the stats are absolutely huge. He told me there was an estimated 1 billion items lost last year, usually a laptop or a mobile phone, with just over 1 million mobiles being lost or stolen in the UK alone. The bigger problem is the data stored on these devices; potentially the biggest problem is the data being lost forever or getting into the wrong hands.

In his illustrious Irish accent (seriously, I love it), he told me:

"The cost of lost property is immense; not only to the individual but to the businesses as well. The service we have connects people together with their lost items - the two main items of course, being the laptop or the mobile phone."

"We started out with stickers, key-fobs, things you can physically attach to the device. The more we progressed; we designed an application that sits on these devices. This essentially creates a network of lost items which then, we can connect it all back to the owners."

Over the time that the company was finding its feet, mobiles essentially became "old news" when the BlackBerry came out. You could topple a company with the information from a stolen BlackBerry, but not a mobile phone as such. With the application they've created, it gives peace of mind to the owner and the businesses - it protects the data, it takes a snapshot of the data and uploads it to a server, but also connects it to part of a global recovery system. He explained, "there's around 8/10 chance you'll get your Blackberry back, but all of the time you'll get your data back."

The system works like this.


Whether you're a business or an ordinary consumer, even on the chance you don't get your device back, there is a silver lining to it after all.

Each tag on each device has a unique code which can then be relayed to a member of support staff in the call centre. Once it's verified, the staff will do their best to negotiate terms on retrieving the device at no cost to the person who found it. Not only that, a reward is given in return of the device. If however, the device cannot be found and seemingly lost forever, YouGetItBack negotiates the insurance for you, so ultimately you'll always end up with a device, whether yours and recovered, or brand new from no recovery.

I asked about the effect this has on the police and other law enforcement agencies; considering this could be seen as a "conflict of interest" service:

"So far so good; the police love the service. The airport police in Ireland help out with personal input and experience. The National Mobile Phone Crime Unit in the UK were a little suspicious at first, as many companies have tried this creating a service like this before, but nobody has come back with a service that works."

He spoke to me about talking to other departments in Europe and many were sceptical, to the point of saying, "well knock yourself out." The entire team has a big development background; many have come from Motorola so there are skills there ranging between hardware and software.

The biggest worry they had was that the service they had thought of would be impossible. It had already been a struggle to get to the beginning stage; the raw power needed to get it to a workable state, even on a small scale, was incredibly difficult. The Irish Government saw this as a huge opportunity to step in, and with one after the other lining up, the investors came thick and fast.

"We sell to the consumer, but the website isn't too important. The website is there as a company placement, to get us out into the world. Our main focus is getting the large corporations in telecoms, retail, government, financials and insurance on side, and by working with them we can sell them a solution. Our big target for next year is to get 10 million people protected."

While researching the company, I noticed how many positive reviews and press they've had over the last couple of years.

"We're very modest; we don't think we're brilliant. It's a huge problem globally, and it's a universal condition - humans tend to lose things".

YouGetItBack is unique in the respect it relies on the good will of mankind and human nature for it to work effectively. Those in business and industry, government especially, will know there is no such thing. Wrong.

Readers Digest tested the system by leaving 30 phones around different cities, and seeing how many phones they would get back using the YouGetItBack system. Ranging from New York to London, Sao Paulo to Moscow, Helsinki to Bucharest, nearly all of them got at least half of them back. Sweden, Canada, South Korea and Stockholm got over 26/30 recovered and back to the "owner". Out of 654 mobiles, 68% of them were returned by the good kind human nature of ordinary people.

An important question though which I could relate to. I'm on the O2 mobile network, and with my calls I get access to the O2 Bluebook which keeps all the stuff in your mobile safe. I'm on the right network, it's provided for free, so why go with another service?

"In Spain, the US and the UK, many providers have a free service anyway. If you already have a backup service, we can link in our service. The O2 Bluebook is stunning but to be fair, ours is equally good. If they already have it, we'll include ours but we won't compete with or pressure our clients. We'll integrate whatever we've got, but only if they want it. The simple fact is, our service can easily wrap around any existing system."

I don't get impressed by much very often, but when I do, I get impressed. Not only do I feel great things for this company, the managing director is someone with whom I can really get on. He lightened up a dark day for me, and the company he's built is offering a valuable and competitive service.

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