How Ryan Reynolds grew telecom startup Mint Mobile
Ryan Reynolds has assumed many guises since he shot to fame in the 1990s. And while the Deadpool star has become a widely recognized actor, he’s also become closely associated with his two brands—Aviation Gin and Mint Mobile. He bought stakes in the companies in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and has become their brand ambassador, delivering jokes and his signature quirkiness in commercials.
On Wednesday, Mint Mobile, a mobile phone network known for some of the cheapest prepaid plans in the U.S., was acquired by T-Mobile for $1.35 billion. Reynolds, who owns an estimated 25% stake in Mint Mobile, will receive about $300 million from the deal, the Wall Street Journal reported. He also sold Aviation Gin in 2020 for $610 million; his stake in the company is unknown.
Inception of Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile, started in 2016 with the goal of creating an “affordable, premium wireless service,” has unlimited plans that cost as little as $15 a month. For comparison, other major U.S. service providers’ basic plans start at $30 and above.
The founder of Mint Mobile, David Glickman, was on the board of a Parkinson’s disease research foundation with Reynolds, and that’s when Reynolds first heard about the company.
“I have a lot of employees whose phone bills I pay, so I decided to try it out and wound up saving money,” Reynolds told Fortune in 2021. Once he came on board, he said he was involved in every part of the business—even the “unsexy” ones that weren’t related to marketing, like customer service.
Between 2017 and 2020, Mint Mobile’s revenue increased nearly 50,000%, with much of its subscribers signing up thanks to Reynolds’ presence in marketing campaigns, TechCrunch reported. That included TV commercials and a full-page Super Bowl newspaper ad.
“His reach has given us a much bigger platform to speak on. I would say he is absolutely critical in our success and our growth,” Mint Mobile’s chief marketing officer Aron North said in late 2020 about Reynolds.
Following Reynolds’ purchase of a stake in Mint Mobile in November 2019, downloads of Mint Mobile’s apps soared 34% in the following twelve months compared to the preceding 12-month period, according to Abraham Yousef, senior insights analyst at analytics firm Sensor Tower. He added that the number of monthly active users of its app in February was up 82% from a year earlier and up 254% from two years prior.
Reynolds spearheaded initiatives that emphasized gaining customers through low prices rather than maximizing profits. In one example of its cost controls, the company exclusively sells its plans online rather than through physical stores so it can avoid real estate costs. Mint Mobile has also avoided the high cost of installing mobile infrastructure nationwide by paying T-Mobile for use of its network.
As a private company, Mint Mobile has made little information public about its subscriber numbers and revenue growth.
In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, Reynolds said phone connections were an “essential service,” and said that he and his marketing firm, Maximum Effort, were always looking for less-glamorous, yet important products for their projects and investments.
One with the ‘Big Wireless’?
T-Mobile, the third largest mobile carrier after Verizon and AT&T, has said it will continue to sell Mint Mobile plans with budget-friendly pricing. And Ryan Reynolds will continue to be Mint Mobile’s brand ambassador.
I never dreamt I’d own a wireless company and I certainly never dreamt I’d sell it to T-Mobile. Life is strange and I’m incredibly proud and grateful. #MintMobile
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) March 15, 2023
T-Mobile’s goal for the acquisition was more about adding customers through competitive pricing to “turbocharge growth.”
“Mint has built an incredibly successful digital direct-to-consumer business that continues to deliver for customers,” Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Over the long-term, we’ll also benefit from applying the marketing formula Mint has become famous for across more parts of T-Mobile.”
The deal is set to be completed next year, and T-Mobile will continue to acquire sales, marketing and digital and other services from Mint Mobile.
“We are so happy T-Mobile beat out an aggressive last-minute bid from my mom Tammy Reynolds as we believe the excellence of their 5G network will provide a better strategic fit than my mom’s slightly-above-average mahjong skills,” Reynolds jokingly said in a statement. “I am so proud of the entire Mint team and so excited for what’s to come.”
Mint Mobile and Maximum Effort did not immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.