Smartphones

This Founder Launched a $14,000 Smartphone Immediately After Laying Off Employees at His Other Startup

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People in Israel's tight-knit startup community are talking about the reported death, and the odd life, of once high-flying startup Mobli. Mobli raised $86 million in venture funds in six years, some from some big names. 

Mobli's layoffs were first reported by Israeli business Calcalist, and confirmed by Business Insider. Mobli's CEO Moshe Hogeg told us the company has cut 15 employees this week and is closing its Israeli R&D center. Sources are telling us this represents all of Mobli's remaining Israeli employees, although Hogeg insists that the company is not being closed down entirely. He says he's retaining an R&D team in Europe. At its height Mobli employed about 50 people and now only a handful remain, sources tell us.

In Israel, the shock isn't so much that Mobli is struggling. People don't understand how the company has stayed alive as long as it has. It jumped from one failed product to the next.

How is this company still alive?

Mobili sprung to life in 2010 as a photo-sharing social media site backed by starangel investors like Lance Armstrong, Serena Williams and Tobey Maguire. It later landed $60 million from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, it said, for a total of $86 million raised.

For instance, Armstrong used Mobli to share that famous photo of himself with his Tour de France jerseys after he was banned for life by the International Cycling Union for doping.

But then Instagram came along, Facebook bought it, and that pretty much killed Mobli as a photo sharing social network. The company pivoted to other apps. For instance in 2015, it launched an app called EyeIn, a photo service for publishers that let them find photos of events shared on social media sites, launched last year. It shut EyeIn down just two months after it was launched when Instagram blocked the app from using Instagram photos.

"We had to shut down EyeIn two months after launch because Facebook/Instagram blocked us from their API rendering our technology useless," Hogeg confirmed to us.

See 'ya later Slant?

Mobli then moved on to Slant, a news site based in New York for freelance articles. Writers got professional editing and Slant took a 30 percent cut of any advertising revenue their articles generated. Slant hit 4 million readers in a month, published 9,000 stories from 1,400 writers, its editor Amanda Gutterman said her farewell letter in April announcing Slant was being shut down, as reported by Politico. A former employee told us that much of this traffic was generated through paid ad campaigns via services like Outbrain.

Slant later told Politico that it was not closed for good but will be back once the company figures out a new business model. Meanwhile, Gutterman has moved on to a new job at The Dose and the site is not functioning.

Mobli now has a new thing, a new social network app called Galaxia launched in March, where people are encouraged to take on different "personas." Mobli says Galaxia's tech came from a startup it acquired called Pheed. The rumor was it paid $40 million in cash for Pheed, but Hogeg tells us that the true price was really "just a few million."

The people we talked to has marveled that Mobli says it is still in business and can't understand how. Hogeg says that Mobli has been clear where its money has come from: venture investors.

"We've always been very transparent about our funding. Amongst are investors: Carlos Slim, Leo DiCaprio and Kenges Rakishev and all that info is readily available. We raised sufficient funds to allow us to stay in business thus far," he says. Mobli was also famous for being one of the first startups to use NASDAQ's private market, allowing early employees to cash out their shares in the company by selling them to other private investors. 

In the meantime, Moshe Hogeg is focused on a new company, Sirin Labs, where he is president, investor and co-founder, but not CEO. (The CEO is Tal Cohen).

Right after letting staff go at Mobli Sirin launched its product on Tuesday in London: a £9,500 (about $14,000) smartphone.  The phone is aimed at wealthy people who want a fast and stylish phone that also encrypts all their data. Sirin says it raised $72 million in funding and has 85 employees based in Switzerland, Sweden, England and Israel.


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