Gold-plated and diamond-encrusted mobile phones are all about the bling. But the newest entrant to the smartphone arena, from Sirin Labs AG, is all about the technology.
The Israeli-founded, Swiss-incorporated company burst onto the global scene in April with three eye-popping announcements: that it is a new player in the mobile arena; that it secured $72 million in investments; and that its newfangled, high-end phone — set to be released at the end of May — will cost between $10,000 and $20,000.
“We knew there would be huge interest because there’s a gap in the marketplace for this kind of product. We have done our market research, so we knew there’s demand all around the world but the level of exposure even exceeded what we anticipated,” Sirin CEO Tal Cohen tells ISRAEL21c.
Though the price tag of the phone grabbed headlines, the Sirin Labs team stresses that its prospective clientele won’t be fazed.
“Unlike mainstream technology companies where price is paramount, Sirin Labs doesn’t need to wait a couple of years before bringing the most advanced technology to its customers. We can offer them tomorrow’s technology, today. Cost doesn’t influence our decision-making; optimal functionality and quality do,” says Cohen.
“We’re making a phone with specific technologies and we’re pricing it as it costs us to build and distribute,” he adds, noting that it’s not the most expensive phone on the market.
He tells ISRAEL21c that the phone will be a priority for the business community and the uber-wealthy.
“The business community has very specific needs. If you look at the Fortune 500 companies or the FTSE 250, the heads of these companies carry extremely sensitive business information. So we’re looking at thousands of business corporations that have between half a dozen to a dozen people who need to have very secure communication. This market would easily reach hundreds of thousands of business people with a clear need to protect their information and would be happy to get the right device to do that,” says Cohen, a serial entrepreneur and former McKinsey consultant.
As for the uber-wealthy, “There are 18 million millionaires in the world. Double that number are people who are not millionaires but have consumption habits of that category. So we’re looking at 60 million people who have the consumption habits of buying the best product in each category whether it’s the clothes they wear, the watch they have, whatever. These are also people looking at our product.”
Israeli knowhow built inside
Sirin Labs, before it became known as such, was born in the technology ecosystem of Israel. Back in 2012, Kazakh investor Kenges Rakishev invested in the Israeli VC Singulariteam run by Moshe Hogeg, the entrepreneur behind social-media apps Yo! and Mobli.
One year later, Rakishev’s phone was hacked. He asked Hogeg why he couldn’t find a mobile phone that meets his needs.
In September 2013, Hogeg, Rakishev and Cohen, who was an advisor on one of Singulariteam’s projects, decide to join forces to meet those needs.
Cohen set out to build an international team of engineers and mobile professionals.
The trio incorporated Sirin Labs in Switzerland and opened subsidiaries and R&D facilities in Tel Aviv and in Sweden under the direction of Fredrik Oijer, former product director of Sony Mobile.
Israel’s reputation for being a cyber powerhouse is definitely a selling point.
“There’s certainly a role for the Israeli knowhow and understanding the threat landscape of cyber and crafting the right solution for a mobile phone environment.”
The groundbreaking technology packed inside the Sirin phone will have a positive effect on the Israeli ecosystem as a whole, Cohen adds. “It’s a very good thing for tech in Israel to be pushing out the cutting edge of new technologies.”
While companies usually announce big funding rounds, Sirin Labs remained mum on its November 2013 $72 million investment, led by Hogeg, until its April 2016 announcement of the phone’s imminent rollout.
Cohen says that if Sirin Labs sells 10,000 phones by the end of this year, it would count as “a phenomenal success.”
“We’re selling a solution. And we are not trying to gain a huge market share. We’ve developed a product that meets the needs of specific clients. We’re in no rush to sell millions of phones.”
Cohen says the custom-built technology inside the phone is far more valuable than a $10,000 phone encrusted in jewels.
“Of course, it will be made with the finest materials and design, etc., but we’re not creating the bling phone with diamonds on its back. We’re not trying to solve the need for those clients,” says Cohen.
He acknowledges that there’s no such thing as an unhackable phone, but says Sirin is offering “the most secure phone in the commercial market.”
“We’re looking at thousands of business corporations that need to secure phones. There’s a clear need to protect their information and who wouldn’t be happy to get the right device to do that?”
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