Robert Morcos was in the cell phone business long before he launched Social Mobile a decade ago.
He started as a 15-year-old with a simple goal: Make some extra cash. To do that, the North Miami native looked to one of the most financially successfully people he knew.
“I had a friend who’s stepdad had a private jet, a yacht, expensive cars,” Morcos said. “I asked him, ‘What do you do, man?’ And he said he bought old cell phones, repaired them and resold them to clients in Latin America.”
To Morcos, it seemed impossible that someone could get rich by selling old cell phones. This was in the 1990s, a time when it wasn’t easy to offload old devices, he said. If a person bought a new phone, the old one most likely went into a drawer to collect dust.
Morcos began to buy old cell phones from friends, classmates, teachers and local pawn shops. Then, he sold them to his friend’s stepdad at a profit.
After graduating from Florida State University, he started his own cell phone company for under the Social Mobile brand. It was pretty much a disaster, said Morcos, who admits he “had no idea” what he was doing.
So, the Hollywood-based company pivoted — first, to an enterprise model where it made custom mobile devices for businesses under the Social Mobile name. Then, to a private label model, with Social Mobile creating bespoke Android phones and tablets for businesses under the client’s brand name.
That makes it possible for businesses to get the devices they need without having to settle for tools made for a consumer market.
“We had one health care client that used to buy iPads for $800 each and then go and pay another company to drill out the cameras and refinish it to comply with HIPAA laws,” Morcos said. “So we said, let us build you an Android tablet without a camera for $350 instead. The value proposition is unmatched.”
The custom devices are labeled with the client’s name and made to accommodate its user interface and technology systems, Morcos added.
The numbers prove there’s demand for Social Mobile’s tech solutions. The company reports its revenue grew 88% to reach $46 million in 2021, fueled by the popularity of its T8, a tablet designed for the restaurant industry. The device is made to withstand intense environments, such as hot kitchens, for ventures dealing with an influx of online and to-go orders.
Morcos is especially proud that the firm managed to reach that milestone without having to turn to outside investors. Social Mobile, he said, is completely self-funded — not that it was easy.
“It took ramen noodles, no sleep, gray hair and everything between to make it work,” he added.
There are some disadvantages that come with bootstrapping. Morcos said he’s run into clients that prefer to work with tech businesses backed by venture capital firms and recognizable investors, as if that outside capital is a marker of credibility. But he’s not sure Social Mobile would have been able to make the pivots it needed to succeed if the venture had to answer to investors from its inception.
Now, Social Mobile has a new client interested in its bespoke devices: The U.S. Armed Forces
The firm is in the process of designing next-generation wearable devices for the Air Force, Morcos said, a process that involves collaborating with the military branch to understand which tools are most valuable to active duty personnel. Social Mobile was selected to develop the prototype, but will need to receive approval from the Air Force before it can build the actual prototypes.
“Like our other clients, there’s no reason the Air Force should rely on consumer devices retrofitted to serve their purposes. They clearly need something of a different caliber,” Morcos said. “That’s where Social Mobile comes in.”
For more stories like this one, sign up for Miami Inno newsletters from the South Florida Business Journal and the American Inno network.