People in Israel’s tight-knit startup community are talking about the reported death, and the odd life, of the once high-flying startup Mobli.
Mobli raised $86 million in venture funds in six years, including from some big names.
But the company made cuts this week in layoffs first reported by the Israeli business newspaper Calcalist and confirmed by Business Insider.
Mobli’s CEO, Moshe Hogeg, told us that the company had cut 15 employees this week and was closing its Israeli research-and-development center.
Sources are telling us that this represents all of Mobli’s remaining Israeli employees, though Hogeg insists that the company is not being closed down entirely. He says he is retaining an R&D team in Europe.
Mobli employed about 50 people at its height, but sources tell us only a handful remain.
In Israel, the shock isn’t so much that Mobli is struggling – it’s that 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?
Mobli sprang to life in 2010 as a photo-sharing social-media site backed by high-profile angel investors including 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.
Perhaps the highest-profile photo shared using Mobli was Armstrong’s notorious photo of himself with his Tour de France jerseys after he was barred for life by the International Cycling Union for doping.
But then Instagram came along and Facebook bought it, and that pretty much killed Mobli as a photo-sharing social network.
The company pivoted to other apps. In 2015 it launched an app called EyeIn, a photo service for publishers that let them find pictures of events shared on social-media sites.
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% cut of any advertising revenue their articles generated. Slant hit 4 million readers in a month and published 9,000 stories from 1,400 writers, but its editor, Amanda Gutterman, announced in her farewell letter in April that 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 by services like Outbrain.
Slant later told Politico that it was not closed for good but would be back once the company figured out a new business model. Gutterman has moved on to a new job at The Dose, however, and the site is not functioning.
Mobli now has a new project, a social-network app called Galaxia that launched in March, in which people are encouraged to take on different “personas.”
Mobli says Galaxia’s tech came from a startup it acquired called Pheed. The rumor was that 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 have marveled that Mobli says it is still in business and can’t understand how.
Hogeg says Mobli has been clear where its money has come from: venture investors.
“We’ve always been very transparent about our funding,” he says. “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.”
Mobli was also known 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.
- Sirin Labs
A $14,000 phone
In the meantime, Moshe Hogeg is focused on a new company, Sirin Labs, where he is president, investor, and cofounder but not CEO. The CEO is Tal Cohen.
Right after employees were let go at Mobli, Sirin launched its product on Tuesday in London: a smartphone for about $14,000, or 9,500 pounds.
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.