Louisville start-up Mobile Initiative designs ‘bare-bones’ smartphones

By Chris Otts

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) Mike Dahl said he was on vacation with his family in Mexico last April when his boss told him he and several other employees who reported to him were being laid off.
At the time, Dahl was a Louisville based sales executive for Sonim Technologies, a California company that sells “ultrarugged” smartphones to construction contractors and other industrial employers, he said.
“I have two kids I have bills I never thought I would get that phone call,” Dahl said in an interview Wednesday.
A few days later, Dahl and two friends who were also laid off by Sonim – Stephen Thompson and Brandon Wimsatt – decided to take their knowledge of the wireless industry and start Mobile Initiative LLC.
From an office building in Hurstbourne, the eight person company designs “barebones” phones and tablets for budget conscious consumers and employers, like contractors and trucking firms, who need to supply their employees with devices used for business purposes.
The devices are made in China through contract manufacturing. Dahl, Thompson and Wimsatt said they’re looking to serve markets that are too small to be worth it for major device manufacturers like Samsung and HTC. Beyond the three founders, Mobile Initiative hasn’t taken on other investors, Dahl said, and he declined to disclose the company’s sales.
Mobile Initiative’s first mass market product, called the Ethos, is a $169 smartphone that runs on Google’s Android operating system and includes no manufacturer installed software, or “bloatware”, that slows the phone’s performance.
The devices, which are not tied to a carrier like AT&T or TMobile, will be available next month from the company’s website. Mobile Initiative ordered 3,000 units, but hopes to sell 20,000 to 25,000 in 2018.
The closest competing phone, Dahl said, is Samsung’s Galaxy J7, which sells for about $220.
“People want a very cost efficient, high quality smartphone, they don’t want to be tied to contracts,” said Dahl, Mobile Initiative’s CEO.
Mobile Initiative is also working on recreating a mid2000s “flip phone” with a push to talk feature, called the RS-1, which will be distributed through TMobile to employer customers like government agencies and HVAC companies, Dahl said.
“We couldn’t believe in 2017 that that was such an indemand product,” Dahl said, adding that the company hopes to sell 35,000 flip phones starting in April.

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