From Flash Drive To Tiny, Modular Phone
Wed, 08/06/2008
Staff Writer
It’s a presenter’s worst nightmare: after fiddling with the PowerPoint for weeks, the big day arrives, everyone gathers in the conference room, and dozens of expectant eyes stare down at you. But the computer won’t boot. And it suddenly dawns on you — with a shudder — that you don’t have any backup.     Luckily for Israeli innovator and entrepreneur Dov Moran, his frantic pressing of the “start” button worked wonders, and the presentation to investors in New York nearly a decade ago went off without a hitch.     Still, he vowed never to be caught without backup again. And so he set out to ensure that you won’t find yourself in a similarly embarrassing situation, either.   Moran, 52, is the founder and CEO of M-Systems, makers of the DiskOnKey, the first USB flash drive that revolutionized the way we store Word documents, pictures, and PowerPoint presentations, and then transfer them between computers. Today, students and professionals alike carry tiny USB flash drives on key rings; more than 100 million are sold each year. But back in 2000, when IBM first began selling M-Systems’ DiskOnKey, the USB flash drive was a game-changing innovation that allowed people to store more than five times the capacity of then commonly used floppy disks.   In 2006, M-Systems (originally named Moran Systems, until an uncle pointed out that the name sounded like “Moron” Systems) was acquired by SanDisk Corp. for $1.6 billion.      Now, Moran’s at it again. Only this time he’s setting his sights on transforming the mobile phone industry by marketing the lightest modular mobile phone. In 2007, he raised $20 million — including $5 million of his own money — and founded modu, based in Israel’s Kfar Saba. He has since raised an additional $65 million of the $100 million he hopes to raise within the next few months. (Before establishing his first company, he says, “I knew more about raising flowers than raising money. And I didn’t know a lot about flowers.” He’s learned quickly.)      In February, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Moran unveiled modu, a tiny, lightweight phone featuring a domino-shaped insert (the phone’s “guts”), which is just 0.3 inches thick and weighs only 1.5 ounces. The insert can slip into a variety of “jackets,” transforming the cell phone into a GPS device, an 8.2 megapixel camera and even a digital picture frame.     Less is more, Moran says. “Sure, you can buy a jacket that has all the functions in one — an MP3 player, e-mail browsing and a high-speed camera. But when you go to a party in the evening, you don’t need to carry around a large, clumsy device,” he says. “Modu gives you the freedom to be flexible.”     In many ways, modu is really appealing to those who believe that “more is more.” Why lock yourself into a cell phone contract and be stuck with the same phone for two years, Moran says, when you can instead purchase a modu phone and switch “jackets” as often as you change your underwear (or more often, as the case may be). Unlike cell phone covers sold in stores everywhere, modu’s “jackets” will transform the cell phone’s functions and capabilities.     Modu, like the flash drive that preceded it, was inspired by Moran’s day-to-day frustrations. An avid jogger, Moran found it difficult to jog with a large cell phone in hand. “It was such a pain,” he says. One of modu’s “jackets” will come with a jogger’s wrist band; another will come with a shock-resistant, sturdy casing for those, like his son, who want to keep their cell phones handy while playing football.   The company is in the process of signing on mobile operators worldwide, including Israel’s Cellcom and Italy’s Telecom, and plans to launch in Israel this October, with a dozen “jackets,” each to be sold for about 200 shekels.      So when can you get your modu in the United States? Probably not until 2009. Moran confirmed that modu has established a partnership with an operator in the U.S. (which he couldn’t disclose), and said that the phone will probably be bundled with two “jackets” and sold for less than $200.     In the meantime, modu keeps raking in the awards, including recently being selected the “top mobile company” of the AlwaysOn Global 250 (past winners include YouTube). And in March, modu was awarded The Guinness World Record™ for the world’s lightest mobile phone.     Although humble about his own capabilities, Moran is planning big for modu. The company is poised to be a game changer in the cellular industry, he says. “By 2011, we expect to be one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world.”      E-mail: Tamar@jewishweek.org