April 23, 2024
Making Connections

Photo: Social Mobile

Robert Morcos' advice to entrepreneurs: "You need a great team. Make sure they're a lot better than you at what they're supposed to do for the organization. They have to be mentally tough because nothing about being an entrepreneur and running a business is easy."

NextGen

Making Connections

Robert Morcos' company designs and customizes smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to serve the needs of a range of industries.

Nancy Dahlberg | 10/10/2023

The Entrepreneur

Robert Morcos, 39
Founder and CEO
Social Mobile, Hollywood

Early Hustle

Robert Morcos was 3 years old when his Jordanian family immigrated to America. He grew up in Aventura, north of Miami, as the oldest of five siblings raised by a single mom, and he says he was always acutely aware that they were not wealthy like his friends’ families. “I was always very entrepreneurial. My mom didn't make much money and I needed money to buy things,” Morcos recalls. At age 8, he started a neighborhood car wash and soon had many of the local kids working for him.

When he was 15, Morcos skipped school to visit a busy cellphone refurbishing company that was selling to the Latin American market and was owned by a friend’s father. He saw a tremendous opportunity in business and jokes that his friend’s father created a monster. “I left there, and I bought every used phone from every person I knew at the time and would sell them to him for double the price,” he recalls. He drummed up more used phones from his fellow high school students and their families and friends. “I would bring $10,000 of cash to school daily and leave with zero.”

There was greater upside to phone flipping in those days. Most people had an ample supply sitting in drawers, and companies weren’t buying back used phones like they are now. Morcos started making exclusive deals with pawn shop owners to buy their phones. He learned to refurbish broken phones to make even more money and still relishes his early experiences as an entrepreneur. "It was zero employees and less stress,” Morcos says.

Three years later, though, the market changed with a thud. Devices were cheaper, and companies were welcoming trade-ins. Morcos decided to hang up his hustle and headed to Florida State University on a scholarship to study criminology and business.

Advice to Entrepreneurs

“You need a great team. Make sure they're a lot better than you at what they're supposed to do for the organization. They have to be mentally tough because nothing about being an entrepreneur and running a business is easy.”

— Robert Morcos, Social Mobile CEO

Finding a Niche

After graduating from FSU in 2011, Morcos founded Social Mobile with the intention of building a brand of cell phones for consumers. “Worst idea ever. Nobody wants your brand of cell phone. They want Samsung, they want Apple. So, we pivoted in 2014 to private label consumer products and making brands for other big companies like T-Mobile,” he says. That business model was profitable, and they sold millions of devices but “there was nothing really cool about it. It wasn't interesting.”

In 2018, Social Mobile transitioned to what it’s doing today: customizing and designing tablets, smartphones and other Android-powered devices for companies.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Mobile worked with the Orlando-based company VaxCare to create a touch-screen system with a built-in scanner to streamline vaccine management. A handheld version of the device allows medical personnel to administer vaccines anywhere — including curbside and pop-up settings, which became common during the pandemic.

For the online food delivery service DoorDash, Social Mobile builds, installs and maintains the DoorDash-branded machines in the restaurants that receive the orders, as well as the tablets, kiosks and printers.

“We're building wearables for senior living facilities, we're building tablets to improve life in prisons, we're building glucose monitoring systems for a health care conglomerate,” Morcos says. Enterprises found that piecing together commercially available technology and then managing it all was "a huge headache," especially in highly regulated industries like health care. Providing them a single global product line almost always ends up saving them money, too, he says.

The ‘Scenic’ Route

Morcos has built Social Mobile into a success story, ranking on the 2023 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for the second consecutive year. Also this year, the company was named as an Android Enterprise Gold partner, making it one of just 15 device manufacturing partners in the world receiving Google’s highest endorsement.

Because contracts with enterprises have long sales cycles, the enterprise business began taking off in 2020 and today is “highly profitable,” Morcos says, declining to disclose revenues. To date, Social Mobile has deployed more than 12 million devices globally, he says.

“We’ve basically taken the scenic route on this entrepreneurial journey,” says Morcos, noting that Social Mobile has never taken venture capital and has no outside investors. That’s allowed Morcos to make strategic adjustments and scale at its own pace without outside pressure. This year, the company secured a $35-million senior credit facility (a flexible type of business loan) from Citi. “We've got a solid pipeline for growth now,” he says, particularly in the health care and retail verticals. “Defense is the holy grail.”

What’s Next

In the next two years, Morcos hopes to triple Social Mobile’s health care business and expand its foothold in the defense industry, while growing the company’s design capabilities. The company recently won two federal Small Business Innovation Research contracts from the Air Force Special Operations Command to build military-grade 5G handheld and chest mountable mobile devices with satellite communications functionality.

A new 20,000-sq.-ft. headquarters in Hollywood will likely be completed this year that will allow the company to expand software design. Social Mobile also has opened an office in India.

The firm employs nearly 100 people, including a leadership team with deep experience in technology, manufacturing, operations and sales to large customers. “We’re bringing in more people, more experts, to continue to grow the business and obviously meet the demand that we have,” Morcos says.

Tags: Feature, NextGen, NextGen

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