When you think of Miami, images of sprawling beaches, big cruise ships, and a thriving nightlife probably come to mind. However, Miami is also a thriving distribution center for mobile phones, especially to Latin America.
Someone who knows this firsthand is Samuel Ohev-Zion, CEO of mobile device manufacturer BLU Products in Miami. BLU was founded in 2009 and has grown 100% year over year for five consecutive years.
Ohev-Zion was originally born in Brazil, but his family eventually moved to Miami where he got his first start as an entrepreneur. His father was an entrepreneur with multiple ventures and Ohev-Zion feels like he was born an entrepreneur.
The summer after his junior year of high school, he worked at a retail electronics store owned by his father. After deciding that this would be his path, he got his parents’ support to drop out of high school, and his father gave him the authority to manage the retail business.
“You have a lot of college dropouts,” Ohev-Zion said. “Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, so did Bill Gates, but they were at Harvard. So, it’s kind of different than dropping out at 11th grade in high school.”
In his late teens his focused narrowed and he transformed the retail store exclusively into a mobile phone distribution business, supplying phones to other area stores. After growing that business, he merged it with his father’s existing electronics distribution company.
As it happened with the retail business, mobile phones eclipsed the rest of electronics and eventually became the focus of the distribution business. Ohev-Zion and his father grew the company tremendously, and became even more heavily invested in Latin America. Then, in 1998, an economic crisis in Latin America caused the company to go under.
Rebuilding from the ruins, Ohev-Zion founded his Telecel Latin America in 1999. It was solely his own venture. Seven years later, he merged with another company to become CT Miami, but was still operating as a mobile phone distributor.
In seeing the success of entry-level phones, Ohev-Zion founded BLU Products in 2009 to build his own devices. He eventually stepped away from the distribution of other brands’ devices and is focused exclusively on BLU right now.
The company targets Latin America and US, but they are expanding in the five major European markets — Germany, France, UK, Spain, and Italy, and into India.
BLU sold 15 million units in 2014, and Ohev-Zion said they are estimating sales of 20 million units for this year. The company had been manufacturing feature phones, but it will primarily be manufacturing smartphones from now on.
Part of the reason for the success of BLU is the network of customers Ohev-Zion had and the channels he opened as a distributor.
“When we came out with our product we were able to place it immediately at all these points of sale and all this distribution that we had built up,” he said.
In talking about the mobile market as a whole, Ohev-Zion said that he doesn’t believe it is saturated to the point that some have said it is. He believes there is growth, particularly where BLU focuses, which is on entry-level, cost-efficient devices.
As far as the ecosystems go, Android and iOS clearly have biggest market share, but he considers Microsoft another strategic partner, especially with the impending release of Windows 10.
“We think Windows is definitely primed for growth as far as market share, so we’re also developing a lot of Windows devices,” he said.
Ohev-Zion still sees opportunities for other operating systems as well. iOS has strong customer loyalty, but he said that Google hasn’t been able to get the same type of loyalty through Android. He especially highlighted the difference between Android as a platform and Google Services. He thinks we will see more Android devices that are independent of Google services, created by companies such as Cyanogen.
For budding entrepreneurs, he encourages them to find something they are passionate about and focus less on monetary gain. The money is a way to measure your success, sure, but it shouldn’t be the goal. Once you find your passion, don’t ever stop pursuing it.
“For any entrepreneur, something very important is never to just sit around and look at your success and be content with it,” he said. “Always be in crisis mode. I think one of the most dangerous things that someone can do is come to work and be complacent or content with what they’ve been able to achieve.”
In his own words…
What do you do to unplug?
“Outside of work, my main hobby is my children. I have five kids between the ages of 11 and three. So, when I’m not at work that’s really my only focus — that’s it. There’s really not much outside of being able to be a good parent to the kids.”
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
“Most of my reading is emails. Unfortunately, I haven’t turned on a TV or sat to read a book in lord knows when. I do keep up with all the technology websites, but outside of work and family there really hasn’t been time to unwind.”
You speak four languages fluently, how did you learn them?
“As a child we moved frequently. I was born in Brazil, and that gives you the Portuguese there. My parents, I still speak Portuguese to them today, they’re Brazilian. Being raised at home, we only spoke Portuguese in the house, and I’m still a Brazilian citizen. From Brazil we moved to Panama. My education there was in Spanish. Picked that up. Obviously, I’ve improved it tremendously and practice it everyday being in Miami, where it’s a very Latin-focused environment. And then, Hebrew was just through education at school. Throughout my younger years, I was at Hebrew school. It was all picked up in my younger years and since I still practice it today, I’m still able to use all four languages.”