About five years ago, with his family’s wireless bill skyrocketing, David Morken, founder of Raleigh-based Bandwidth and father of six, set out to develop a cheaper alternative to traditional wireless plans. His company, which sells voice and messaging services to businesses, launched Republic Wireless, a mobile-phone service that uses Wi-Fi calling instead of cellular whenever available (“Calling ahead,” September 2013).
With Republic achieving profitability for the first time in 2016, Bandwidth in December spun it into a separate company, padding it with $30 million for marketing and product development. Started with a team of about five, and coinciding with a $20 million capital raise in March 2011, Republic now has 160 employees and annual revenue of about $100 million, spokeswoman Cherie Gary says. The spinoff made sense because many Bandwidth customers have become direct competitors of Republic, Gary says.
Republic is one of a handful of companies pioneering “Wi-Fi first” technology, which involves sending and receiving calls over less costly Wi-Fi rather than cellular networks since only a small percentage of calls are made out of range of a Wi-Fi hotspot.
“We’ve essentially made cellular towers the backup option,” says Chris Chuang, 38, who co-founded Republic with Morken and is now chief executive officer. The Stanford graduate joined Bandwidth in 2008 and became chief operating officer in 2010. Previous jobs included working as a strategy consultant for McKinsey in Silicon Valley and as vice president of strategic development at Motricity, a wireless company that was based in Durham until 2008. Morken will remain chairman of Republic.
When Wi-Fi isn’t available, Republic’s 300,000-plus customers rely on Sprint and T-Mobile cellular networks. About a dozen phones are offered, including Samsung and Motorola models. Customers also can use existing Android phones by purchasing a SIM card for $5 and downloading Republic’s app.
While Republic’s service is now limited to mobile phones, the company is developing new products to help families communicate more effectively and for times when using a cellphone may be inconvenient, such as at the beach, Chuang says. The company wants to “extend communication into forms that make more sense in those moments,” he says.
“We want to be the next big North Carolina tech company with the stature [of] Red Hat,” Chuang says, referring to the software company that previously occupied Republic’s and Bandwidth’s offices at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus.
As for Bandwidth, Morken told The Wall Street Journal he could take the 325-employee company public in late 2017. “We’ve seen some strong tech IPOs in 2016 break the ice in the market, both in terms of their initial and sustained success,” Gary says. Twilio, a San Francisco-based competitor of Bandwidth, raised $150 million in its June initial public offering and is now valued at more than $2.5 billion.
Photo provided by Republic Wireless
CHAPEL HILL — Prabhavathi Fernandes retired as president and chief executive officer of Cempra, the drug developer she co-founded in 2006. Board member and former United Therapeutics executive David Zaccardelli was named acting CEO. David Moore, chief commercial officer, was named president.
RALEIGH — Bob Geolas joined HR&A Advisors, a real-estate consulting firm, as a partner. Geolas was chief executive officer of the Research Triangle Park Foundation for five years until resigning in September. HR&A has offices in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.
DURHAM — Following a $31 million financing completed in September, Phononic raised $40 million in a financing that included Raleigh-based Lookout Capital and Rex Healthcare Ventures. The company makes solid-state refrigerators and other cooling devices.