RInging Bells founder and CEO Mohit Goel is in news again, and no, the Freedom 251 smartphone, has nothing to do with it. Goel, who once made international headlines by offering the world’s cheapest smartphone, has been arrested by the police in an extortion case along with two others. Goel has been accused of allegedly trying to extort money for settling a rape case in Delhi. More details are awaited.
Goel has been on and off the news since 2016, the year that his company, Noida-based startup Ringing Bells Pvt Ltd, announced the Freedom 251: a full-scale smartphone for an unbelievable price of Rs 251. A promise that was largely vapour, as it turned out later. Interestingly, Goel was quite upbeat about delivering the Freedom 251, to all those who had pre-ordered the phone, before the whole thing went kaput. Until December last year.
Let’s go down memory lane, shall we? Just to refresh things. It all started in early 2016, when Ringing Bells hosted a glitzy media event to announce the Freedom 251. Because the phone in question was touted as the cheapest smartphone in the world, the Freedom 251 grabbed headlines, almost instantly. In India as well as globally. Everybody was talking about the Freedom 251. And Ringing Bells, a company nobody knew nothing about.
Originally, Ringing Bells had claimed that the Freedom 251 will be in the market/in the hands of the buyers starting from the end of February 2016. The company started taking pre-orders around the same time, and quite obviously, it received a phenomenal response. Everything was done online, and via the company’s own dedicated website. Cash on delivery was not an option, to begin with. Around 30,000 customers paid for the Freedom 251 and pre-ordered the phone online and about seven crore people registered to buy it when it went on sale.
February came and went. But the Freedom 251 deliveries were no where in sight. The company then came up and announced a June window for delivering the word’s cheapest smartphone. Ringing Bells initially promised to deliver 25 lakh Freedom 251 smartphones before June 30. It then lowered that number to just two lakh units and said that deliveries will commence from June 30. Then, it went on to postpone the date to July 2, but, did not keep that promise either.
Goel was quite upbeat about delivering the Freedom 251, to all those who had pre-ordered the phone, until December last year
Amid all the delays, there was lots of hue and cry, especially among people who had already paid for the handset. But we’re still waiting to get their hands on it. Meanwhile, there was another group of people who was waiting for Ringing Bells, to begin a second round of pre-orders. They’re still waiting for it, by the way. Bowing down to pressure, Ringing Bells apparently returned all their money, and announced cash on delivery option for selling the Freedom 251. Remember, it was still to deliver even a single handset, at this point of time.
In July 2016, the company announced, that it will start delivering the Freedom 251 to buyers from July 8. It will deliver 5,000 units of the Rs 251 smartphone in the first phase, and in all a total of 2 lakh units will be available for grabs. Buyers will be chosen on a lottery basis. Buyers will have to pay a sum of Rs 40 additionally as delivery charges.
Although Ringing Bells claimed that it successfully delivered 5,000 units, no new numbers have been shared since.
BUILDING CASTLES IN THE AIR
In a letter written to PM Modi dated June 28, 2016, Goel had sought the Government’s aid to ensure timely delivery of the Freedom 251 phone to all citizens at the same price. He had requested the Government of India to invest a financial sum of Rs 50,000 crore in his project, so 75 crore people of India could buy the Freedom 251. The company however did not seek a subsidy from the Government, and ensured it wasn’t getting any as previously reported.
Ringing Bells was looking at economies of scale, and claimed, there was a method to its madness. The Freedom 251 cost it Rs 1,180 to make, it said, although the Indian Cellular Association has argued it wasn’t possible to make a phone for less than Rs 2,000-2,500. Ringing Bells was selling the Freedom 251 at a loss of Rs 930. That number was likely to go down further if it ordered more units, lower still if it could order 75 crore.
Goel and Co. have backtracked on every promise that they have made to their customers
The Freedom 251 was said to be locally assembled in Haridwar. The company even claimed that it was sourcing as much as 60 per cent components locally, and dreamed of a future where it would manufacture 100 per cent in India.
Ringing Bells said it was looking at an investment of 70-80 crore to begin with, out of which about Rs 23 crore had been allocated to the Freedom 251 smartphone. The company also claimed that it had managed to amass 280 distributors pan-India and investment from these would entail in Rs 10 crore. Ringing Bells didn’t name its investors though.
Goel spent six months in jail in 2017, after some distributors filed a case against him, for alleged fraud.
The Ringing Bells founder resurfaced in December last year. To tell his side of the story.
“My vendors didn’t deliver on time and I failed. I need one opportunity to come back clean and provide people handsets by March-April next year,” Goel said. That’s right, Goel announced one more timeline for delivering the Freedom 251, in December last year. Goel also blamed the Government for not supporting his company despite his commitment to Make in India and Start-up India, and his vision of providing every single Indian citizen with a smartphone. Goel added that if the Government would help him now, he could still deliver the handsets by March-April this year.
A LESSON TO BE LEARNT
In case you got lucky and got a Freedom 251, well, congratulations. For all the others, well, better luck next time. Or not. There will be no next time, since Ringing Bells, as of June 2018 does not exist. It has shut shop, and its website is now defunct. And Goel is behind bars, for a totally unrelated reason.