Simpler and Safer: Why we built Relay

Chris C.
May 4, 2018

Relay is an innovative new device that gives families a safer way to stay in touch. It’s as simple to use as a walkie-talkie, but works everywhere a cell phone works, includes location tracking, and will have other fun features such as music, games, and voice assistant functionality in the upcoming months.  

If you’re wondering why we built Relay, this is our story.

It all started with Republic Wireless, the WiFi-first mobile carrier we launched in 2011 with a mission to provide remarkably simple and affordable ways for families to stay in touch.  Since then, we’ve saved our members over $500 million on their cell phone bills. But more recently, we saw a need emerging that even the most affordable smartphones couldn’t solve. Young families, like many of our own, needed simpler and safer ways to communicate. That’s why we expanded our mission and decided to build Relay.  Read on to learn more details of how all this came to be.

Our first focus

Republic’s first chapter focused on addressing the “remarkably affordable” side of the equation since we hated the absurdly expensive, contractually restrictive cell phone plans that the Big 4 carriers forced everyone to pay back then. We thought that with our expertise in software and network, we could do something about it.

Our technology introduced a new concept into the marketplace—using WiFi in a smart way with cellular to save people money. WiFi is free. It’s all around you. And if you use it whenever possible (and cellular when it’s not) for calls, messages, and data, you can have the lowest cell phone bill possible.

To bring this vision to life, we built a robust technology platform that seamlessly handles the transitions across networks and devices. Over the last 6 years, in addition to over $500 million in savings for our members, it’s helped us earn numerous awards and recognition such as being ranked the #1 prepaid carrier by Consumer Reports for three consecutive years.  

As Republic grew, we saw things in the market begin to change for the better. Have you noticed that cell phone service from the Big 4 is a lot less expensive now than it was in 2011 and that they no longer require contracts (just like us, who never did)? We believe Republic Wireless had a hand in this positive change.

Seeing an unmet growing need

Changes were happening throughout the cellular industry, but we saw a new need beginning to emerge in the market, and, quite frankly, in our own families. A need for not only simpler and more affordable communication solutions, but for safer ones as well.  

You see, we love technology, and celebrate the benefits smartphones bring to our lives. But it became hard to ignore the dangers that phones and screens can create―especially for a company that’s all about phone-life balance™! Our phones are designed to call out for our constant attention. When kids have their own phones, they’re exposed to cyber-bullying, screen addiction, the risk of “stranger danger,” and more―all part of a world they’re not ready to handle.  

Sure, there are flip phones and kid trackers out there. And yes, there are parental controls to block social media apps. But they leave the problem only half-solved. Any device with a phone number, a screen, or the trappings of traditional cellular communication will continually bring dangers and risks that can’t be completely avoided.

But what other choices do parents have?

Smartphones have become these insanely “smart” mini-computers, but the irony is that communication is still “dumb.” Phone communication has been stuck in the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule for some time now. But we began to see that, especially for children and families, it is broken—with very few companies even attempting to fix it.  

The vast majority of the market’s focus and phone innovation has gone into capturing your attention away from the real life (and real people) around you. On our phones, the ads are more personalized, Netflix streams faster, and the camera’s resolution is sharper, tempting us to view the real world through more and more screens and filters. Big carriers even offer discounted family plans to get more screens into your home. But does this really fit the needs of your children, your family, or your lifestyle?

Expanding our mission to design something new

In 2014, we decided to do something about it and set out to design a simpler, safer way for families to stay in touch. We challenged ourselves to stop thinking about adding features to “kid-proof” a phone, or stripping away features until it was “safe-enough.”

Instead, we started from scratch. We designed “kid-up” vs. “parent-down,” with safety woven into every facet of the product.

In the process, we began to question everything we thought we knew about how communication should work. For example, why are there so many steps to make a simple call? If your focus is communicating with your family, do you need phone numbers at all? Does a call really need to ring? Do all calls need to be 2-way calls? Would kids prefer to talk in a more back-and-forth fashion, similar to the way text messages work? And the most controversial question of all: can we build a solution so simple that it eliminates the need for screen, as that would eliminate screen dangers as well?

For four years we designed, tested, and redesigned again. We created countless prototypes as we searched for the best solution.

For more details on “how” we built Relay, check out this story as well.  

The meaning behind our mission

Our drive to develop Relay was rooted in our need as parents, and the valuable freedom we remembered from our own childhoods that we wish our children could have now. We wanted to create a device that would empower our kids’ minds, imaginations, and childhoods without commandeering their attention—unlike the smartphones we saw endangering them. We also wanted to create a simpler solution for our elderly parents, where peace of mind could come with the push of a single button. So we put all our tech and talents to work and built the solution we found missing in the market—and in our lives.  And now, we’re delighted to share Relay with your families as well.

 

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About the author

Chris is the Co-Founder and CEO of Republic Wireless and Relay. But his most important role is being a loving husband and father of four young children, whom he’s eager to provide with technology that safely empowers their childhoods, instead of distracting from it.  

Notable Replies

  1. Dying to know when these will finally be available - I have a watch right now, but really do not like it, and unsure how “safe” it is…and I can call my kids, but they cannot call me. When is the launch date?

  2. swall says:

    We are getting close to announcing the launch date, but are still working hard to complete our beta testing phase and get Relay ready to go. We can’t wait to share more information with everyone!

  3. swall says:

    Also, if you happen to be from the Triangle, we’ve partnered with the Durham Bulls! We’ll be at their Star Wars themed game tonight with a Relay booth. Each time our booth will have a few Relay team members and a handful of Relays on hand to try out. We’ll continue to post here in the Neighborhood with the other dates that we plan to be there :slight_smile:

  4. Will it be before the end of June? I am hoping, with school getting out and friends wanting to stay connected, as well as parents keeping track of their kids, that it would be marketed to the rest of us by then, since I didn’t get the trial.

  5. swall says:

    Although we cannot share specifics of launch dates, it’s a big goal of ours to have Relay available for that exact reason! We know that summer will be the perfect time for parents and kids to get awesome use out of Relay, and we are working hard and fast to make that happen.

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