July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Dan Borislow, whose “MagicJack,” peddled in television infomercials, helped pioneer free phone calls through the Internet, has died. He was 52.
His death was confirmed by Brad Shewmake, a spokesman for MagicJack Vocaltec Ltd., the maker of the device. Borislow was the founder and former chief executive officer of the company, based in Netanya, Israel, and West Palm Beach, Florida.
He died yesterday of a heart attack after playing in a soccer game in West Palm Beach, according to an e-mail today from his friend, Douglas Kass, founder of Seabreeze Partners Management Inc. in Palm Beach, Florida.
The company has sold more than 10 million MagicJack units, which connect to a computer’s USB port or router to enable voice calls over the Internet, according to its website. More than 25,000 retail stores sell the item.
“Dan was a true telecom pioneer whose vision, creativity, energy, passion and single-minded focus was the driving force behind the success of MagicJack,” the company’s CEO, Gerald Vento, said today in a statement. Vento replaced Borislow as the company’s chief executive on Jan. 1, 2013.
Though calls are free, the product isn’t: the latest version, the MagicJack Go, retails for $59.95, plus $35 for annual service after the first year, according to the company’s website.
The device was promoted mostly in television infomercials. “Introducing MagicJack,” said one, “the breakthrough device that makes your monthly phone bills disappear.”
In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Borislow said his invention was borne from desperate times:
“I had a smartphone-like idea, in 2004,” he said. “And I tried like hell. At the time, it was a Wi-Fi phone. We went to Taiwan to where the experts on Wi-Fi were at the time, and we tried -- we must have had 30 prototypes of phones. I just couldn’t make what would turn out like a smartphone.
‘‘So I had $13 million invested of my own money, I had built up a hell of a telecom network while we were trying to make this Wi-Fi phone work -- it was costing almost $1 million a month. So I had to come up with an idea, and fast, and really, out of desperation, I came up with the MagicJack.’’
An avid thoroughbred horse owner and racer, Borislow won $6.7 million in May by predicting the winners of six races at Gulfstream Racing & Casino Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The winning ticket was part of $15,206 in bets Borislow made on the track’s Rainbow 6 betting promotion, according to a report in the Daily Racing Form.
Borislow was born on Sept. 21, 1961, in Philadelphia, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
His interest in innovation started when, as a 12 year old, he acquired a fast lawnmower that enabled him to cut more grass at lower prices than his neighborhood competitors, according to a 2008 profile in the magazine of Widener University, his alma mater.
He received a bachelor’s degree from Widener, in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1984, according to the school, which named him to its board of trustees.
Before MagicJack, he was the founding CEO of Tel-Save Holdings Inc., a long-distance telephone-service provider then based in New Hope, Pennsylvania, which he took public in 1995.
In 2011, Borislow bought the Washington Freedom, a team in the Women’s Professional Soccer league. He renamed the team MagicJack and moved it to Boca Raton, Florida. Borislow feuded publicly and in court with the league, which folded in 2012.
Borislow had two children, Dan and Kylie, with his wife, Shelly, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
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