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Ex-HTC execs can't quit phone game, create startup Kazam

Kazam is a smartphone manufacturer focused on design, customer service, and the European market. But the company faces an extreme uphill climb.

Two former HTC executives are hoping for a fresh start with their own company.

Michael Coombes, former head of U.K. sales at HTC, and James Atkins, former U.K. marketing head for the company, said on Monday that they are launching smartphone manufacturer Kazam. The two executives are promising smartphones that are about "stunning design, robust hardware, and intuitive technology, underpinned with improved customer service. Kazam will focus on the European market.

Coombes will serve as CEO, while Atkins will be the chief marketing officer. The two executives left HTC in March, part of an exodus of several key executives leaving as the company struggles with its turnaround.

"There is a real opportunity for a new mobile brand to disrupt the status quo," Atkins said. "We are passionate about delivering a truly positive mobile experience that doesn't just stop once you've bought the phone."

The company, of course, faces tremendous hurdles, and could very well go from Kazam to kablooey in short fashion. After all, if a company with the resources of HTC continues to struggle with the handset business, how much of a chance does a startup have?

Kazam, which will focus on the European market, believes it can differentiate itself by offering phones that it will continue to support after they're purchased. Considering that smartphones routinely get software updates, the company will likely offer more support than new versions of the software. The bare-bones statement didn't provide any concrete details on the products themselves, noting only that a line of smartphones will launch later this year. Presumably, the company would use Android as well.

"Kazam's dynamic structure and focus on local markets means we can react quickly to the ever-evolving and diverging needs of today's consumer," Coombes said.

But in a market where money, scale, distribution, and brand talks, Kazam is at a distinct disadvantage. It lacks all of those things when stacked up against the two executives' former employer, not to mention giants such as Apple and Samsung Electronics.

Also, in many markets where the carrier plays a dominant role in what the consumer ultimately buys, getting an in with the big companies will be a huge challenge. Fortunately, unlocked phones are more popular in Europe, so there's a potential market for customers who want something different.

But with companies such as HTC, Sony, and LG fighting for the scraps left over from Samsung and Apple, there appears to be little left over for Kazam. Even relatively large companies such as Huawei and ZTE have struggled to get into mature markets despite vast resources.

We'll have to hear more about Kazam and its phone first before making a final call, but for now, the startup is raising a lot of questions about its business with the announcement.

Corrected on June 18 at 11:04 a.m.: This story initially misstated Michael Coombes' title at HTC. Coombes was the head of U.K. sales for HTC.