Meet the ex-fundamentalist Mormon who left Warren Jeffs' sect and started his own tech company

Daily Mail, UK/August 10, 2015

By Ashley Collman

If Mark Davis had stayed in the fundamentalist Mormon church, he might never have even learned what an iPhone is: the religion bans newspapers and despises technology as the work of the devil.

But today, the Salt Lake City man is free of Warren Jeffs' sect and the brains behind a new technology that could change the way smartphone owners use their apps forever.

Davis' once-in-a-lifetime idea is the Photonn, a device that can project smartphone apps onto most surfaces where they can be manipulated, just like they would on a screen.

While the gadget seems like something that should already exist to any seasoned sci-fi movie fan, it's amazing that Davis could have thought up such an idea and seen it through to completion given his extremely sheltered childhood.
In an interview with Daily Mail Online, he explains how he made such an unlikely transition from tech shunner to tech creator. 

Davis grew up in Short Creek Community on the Utah-Arizona border as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, a group that split from mainstream Mormonism at the turn of the 20th century when polygamy was outlawed.
The oldest of eight children, Davis came from a well-established family in the FLDS community, and knew former church leader Rulon Jeffs, father of the infamous Warren, well.

But his eyes were opened to the possibilities of the outside world at the age of 14, when his mother left the church, taking all of her children with her to live in St George, Utah.

Tragically, Davis' mother Daleen died just a few months later, and a custody battle sprang up between the state and his father, Israel, over where the children would go.

While all of his siblings went back to Short Creek to live with their father, Davis resisted and was allowed to go live with an aunt and uncle in Salt Lake City. 

However, he wasn't free of the church. His aunt and uncle were still loyal FLDS members and made sure he was indoctrinated in the church by enrolling him in Alta Academy, a fundamentalist school then headed by Warren Jeffs.

No longer the unquestioning soldier of the fundamentalist army, Davis was pretty much kicked out of the school after two years and sent back to live with his father.

Back in Short Creek, Davis did his best to fit in with the church and believe in the tenants, but became increasingly disenchanted, especially when Warren Jeffs seized power in the wake of his father's death.

'I got to see the real world and I thought there was more out there, so I became kind of embittered against the church at that time,' he said.

'Computers were not a big deal for Rulon. They were kind of a new concept,' Davis remembers. 'But as time went on and Warren started moving in that became more and more of a big deal. I remember as kids we could play Monopoly and other board games but they became a big no no.' 

And that made an impression on Davis, who loved playing Dungeons and Dragons so much, that he went out and bought new sets every time his strict father caught him playing with friends and threw the game out.

Davis' flair for rebellion had harsher consequences outside of his household, as he began to be targeted in the church.

As a young man coming of age in the church, Davis realized he was being punished thanks to Jeffs' bad opinion of him from his days attending his school.

'I kind of had a reputation for being a wild child,' Davis said. 'He told me you’re not going anywhere in this, you're not going to have a family.'

'I said, ok, alright, screw it. I'm not going to grow up and be a 45-year-old man and not have a relationship and have kids. I'm not going to kiss your [Jeff's] a** forever and maybe you'll throw me a bone.'

By the time he was 23, everyone his age was being set up with arranged marriages - including his younger brothers - while he was being passed over.

Additionally, Davis found Jeffs' new rules to be suffocating.

'The church became more and more radical. Some of the things he was saying and teaching were nonsense to me,' he said.

So in 2002, at the age of 24, Davis left the church and set off on his own, with no family to fall back on in the outside world.

Davis said it was so difficult to start a new life, and that he had to come back to the church a few times when he couldn't make enough to support himself.

On one of the occasions when he left the church, he actually slept on a friend's lawn for several days.

But eventually he found steady work, and once he was stable, he started dreaming of more.

Davis kept going back to his childhood fascination with games, and once his eyes were opened to the world of touchscreen technology, he came up with his first idea for the Photonn. 

This was before the age of the iPhone, so Davis' first idea was to use the technology on gaming consoles like the Playstation.

The idea really took off a few years later though, after the Apple launch of the iPhone, when he met with venture capitalist  Don Mealing, who has helped FLDS refugees in the past.

Mealing told Davis to focus on apps, and to find the right talent to realize his product. 

Davis followed Melaing's advice and he enlisted the help of Lorenzo Swank and Matt Stoker, the founders of Pixio, Utah's first app development company.

Swank and Stoker helped build a prototype of the Photonn based off Davis' ideas, and the product was patented in 2012.

A year later, the device made it's big debut at the Gen Con trade show to much excitement, and companies like Mattel and Hasbro have already expressed interest in the product. 

'Imagine, a kid from the Crick, sitting at the board table with Hasbro,' Davis told the Desert News.

And it's not just Davis' professional life that has been a success. He is now married to a woman named Ashlee who grew up with him in the church. They now have two children, a boy named Landon and a girl named Kyra, in addition to Ashlee's daughter Sadie from a previous relationship.

Davis has also been able to reunite with most of his family. His four brothers and one of his sisters have left the church in recent years, and they have now been joined on the outside world by their father.

Davis was recently able to show his father Photonn, and he says it was a big moment.

'I’d like to say he’s pretty proud. I think he was quite surprised,' Davis said.

'Doing a start up company is hard. The failure rate is around 98 per cent. To survive in today’s market is a pretty phenomenal thing. And given the particular challenges that I had growing up, it is even more likely,' he added.

Three of Davis' sisters remain in the church, and he says he has spent a lot of time trying to get in contact with them, to no avail.

While he may have been forced to splinter from some of his family, Davis says he doesn't regret making the bold decision to strike out on his own and leave the church.

'I look back at it and I think it’s the best decision of my life. My children have never been tainted by this society, or what Warren did. They get to be normal and experience all of the things that I as a child did not get to experience,' Davis said.

Davis and his team at MEP Technology (Make Everything Possible) are currently aiming at having their product ready for sale in stores by the Christmas 2016 season.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos