Lots of people confessed they were disappointed when, as many analysts predicted, Apple didn't unveil a new iPhone at its annual developers conference this week. But probably none were as disappointed as Apple fans who are still carrying around old or damaged iPhones, just waiting for the next phone to come out so that they can upgrade.
There are probably more of those people than you think. In fact, AJ Forsythe has made a whole business out of finding those folks. Forsythe is the co-founder and chief executive of iCracked, which lets users summon technicians with the tap of an app to sell or repair their broken iPhones, iPods and iPads. (Just watch out for glass splinters.) Forsythe recently joined The Washington Post's Hayley Tsukayama on the phone to talk about his simple idea. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did the idea for iCracked start?
I started the company about 3½ or four years ago, while I was still a junior at Cal Polytechnic. The original idea came about from personal need. I kept and still break my own phone and devices more than I need to. I've always been relatively good at building things and taking things apart and fixing things, so on about the fifth time that I broke my phone, I decided to start trying to take it apart. I ended up breaking it more than it was to begin with.
But I thought, you know, this is the coolest job in the world. So I started hanging a bunch of flyers in these classrooms around campus. That was the beauty of a captive audience. I was getting students calling me to repair their devices, and that's what I did for the summer of 2010.
Then, I went to a career fair -- I got that nice résumé paper and everything -- and was about to start handing out résumés and talking to people when I realized the last thing I want to do is go for an unpaid internship this summer. So I called my dad and was talking to him about it.
And he told you to go for it?
My dad said, "Why don’t you try iCracked?" I'd always joked that I downloaded the iCracked app [when my phone was broken], and he said, "Why don’t you live in [Forsythe's hometown of] Dallas and work on iCracked?" And I thought, "Maybe I can try and build something greater than just one college campus."
I spent the summer of 2010 figuring out how to incorporate a business, and we brought on some developers in Romania. All of this was still funded by my personal credit card; I probably ran up $30,000 or $40,000 in debt.
Then, in late 2010, I brought on my co-founder Anthony Martin. The whole goal [of iCracked] is not just in the servie. It's the value in providing jobs to hundreds of individuals. We thought about what is so successful on one college campus and how could we do this in cities -- it's basically a business in a box.
How do you select your iTechs?
We have hundreds of people applying to be iTechs. They are run through a vigorous screening process. Actually, we weed out about 90 percent of individuals that do not fit our model.
We've brought on 92 new iTechs in one month; it's crazy to think about. At the heart of what we do is building iTechs and this incredible platform.
So, how does it work?
We had to think about this: How do we put our iTechs in touch with our customers regardless of location in real time?
That came out in two forms. The iTechs all have an application that, as soon as there's a repair request or express sale, they reach out to [the] customer and [the] customer can also reach out to them. The consumer app that we pushed [in April] helps with that. The goal is that you have someone dispatched within 60 seconds.
The other thing we rolled out in November is this "Express Sell." Well, we have these three pillars of business that we’re continually trying to build. We have 555, 560 iTechs that will repair your iPhone, iPod or iPad, and the Express Sell service, which you can use to sell your phone.
You give us information, and we’ll give you an estimate, say we'll give you "n" number of dollars depending on condition. When you accept that quote, one of our iTechs will travel to you. If you say, "Can you meet me at my house or office?" they’ll come meet you. Then they'll inspect the device and verify. This is the future of buying and selling consumer electronics. In 2014 you shouldn't be requesting a mailer.
The Express Sell program can be massive. There are $13 billion worth of unused iPhones in the U.S. right now, and there's not a convenient way to sell.
How do you resell them?
Right now we're selling in bulk to international buyers, The long-term plan is for us to say, if you have an iPhone 5 in the future, we'll do a hot-swap and upgrade on the spot. It will be a seamless experience. We haven’t piloted that yet; that’s something we want to get in the business of doing.
Do you have any plans to work with carriers on this?
One of my philosophies is that I want to build the network ourselves to control. We may grow, will have to grow our own networks. But we don’t want to be tethered to another plan. With the Express Sell program, we could actually use the devices we buy back as the feeder stock, but right now that's just the foot in the door.
We want to build the AAA of your smartphone.
How do you see iCracked fitting in with all these other services popping up, like TaskRabbit, or one that launched here in D.C. earlier this year, Washio?
It will be interesting to see what happens to all of these on-demand services. A lot of people don’t understand how deep of a logistics play this is to do this hyperlocally and to repeat the process. I'll be interested to see the companies that spring up and the ones that don’t work.