Cash-strapped college students don't usually have the money to fix their broken iPhone screens, or the patience to go weeks without a phone while it's being repaired. AJ Forsythe was one such scholar. When he cracked the screen on his iPhone for the sixth time in 18 months, he thought, There has to be another way.
The student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo had always been a tinkerer, often disassembling toys to see how they worked. So he decided to fix the phone himself, sourcing a new screen and parts from eBay. A few hours later, he'd saved more than a hundred bucks and ignited the spark for iCracked, the iPhone, iPod and iPad repair and buyback service he launched out of his dorm room in January 2010.
As word spread around campus, Forsythe's business grew steadily. Within a few months, he'd teamed up with Anthony Martin, an entrepreneurial-minded acquaintance, to explore turning iCracked into a full-time, scalable business. Their idea: Instead of hiring employees, they would train self-employed technicians who would run their own businesses and buy their materials through iCracked.
They bootstrapped their way through the first year, paying with plastic. "We'd have $30,000 to $40,000 balances on our credit cards in any given month," Forsythe says. The money went to buy parts, build out the website and develop an online training system for their future techs. By January 2011 they had signed their first two technicians.
Today iCracked's website funnels thousands of customers to more than 340 iTechs across the U.S. and in 11 other countries. The core business covers screen repair, battery replacement, water damage assessment and a buyback program for old or busted phones.
Local techs provide quotes based on the service; generally $80 to $99 for iPhone work and $150 to $250 to operate on an iPad. iCracked pulls in half its revenue from parts sales to the techs; the rest comes from buying unwanted mobile phones and reselling them.
For Dave Mazurek, iCracked referrals have been a nice complement to his York, Pa., computer repair and supply businesses. He estimates that he repairs roughly six to 10 iPhones, iPods and iPads each week. "Customers would always ask me if we do cell phone repair, and we didn't. But iCracked had all their training online, and it looked like a good option to get us into the business," he says.
Mazurek also credits the support from iCracked's community of experienced techs for helping newbies like him get up to speed quickly. "[Along] with the buyback service, we can be there for customers no matter what happens to their hardware--whether they want to buy it, repair it or sell it," he says. As Forsythe likes to say, "We're AAA for smartphones."