One of the worst moments in our personal tech world: dropping a smartphone and picking it up only to see a shattered screen.
There are, of course, options for getting it fixed: little hole-in-the-wall shops, get a new phone … or log onto a special, on-demand technician, “Uber of X” platform called iCracked.
Based in San Francisco, iCracked is a platform that will bring the smart device technician to the consumer. After launching in 2012, the company now is in more than 600 cities — including Japan — with more than 4,000 techs servicing hundreds of thousands of people per year, who have each had smartphone issues.
The company, headed up by Founder and CEO AJ Forsythe, is keeping its roots in smart devices and expanding into the world of IoT. Forsythe spoke to PYMNTS about the founding of the company — including leaving a job fair without giving out any resumes — how about 90 percent of the U.S. population has a technician within 10 minutes of them and why $100 for a fixed phone is a great value proposition.
PYMNTS: What is iCracked, and what’s its mission?
AJF: I started the company six years ago while I was still in college. It started out as an online, on-demand iPhone repair company. It’s somewhat morphing into this idea that technology should be easy, and with each new smartphone or IOT device, it turns out life gets more complex rather than easier. We have around 4,000 technicians in the U.S. that are traveling to our customers to do onsite, on-demand smartphone repair. In the next year, we’re launching smart home and IoT installation. We believe we have an opportunity to build the world’s last tactical workforce that can be sent to your home to set up your smart home products.
PYMNTS: How did this all get started?
AJF: So, I previously ran a beekeeping operation with my brother, and I also started a winery with him. This came about as a sort of lifestyle business. I kept breaking my phone, and my friends kept breaking their phones.
And I went to a career fair to find a summer job, and somebody came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re the guy that can fix iPhones,” and he asked me to fix his phone. I ended up leaving the career fair without handing out any resumes, even going to the library and researching phones. ICracked grew organically from there, from one campus to another.
Last year, we had about 80,000 people apply to be one of our technicians, and we only except around 2–3 percent of those that apply. The whole idea is that, if we can find exactly the person that we’re looking for, which is a mix between being tech-savvy and handy, then we can find the savvy individuals and then train them on all our business support and software, as well as give them all the tools to run a repair business. We have a shot at building this workforce that we can deploy in other verticals.
It certainly started out long. We never planned on it being long. More than a large lifestyle business — it’s certainly morphed into more. Right now, about 90 percent of the U.S. population has a technician within 10 minutes of them.
PYMNTS: You seem pretty tech-savvy. What’s your background?
AJF: Yes! I had to be because I had to do it out of necessity because I kept breaking my phone. And I still, to this day, break my own device.
PYMNTS: What does the corporate team look like?
AJF: We have a team of about 80 in California, and we are always hiring more.
PYMNTS: Have you received any external funding?
AJF: We raised the debt and venture capital and went through Y Combinator in 2012. We raised a couple million dollars.
PYMNTS: How does it work from the user’s perspective? When they break their phone, what happens next?
AJF: You may not always be the cheapest option out there. So, one of the problems that we ran into when we started is there is a glut of Chinese parts on the market that are just terrible quality. So, I end up having to go to China, and I’ve been there about 25 times setting up our manufacturing partners there. We ended up having to set up our own supply chain and also put a lifetime warranty on every device that we work on.
The average repair cost (with iCracked) is $100 right now, but I think the main value proposition for our customers is that we will travel to you, to your home, to your office, to meet you at a coffee shop and repair the device onsite rather than having to go somewhere else and get an appointment and wait in line. Or what’s worse is finding some sketchy hole-in-the-wall company that will do the repair.
PYMNTS: What about from the technician side? How does it work for them? How do they make money?
AJF: Yes, so our technicians make around $40–$50 per hour that they work, and it’s actually one of the coolest jobs from the technician’s standpoint. We have technicians that are going to make over $100,000 just working on our platform.
As for how many hours they work, it really varies on how the technician chooses to work. I would say about a quarter of our techs are actually full-time. We wanted to build a company where you could work as much or as little as you wanted to, and then, our job is to just fill your pipeline with customers.
PYMNTS: Your base is in San Francisco, but where else are you located?
AJF: We are at about 600 cities right now, and we have around 50 techs locally in New York City to cover it. But really, any major city will have it covered.
PYMNTS: What does the concept “Uber of X” mean to you?
AJF: I think we’re living in a world where it’s all about instant gratification, and if you want your laundry done or a meal delivered or flowers delivered, you should just be able to do that. Go online and press the button and have your need to fill. So, we’re trying to blend that with the tech support and repair, where anywhere on earth you can press a button and a technician will show up.
PYMNTS: Do you have a battle wound from being a startup that you can share? Some kind of anecdote?
AJF: Running a startup is certainly not as glamorous as the outside world thinks it is. It’s some of the hardest and most fulfilling work of your life, but what most people don’t realize is that you’ll probably work harder than you ever have in your life and more hours in your life, and there’s more risk in building a successful company, especially when 90 percent of startups fold or fail. It’s just a crazy risk. I think there is a misguided notion that startups are easy. They may be fun, but it’s certainly never been easy, and it doesn’t seem to get easier.
PYMNTS: People will keep buying devices and probably breaking them. So, what does the future of iCracked look like?
AJF: We’ll always be doing smartphone and tablet work, but this year, we’re going to be rebranding the company and moving toward a home service and automation offering. So, if you want your smartwatch or thermostat or security system installed, we’re going to be the company that will come and do that. But what I’m very excited about is branching from being just a device company but more a smart home company and installation company, were working with techs to service demands.
And it’s not about just installing the smartwatch or setting up the thermostat, but we want to make sure they work seamlessly together. It’s looking like Amazon Alexa and Google Home are becoming your smart home hubs, and then, we’ll be making sure that your thermostat, smartwatch, all your lights and other devices are all communicating together.