“Your idea doesn’t have to be sexy. All it has to do is meet a need, and do it well. People are happy to pay you.” – Jarett Duker, co-founder of Phone Falcon
Digital information delivery is – or should be – all about perspective in this narrowcast environment: “For whom am I writing this post?”
So, this one is for the angel investors and the econ-dev execs who want to feel better about this city’s emerging businesses. Take Phone Falcon, the Louisville tech startup that comes to you to repair digital devices.
They already have a good narrative for when they’re rich and famous: They swear they started Phone Falcon in a Starbucks after noticing three people around them had broken smartphones. Then, they started looking at friends and family who had chipped and broken screens, asking, “Why are you walking around with your phone like that?”
After 10 months, the three-person company is already cash flow positive, servicing more than 200 customers, and raking in $30,000 in sales at an average of about $150 per repair. Working part-time.
They’re cashing in on a poorly understood – excuse the cliche – paradigm shift in digital communications. In 2014, peoples’ lives revolve around “a piece of equipment that has really only existed for about seven years,” said Jarett Duker, Phone Falcon’s director of marketing and a co-founder.
What Phone Falcon partners have figured out is that not only are smartphones increasingly prevalent these days, everyone is going to break their phones, or their slate devices, somewhere along the line.
Broken screens. Fractured circuitry. Phones drowned like a rat after being dropped in the toilet.
In this developing niche, dominant digit-device repair models are techs working out of their homes (Duker calls them “basement guys”) advertising on Craigslist, and iCracked, a national tech brokerage run by three people in Redwood, Calif., the heart of Silicon Valley.
But Phone Falcon’s owners – Duker, Gil Roberts and Adam Casson – decided to refine the concept in order create what they believe is a rational business … an approach clients really want.
After all, more and more people depend on their phones to make their livings, Duker said. “They’ll pay a premium, though we don’t charge it. But think about it: If you’re in sales, for example, not having your phone for three hours could equal $600 in (missed) sales.”
If you think there’s serious analysis going on here, there is. Phone Falcon partners all are students at the University of Louisville’s highly ranked eMBA program.
What they found in their surveys and in day-to-day work:
• Parents are a significant customer segment. Kids are “quite unfriendly to devices,” Roberts said. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
• Clients typically don’t want someone to instantly come to the rescue. Most people want appointments, preferring convenience to express, Roberts said. Though there are clients who need phones fixed immediately.
• Parents will do just about anything to get that phone fixed for a teenager, who hasn’t been able to tweet, post, pin or text for 18 hours, Duker said.
• Clients want flexibility and clever solutions to what can be a big pain. Last week, Duker picked up a phone at 9 a.m. from a driver for Sysco, the restaurant supply company, at the driver’s first delivery at the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus. Duker fixed it, then rendezvoused with the driver hours later at Doc Crow’s restaurant on Main Street, the client’s third stop, for the drop off.
• Big companies often have big problems. Last week, employees at AAF International in Louisville called in the Phone Falcon guys, then lined up five broken phones on a table. From 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., they were able to fix four of the five, with the fifth returned by the end of the week, Roberts said.
• People are sometimes surprised by the $200 repair bill because they think they only “paid” $200 for their smartphone. But when they go to get a new one, they’re shocked to find out a replacement is $700 because their original phone was subsidized by the service provider. Consumers “aren’t bearing the full weight of the purchase,” Duker said.
The old axiom is that investors invest in people, not ideas. Which I personally don’t buy. But the guys behind Phone Falcon are hustling every minute of every day, their cars loaded with equipment. In addition to the MBA program, Roberts also is a business development specialist at the Navigate Enterprise Center, part of Jewish Family & Career Services, helping immigrants start businesses.
His students asked him, he said, “‘If you are going to teach me to start a business, then why don’t you have one of your own?'” Now he does, and the partners are refining their business plan to scale up Phone Falcon, training new technicians.
If you think this is an oh-so-obvious business sector, with limited growth, think again, Duker added. About 58 percent of Americans have smart phones or smart devices, one the lowest rates of penetration in the the world. Depending on industry sources you believe, the percent of those devices that are broken is 11 percent, 22 percent or 34 percent, he said.
“The point,” Duker said, “is no one knows.”
(Full disclosure: As I’m writing this post, I have no phone because my piece of junk Samsung 4G gave up the ghost this weekend, showing me the green screen of death. Though I am finding the quiet conducive to greater efficiency.)