If everyone at our school was the ______ guy, you’d be the iPhone guy.
I fixed my very first iPhone when I was 15. It was a black iPhone 4. 16gb. It was the first iPhone I’d ever owned, it’s also the phone I’ve fixed the most.
I fixed my first iPhone not because I was bored, or because I thought I would enjoy it, I fixed it because I had to. Because Apple would charge me $200 and take two weeks to fix my cracked screen, and there weren’t any places within biking distance that could do it for me. So like I’d done many, many times before when faced with a seemingly unsolvable problem, I consulted Google for an answer. Within moments, I’d found my answer.
Fixing iPhones is hard. In fact, fixing iPhones is very hard.
But fixing iPhones is not impossible.
And before I could second guess my abilities, I’d ordered the part I needed.
The repair took longer than I would’ve thought, almost three hours actually, but I emerged triumphant. I’d like to say that this first repair was a life changing moment for me, but in reality, not much changed. I don’t even think I fixed another phone for a few months after that.
Now a senior in high school, I’d gained a new identity. No longer was I
Just Joe, I was now, Joe - The Guy Who Fixes iPhones. Essentially, after my first repair two years prior, I let it slip to some family and friends that I’d done a self repair on my own phone. Back then, cell phone repair shops were pretty scarce, and there wasn’t a single place that would do it in my little town of Collingwood, so word quickly spread that for the right price, I’d be willing to fix your iPhone. At this point, I was doing less than a phone a week for the most part. It was mostly just people close to me that were aware I was doing it, so for most of my clientale, it was more as if I was doing a favour than providing a business service. My first real taste for profits from iPhones came when a good friend of mine, Jay, dropped his iPhone in a pool. He listed it on a Facebook classified group and I quickly made an offer: $50 for a water damaged, completely non-functional iPhone 4. I won’t go into details on how I fixed the phone, but after several nights of frustrating trial and error, I finally got the phone to boot again.
I sold it the next day for $325.
I like to think that that first sale marked the point when I turned fixing iPhones into a business, not just a hobby. For the remainder of my high school days, I scoured Kijiji and Facebook for broken phones, lowballed their owners, then fixed and flipped the phones on the same sites.
At that point, I generally preferred refurbishing and selling phones to just repairing them for their owners. The margins were higher, there were no time constraints and I knew if I messed up, I was only accountable to myself.
The next year, I headed off to Hamilton and began my undergrad in a Software Engineering and Management program at McMaster. I fixed phones for my friends at the school and dabbled with advertising my services on Facebook groups and other places. I quickly realized, as many do, that that regardless of who you were in high school, you’re still a little fish in a very, very large pond when you come to university.
iPhone Joe is born
That summer, I made one of the most important decisions of my life so far, and it’s a decision I stand behind to this day.
I decided I didn't want a summer job.
Or at least, I decided I didn’t want a regular summer job.
Over the past couple years, I’d toyed with the idea of turning my iPhone “business” into a legitimate company. While in retrospect, I wish I’d done it earlier, at the time I had essentially convinced myself that it wasn’t feasible, I wouldn’t have enough customers, and it ultimately wasn’t worth my time.
Fortunately, my perspective quickly changed when on a whim, I picked up a pamphlet which read “Start your own company!”
That pamphlet was my first introduction into what I consider to be an absolutely fantastic effort, the Ontario Summer Company Program.
In few words, the program equips young people between the ages of 15–29 with all the support, mentorship, and expertise needed to begin their entrepreneurial journey in the form of a summer company. Students must submit a full business plan to the organization which is reviewed and if approved, the student is accepted into the program.
After some conversations with friends and family, my decision was made.
I would start my own company that summer, I would apply for the program, and I would create a brand for myself.
I would become iPhone Joe.
iPhone Joe is ultimately an iOS device repair service. I do cracked screens, battery replacements, buttons, charging ports — you name it. If it’s replaceable, I’ll fix it. In addition to repairs I also sell phones from time to time, but my business is largely in sales now. It’s a lot tougher to make good margins on sales now than it was three years ago, and typically the devices I’m able to buy broken from people are older models (4, 4S, and 5) and are much slower to move. Even more frustrating is Apple’s new iCloud Lock “feature”, which prevents a restored device from being used until it is unlocked with the original owner’s Apple ID and password. While my full rant on their decision is a topic for another blog post, it should be known that I’m not a fan of the change.
My application to the Summer Company Program was very long and well researched. In retrospect, I may have put more time into it than is typical for the program, but I was proud of my work and by crafting a business plan which shows my company had the potential to be successful, I further confirmed the idea to my self. If any future applicants to the program are reading this, the best advice I can give is to start sooner rather than later. I began writing my application months before submissions started, and on the very first day they did start, I sent in my business plan. I also corresponded with my program coordinator, Gillian, before making my submission, something I highly recommend.
The program consists of individual meetings with your program coordinator, and biweekly group meetings with fellow Summer Company owners. Also present in these meetings were local Collingwood entrepreneurs who were there to give mentorship and guidance to the students. We started off the meetings by standing up individually and announcing to the group the progress we’d made over the last two weeks. Oftentimes, a guest speaker would come in and explain more in-depth topics about running our businesses, these talks included social media marketing, pricing, and customer relations. One of the best parts about these group style meetings was that it really gave us a taste for what it means to network as an entrepreneur. Our group got to be very tight and frequently referred clients amongst each other.
My cohort consisted of a 3D printing company, two gardening operations, a computer repair service, a business optimization consulting service, a beeswax candle seller, and a few others.
About halfway through the summer, I approached two old buddies of mine, Matt Tipold and David Redman, about a mutually beneficial business move for the three of us. Tipold and Redman own RedTip Productions, a film and video production company. I invited the guys over and told them if they could make me a video for my site, I could provide them with free iPhone repairs for life. Here’s what they came up with.
Pretty sick, right?
iPhone Joe Today
I’m happy to report that even in second year, I’m able to balance iPhone Joe with my five courses, curling team, and programming. In fact, I’m hoping to really expand iPhone Joe this semester. I’ve hired the services of Canvas Group, a marketing company of fellow Mac Eng students.
What’s next for iPhone Joe? Only time will tell. I’d love to hire an employee once business starts picking up, it seems the most logical next step. I’m working hard to create a true brand for myself at McMaster.
While Gino’s is the go-to pizza place at McMaster, I’d like to be the go-to iPhone guy at McMaster.
If what you’ve gathered from this blog post is that starting a company when you’re young is easy and lucrative, I’ve given the wrong impression. Running iPhone Joe wasn’t easy at all, in fact, it was really damn tough.
And frankly, I had it easier than most. I provided a service which was marketable, profitable, and scarce. In many ways, the timing and situation was absolutely ideal for me to start iPhone Joe.
So here’s my sage advice.
If you think you’ve got what it takes to start your own company, don’t do it.
Don’t. Do. It.
Don’t take the plunge, don’t quit your job, don’t build your website, and don’t pick your slogan.
I had people, close friends even, tell me the exact same thing. That I was setting myself up for disappointment, that I should get a normal job, and that it wasn’t worth my time. I think everyone needs that reality check at some point, you can’t spend your life surrounded by cheerleaders.
So I’ll say it once more —
Don’t do it.
But here’s the kicker. For the people out there reading this who honestly believe in themselves and their idea, then what I say doesn’t matter. You’ll be able to listen to me, and a thousand other people tell you that your idea sucks, you’ll never make it, and that it’s not worth your time.
You’ll do it anyway.