From Software to Hardware
In 2003 I finished my Master’s Degree in computer science at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and moved to Seattle where I began working as a software developer for Microsoft. Four years later I took the plunge and started my own company building websites for small businesses. During this time, I broke my T-Mobile Dash (Microsoft’s version of a Blackberry back in the days before the iPhone). I paid $300 for a new one. Two weeks later the phone’s screen broke again.
After watching Youtube videos and surfing around on eBay, I had the information, tools, and parts to try the screen repair myself. The parts arrived about a week later and after two hours of careful work, the phone was fixed. “Other people must have this problem,” I thought. Several afternoons of coding followed and, voila, the ugliest website you ever saw came to life. The only offering on that site? The T-Mobile Dash screen repair.
But it worked!
I took out some Google Adwords and within a week broken phones were showing up at my house. A small hobby business was born.
From Hobby to Real Business
For the next 18 months my main business remained building websites for small companies, but the cell phone repair business continued to grow slowly. By the middle of 2008, I was getting about 20 phones a week in the mail and having another 5-10 Seattle residents ask to get their phones fixed at a local coffee shop.
Then the iPhone 3G was released. My close friend Tom Lorimor suggested this could become a real business – not just a hobby. By December 2008 the two of us had formed Jet City Device Repair. I decided to move to Chicago to be closer to family and Tom stayed in Seattle. For the next 18 months we worked out of our homes, coffee shops, and shared office spaces. But our reputation started to grow and like any real business, we decided it was time to get an actual retail space and hire our first employees. That was 2010 and it was a rocky few years after that.
We knew how to fix phones and take great care of our customers, but neither of us had any experience running a retail operation or managing people. The first year-and-a-half after hiring our first employees was a major learning experience. In particular, we made two big mistakes:
- Selected the wrong location for stores.
- Hired the wrong people.
Both of these issues caused headaches and problems, but by June, 2012, we had found and moved into a great retail space in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and opened a retail store in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. We hadn’t completely solved our hiring and training processes, but we had found some good people. Things were looking up but, like any business finding its way, it wasn’t completely obvious how things were going to work out.
In 2012, Tom decided he wanted to move on to a new venture. He sold his share of the business to one of our employees. For the next two years we worked hard to figure things out but it remained hard.
Turning the Corner
In 2014, that business partner sold his share of the company to Nick Green. Nick had successfully started and then sold a test prep company called Ivy Insiders (sold to Revolution Prep in 2010). Nick was mentoring at a startup incubator in LA where he met my original business partner, Tom. Tom introduced me to Nick and about 6 months later Nick and I were business partners.
This proved to be the spark we needed to find our way. Here are just a few of the things we’ve accomplished since early 2014:
- Significantly improved our hiring processes and the caliber of our people.
- Increased wages for those employees from $12/hr with no benefits to a starting pay of $17/hr plus bonuses, health/dental insurance, paid vacation & sick time, and in 2018 we started an IRA with employer matching.
- Opened two new stores: the Chicago Loop store and our Bellevue store.
- Moved our Lincoln Park store into a great new location.
- Grew our Seattle Flagship store from 250 repairs a month to over 600 repairs a month.
- Launched a new division in our company to work with schools to fix their students’ broken iPads and Chromebooks.
All this has enabled us to make great strides in achieving our core mission of making people’s lives better.
We are proud of our past, but are more excited for the future. That is where our focus lies and we have some big goals. These can be summed up in two objectives set for the year 2020:
- Fix over 100,000 customer devices.
- Average pay for all employees to be $60,000-$70,000 per year.
To put those in perspective, in 2017 we fixed about 30,000 devices and our average employee pay was between $40,000-$45,000.
That means we still have a lot of work to do! Does this scare us? Not at all.
We have awesome people in this company, an incredible reputation, and some really exciting new projects that we’re working on. Things like expanding our repair and accessory offerings (we recently added Samsung repairs and a variety of motherboard soldering repairs). We’ve made drastic improvements to our mail-in school repair division by building two repair depots (one in Chicago and one in Seattle), hiring new technicians, and looking to build a bigger sales and customer support team. We’re expanding our line of accessories to have offerings for people that haven’t broken their phone. There’s also some great new options for wholesaling parts.
I know this section of our website is about our history, but if you’ve read this far and want to be a part of our future, please take a look at our hiring page and give us a shout. We are always looking for great people to help us become a better company – and we’re extremely excited about where this company is headed.