If you’ve managed to live your smartphone-obsessed life so far without ever cracking your phone screen, kudos to you. But the fact is that in the next 24 hours, 28,000 Americans will have broken their smartphones. So unless you want to live with it or get in line for a replacement at an Apple store, the most convenient option is iCracked—the world’s largest on-demand repair network for iOS and Android devices. Identifying this market need— convenience in device repairs—is what led psychology major AJ Forsythe to start the company from his dorm room at CalPoly four years ago. Today, iCracked is a $25 million company, and one of the fastest-growing start-ups in Silicon Valley.
So what made iCracked succeed in an environment where 90% of start-ups fail? The “iMagic,” should I say, is in their business model, because the company actually doesn’t make a cent from repairs. Instead, they make money by selling parts to independent professionals called iTechs, and by providing them with rigorous training, certification and resources. This is what motivated Y Combinator, one of the largest U.S. seed accelerators, to fund a non-technical founder like Forsythe. According to The Hustle, the ingenuity in this is that instead of fixing a few phones a week, iCracked has built a huge network of iTechs that drive so much traffic that they’re able to earn massive amounts of revenue by selling parts.
Sarp Engelman, iTech and owner of Happy Valley Repairs, is the gentleman who repaired my iPhone screen in a 20-minute meet at Starbucks. As a student, he loves the invaluable experience the job offers, as well as the convenience to work on his own time. What’s interesting, he explained, is that you don’t need a technical background or prior experience to apply to be an iTech, since iCracked provides full training themselves. Sarp says, “What drives [iTech recruitment] mostly is the market. There are enough technicians in State College so they won’t oversaturate and bring new businesses in. It would just hurt us and defeat the purpose of being affiliated with them.” Moreover, what the iTech charges is 100% their own revenue, so they essentially have their own business under a franchise. It’s like the Uber for smartphone repairs.
For a consumer, this is how it works: you go to the iCracked site, mobile app or Yelp (like I did), fill out a request, and an iTech in your area is notified. The iTech quotes a price and you agree on a time and place for the repair. The majority of their customers actually come from word of mouth, just like how a friend recommended it to me. Besides screens, they can also fix water damage, battery problems and structural issues, as well as buy back a device from you.
iCracked is now expanding rapidly, with a growing presence in UK, Canada and the European Union. They recently opened their first-ever retail store, in Tokyo, Japan in partnership with Japanese conglomerate Hikari Tsushin. And here on the beautiful Penn State campus, they are definitely adding to the student startup scene.