I started Green iPhone in the fall of 2010. Over the summer I was working as a Macintosh Technician at a store called MacHaus in Anchorage. This was after my first year of college at Colorado State in Fort Collins, CO. For fun that summer, I began buying used iPhones on Craigslist, doing some refurbishing to them and unlocking them, and then reselling them. Back in 2009 I had seen how most iPhone 3G owners immediately upgraded to the new iPhone 3GS, and had their old 3G iPhone available to sell. I figured that the same thing would happen upon the release of the iPhone 4. It did. Eventually I was buying five to ten iPhones per month. This was a great source of supplementary income over the summer.
When I headed back to Colorado for my sophomore year, I started thinking that the iPhone refurbishing operation could be more serious than a hobby. The market showed that this could be a legitimate business. Many people wanted to sell their old iPhones after upgrading or switching carriers, and many people wanted to buy used iPhones without contracts.
In my mind at the time, the first act in establishing a business was building a website. It only made sense to build a great one! My idea was to have a website where people could sell their old iPhones when they wanted to buy the latest model, and anyone that wanted an older iPhone could buy one that was refurbished and with no contract. It would be a used iPhone marketplace with refurbishing and unlocking services in-between!
I happened to own the www.greeniphone.com domain, because in high school I had wanted to build solar, wind, and hydro electric chargers for the iPhone, and had bought the domain to sell the chargers. I did build an iPhone solar charger [read more here], but I never set up a website to sell it. The Green iPhone name seemed like a pretty good fit for this business!
While heading back to CSU for my sophomore year, on the shuttle ride from Denver to Fort Collins, I put out a recruitment ad for a website designer. I found a great one, and we began building the Green iPhone website. It took a few months, but we developed something grand:
Business at School
I continued buying, fixing, unlocking, and selling iPhones throughout the 2010-2011 school year. All operations took place in my dormitory room on campus. Here’s a shot of that dorm room. Notice the iPhones mid-repair on the yellow cloth at the far left corner
In The Dorm!
Sustainable Living Fair 2010
In September I snagged a booth at the Sustainable Living Fair in Fort Collins. The Sustainable Living Fair is a killer outdoor festival, focused on educating and sharing ideas about sustainability in everyday life. This was a perfect venue for iPhone recycling! My friend Jared gave me a hand with setting up and manning the booth. The most common phrase we got was “What is a Green iPhone..?” We had a blast, and the fair was an excellent experience for me in getting closer to my customer.
The Switch to Volume Selling
By Spring of 2011 I was buying 20-25 iPhones per month, I was rocking school full-time, and I had also started developing iPhone apps with a killer team. Although the Green iPhone website was helping tremendously with iPhone buyback, not as many customers were interested in using the website to purchase refurbished iPhones from me. I was still selling many on Craigslist and eBay.
Listing, selling, and shipping each phone individually became tedious as volume grew. Thankfully, the Green iPhone website served as a marketing tool, and I was approached by several volume buyers that had found the website and were interested in buying large volumes of iPhones. Selling in bulk saved a lot of time and let me focus on continuing to grow the business. I was also excited to be working with larger companies that had a larger presence, but also shared the same social mission. Here is one of their recycling centers!
The summer came on quickly, and I was gearing up for a road trip to Alaska with my friends Jimmy and Jared. We drove a 1940 Chevy up from Fort Collins… Yeah, we’re crazy. She made it without any problems! For more info on that trip, check out our travel blog: www.970to907.com.
My plan for the summer had been to spend 6-8 hours per day working on Green iPhone, and then enjoy the Alaskan outdoors for the remaining 2-3 hours. I love hiking, bicycling, camping, climbing, frisbee, and exploring in my down time – so this seemed like an excellent plan. When I got back home, I started realizing just how much I enjoy hiking, bicycling, camping, etc.. The plan reversed, and I found myself working on Green iPhone for a couple hours per day at best. For me this was a great discovery about my work ethic between Alaska and Colorado. Alaska is my relaxed home and somewhat a vacation spot. Fort Collins is great for getting work done. Here are some memories from an exciting summer with a lot of outdoor adventures:
Although I had a hard time concentrating while living it up in Anchorage, I did manage to get some good work done over the summer. The buying/selling volume was low, but I kept good relationships with my buyers and developed a couple of new ones!
Back to School and Networking in Fort Collins
Coming back for my junior year in the Fall of 2011, I had two business goals:
- Focus on Green iPhone and grow operations
- Meet the right people in Fort Collins that could be mentors, advisors, friends, and just great general business connections
Thankfully, this is exactly what happened. The iPhone buying/selling volume grew back up to 25-30 iPhones per month, and I started taking anyone out to lunch that would listen to my story. If I met someone interesting, I continued to follow up with them and asked if they knew anyone I might like to meet. I tried to have a least one new meeting per week.
The Rocky Mountain Innosphere
I had heard about the Innosphere from professors at CSU, from other business owners, and from some of my mentors. It is a business incubator that helps start-ups on many levels, and it has a great reputation. I pictured a bunch of people in one large office, all working on their own businesses and brainstorming from time to time. I thought it might be 10-15 people in a small building. I asked one of my mentors that I knew was connected to the Innosphere, “Do you think it would be okay if I go to Innosphere and bring everyone lunch?”. He laughed at the thought, and mentioned that Innosphere was a bit larger of an operation than I might be thinking. Instead of taking a bunch of burritos for everyone, he suggested that I have a meeting with one of the administrative staff – and connected me!
FastTrac TechVenture Program
Once I got connected to the Innosphere, Ryan Speir, the COO at the time, suggested that I take a business class that Innosphere was hosting called FastTrac. FastTrac is a 10-week course on business plan development and the essentials of running a legitimate company. The course was created by the Kauffman Foundation and this session was being hosted by the Innosphere from September to November. I quickly submitted an application, and was accepted into the program. [Innosphere's FastTrac Page]
There were about 15 people taking part in the class; most were between 30-50 years of age. We were separated into teams of 5 or 6 and paired with an advisor that would work with us more closely at each session. My team advisor was David Cunningham, a hilarious and brilliant businessman who is now a personal mentor and friend. In each class session we listened to a new guest speaker on a particular business subject such as marketing, funding, or accounting, and we worked on an interactive exercise which helped us discover concepts for ourselves. One of the most helpful exercises for me was constantly giving the Green iPhone “elevator pitch” and getting feedback on what I could be doing better. I learned a tremendous amount from the program, and Green iPhone became much more mature as a result of every class session.
At the end of FastTrac, each participant gave a pitch on their business and where they were moving with it. I gave a 10-minute presentation about Green iPhone, asking for more mentorship, advice, and possibly some future financial help. After my presentation, Ryan Speir offered me the opportunity to pitch at Innosphere’s Social and Advisory Group for Entrepreneurs (SAGE) event on December 14th (right during my finals week). I couldn’t pass it up.
What is SAGE?
Innosphere’s SAGE program connects entrepreneurs with advisory teams that help the entrepreneur define and grow their business. At each monthly SAGE meeting, a new entrepreneur spends 10-20 minutes pitching their venture to a room of professional business people that are in the SAGE group. Once the pitch is finished, the SAGE group members can ask clarifying questions on what has been presented. After the SAGE group questions, the entrepreneur leaves the room and the group discusses: 1. What SAGE likes and admires about the entrepreneur and the venture. 2. What SAGE feels are the next critical next steps for the entrepreneur in taking the business where he/she wants it to go. 3. Thoughts on how the entrepreneur can address the critical next steps. When the discussion is finished, the entrepreneur is brought back into the room and the SAGE facilitator explains the results of the discussion. This concludes the formal event. During the entrepreneur’s presentation, each SAGE group member has a sheet to take notes on, and they can indicate on that sheet whether they are interested in joining an advisory team to assist the presenting entrepreneur. After the SAGE event, 3-5 advisors are chosen to be on an advisory team for the entrepreneur.
The Green iPhone Pitch
Several staff members at Innosphere helped me prep for my SAGE presentation by having me give my pitch and then providing feedback on how to tailor the pitch for SAGE. This was quite helpful. One of my CSU professors, Yolanda Sarason, also helped me by gathering a team of entrepreneurship professors to listen to my pitch and provide more feedback. I received a lot of fantastic insight, and my presentation kept evolving. It was somewhat nerve-wracking, but exhilarating at the same time.
The final slide presentation that I used for SAGE was very simple. It gave me just enough visual cues to explain Green iPhone and what I had been working on, but I really didn’t get to go into extreme depth. It’s hard to share everything about a business/idea in 20 minutes!
Here is my SAGE slide deck:
The presentation went extremely well. I enjoyed explaining, to a great group of advisors, what I’d done so far with Green iPhone. They had some excellent clarifying questions which let me elaborate on my ideas and the state of the business.
After SAGE I was set up with 4 magnificent advisors that I am still working with today!
One of the first “Action Items” that my SAGE advisors had me work on was changing the Green iPhone name. I needed to avoid trademark issues (‘iPhone’ is a registered trademark of Apple Inc.), and I also wanted to expand beyond just buying iPhones.
In March 2012, Green iPhone officially became Newaya Recycling. I now buy back Blackberrys, Androids, and Windows Smartphones along with iPhones! I’ve also begun recycling old cellphones for free via donation. The first Newaya cellphone recycling box will be going into the MUGS coffee shop in Old Town Fort Collins this week!
It’s been a lot of work, and the Newaya website, branding, flyers, business cards, and general marketing material are finally finished. I’m back to regular business operations of buying smartphones and growing the company!
You can continue following the story on the Newaya blog!