The cell phone repair industry in America (and the world) is on a roll – all primed for the smart entrepreneur’s entry.
This is on account of such factors as rising smartphone costs/resilience, social movements like Right to Repair (that have successfully compelled tech titans like Apple and Microsoft to loosen their grip on device repairs), low industry barriers to entry, and little-to-no licensing requirements – as detailed in this exclusive TechBullion interview with CEO RepairDesk Usman Butt.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself; your background; how you got into the industry?
My entrepreneurial journey began right after college, really, when I started working in my brother’s cell phone repair shop. Showing up, it didn’t take me long to notice that the business’s workflow situation was a mess.
Orders poured in without much formal recording, suppliers showed a lackadaisical approach towards delivering parts when needed, technicians weren’t conducting repairs on time, and customers were only given verbal instructions for pickups and repair timeframes.
I had identified a glaring market need. And when I searched around in the online space for any software fix for this tangle, I couldn’t find one. Even other repair merchants, from the smallest corner town services to the largest repair providers, were struggling with the same predicament.
Fortunately, with my academic background in IT, I was quick to think of a solution to see to all this incoherent jumble.
Automation – preferably with a cloud-based solution that combined all repair business workflow aspects smoothly inside one interface: what RepairDesk still is today (though in a much-advanced form from its earliest iterations).
So with a small team of dedicated workers, we built the application for early unveiling in July 2015.
This was after I had consulted some of the top global names in the SaaS (software as a service) industry; who had provided their recommendation for starting out with a beta version. And within two months of our worldwide launch, we got subscription orders to our POS + Inventory Management offering from a hundred cell phone repair shop owners.
Reveling in all of the excitement of the debut and the great customer feedback, my team and I were, of course, over the moon. But we were determined not to rest on our laurels; being committed to a course of constant evolution.
Our north star on this journey would be our clients’ response to our product features. Any reports of glitches, desirable add-ons sentiment, and just about any other operational concern, and we’d make the adjustments right away. Even one client’s input was enough to get the ball rolling. All the reasons I credit for our continued (and still unfolding) success.
Now I won’t deny that following through with these lofty ideals was tough. The majority of our customers live in different time zones. And so, initially, I had to contend with many sleepless nights troubleshooting clients’ complaints remotely – sessions that would often go into the late am hours.
At the same time, our goal would be to provide an end-to-end workflow solution for all retail repair settings – not just cell phone or computer repair.
Can You Shed Some Light on Your Product’s Current State?
As of now, we’re all charged for the full release of RepairDesk 2.0 – due for an outing on February 1 this year. We’ve revised its interface in some significant aspects to make its user experience more intuitive – more instant-problem-resolving.
Our aim with this update is to take repair shop workflow automation to the next level; principally by making the system handle all tasks of a repetitive nature. This is helped by the large assortment of default options (now covering virtually every customization!) that come integrated with the suite’s point of sales, inventory management, ticketing management, and SMS/communications outreach systems – all connected back-to-back and deployable with one click.
Further, our integrations with payments and parts suppliers/facilitators like MobileSentrix, Injured Gadgets, Square, and Xero (among several others) make the service coss-platform-specific.
For now, we’re watching and listening for our users’ feedback and making adjustments accordingly.
What are 2 of RepairDesk’s strongest suites (in your opinion)?
In addition to our stellar client receptivity, I believe our other strong suit to be our customer service (unparalleled, without any exaggeration, in the industry). You just have to look at the reviews left by repair POS seekers on online forums to gauge how our competitors fare on this front. The difference, as evidenced by these testimonials, is stark – making for one of the major reasons why we see a high migration rate from these utilities to RepairDesk.
At the company, we have a motto – to not let any customer wait for any longer than we can help it (which, in real terms, means instantly).
To make fast responses possible, we’re very active on our official Facebook page and its associated channels. One of these latter connective mediums is the RepairDesk User Group page (also on Facebook), where I personally take the time – almost every other day – to publicly respond to people’s queries.
A lot of times, we receive urgent troubleshooting requests in this way. What, based on experience, we like to refer to as the ‘golden opportunities from spreading more brand goodwill’. Over the last few years, we’ve actually been able to increase our business footprint thanks to this model; where every satisfied customer goes on to recommend our services to 10 more people (figuratively speaking – but you get the idea).
When starting out, did you find it difficult to source hires skilled in SaaS for assimilation into your venture?
I believe in employing the right people (with the required slew of professional skills) for the job, and then engaging them with rigorous training protocols. In real terms, it’s almost impossible to find a turnkey human executive to fit an employment category like a key fits into a lock – the reason why I find such analogies distressing (inanimate things are no equivalence for human subjectivity).
Through constant learnings, in an ‘, as you proceed with the work’ sense, however, you stand a very good chance (as an employer) to reach this seamless-fit stage.
Coming from this informing context, I wouldn’t say that I faced a lot of difficulty in unearthing good people; who certainly perform more wondrously today than they did five years ago (I’ll admit). But I’d make the same assessment of myself – both to account for my evolved personal and professional skills repertoire. The nature of work – every work – does invariably change you; something that’s only natural.
Pakistani’s, even for those who’ve always lived among them (and count themselves as being part of the national fabric), are a curiously unexpected bunch. In being so, they will always surprise you with their latent talent and creativity; as well as their drive to commit to hard work (when it beckons).
Can you tell us of some instances/drivers that proved especially fortuitous for RepairDesk’s growth?
I’d like to mention three.
When starting out, we certainly did well – as hindsight shows – in fleshing out a proper plans-framework for the venture. Our market research was painstakingly detailed and incisive, allowing us to narrow in on our consumer audience with great precision. And as is often the case with hard work in this life, it uncannily comes followed by certain ‘helping’ providences of nature.
In our case, it was the fact that, at the time, repair stores all over the world had no recourse to an all-in-one POS and inventory management utility. Because of this scarcity, they were forced to rely on multiple platforms to make ends meet. These required hefty subscription payments, as you’d imagine. Also, they weren’t particularly amenable to smooth data transferring/sharing, so cross-collaborations posed a major challenge.
When RepairDesk came onto the scene, it figured as the perfect panacea for all these ills; thereby fuelling its rapid market popularity and entrenchment.
One of the prominent external drivers for our system’s success came in the form of a $40,000 investment bolus from Anant Handa – CEO of ReVamp Wholesale. This generous funding package greatly aided us in our search and recruitment of good IT and sales professionals – the ground executives directly responsible for giving our operations flight.
In retrospect, I really do believe that there was an element of luck facilitating our advances; though this stream alone would have taken us nowhere if we hadn’t worked up the effort to paddle through it.
How do see the future of the industry (with RepairDesk’s role in it)?
The future of the industry, as per our company estimates and third-party assessments, is bright on account of a number of reasons (and, at least, ‘stable’ per the most conservative analysts for the next five-year, COVID, period).
Over the last decade, touchscreen smartphones have literally exploded in popularity in every population center – leaving even the developed world behind, in some instances. Additionally, these mobile contraptions are now more resilient than ever; even to the point of resisting breakage in skyscraper falls, crumbling under the tire weight of 4x4s, and melting during arson.
All this means, of course, that there are now more lengthy life-cycled smartphones available per every demographic segment than there ever were previously; naturally resulting in a sizeable number of breakages per phone. And more injured phones translate into more repair gigs (a majority of which are non-company administered: conducted by third-party techs).
Social, public empowerment movements like Right to Repair have gained a lot of traction over the last few years, effectively forcing brands like Apple and Microsoft to loosen their grip on the (third-party) repair of their products.
Further, these movements have also highlighted the environmental concerns associated with largescale phones manufacturers (consider their legitimate ‘increased carbon footprint’ argument); showcasing how a lesser number of devices per segment, coupled with their increased life-retention per user, actively helps in tempering this negative impact.
Two other factors, namely the low barriers to entry currently set around the industry, as well as the minimal licensing requirements to set up shop, further solidify the stance that cell phone repair is a lucrative trade.
I strongly feel that budding entrepreneurs and investors should take careful note of these issues.
The time for getting their feet wet in the industry is now.
What’s next for RepairDesk – and for you personally?
Well, with RepairDesk, I’ve already indicated that we would like it to become the go-to cloud software system, fully integrated with the complete range of desirable plug-ins and features, to automate all workflow concerns of the retailers in repair (in general – not specifically cell phone or computer repair).
I’m happy to report that we’re well on our way towards achieving this milestone in the near future – with a series of upcoming releases planned in this vein.
Further, 2022 will be a big year for us as a company. We’ve set several ambitious goals for the period, and everyone’s working quite diligently to see them through.
For me, personally, I’m still interested in learning, growing, and refining my take further on the industry. We’ve made good in America, Canada, and Australia; but we’re still not content with our presence on the Continent (where we hope to substantially scale our footprint).
I’d also like to train and work with the next generation of leaders and innovators within the industry – with my siren call blaring loud and clear for their attention (text me up!).
Any parting advice that you’d like to share with entrepreneurs and industry up-and-comers?
First, the generic ‘discover yourself and your passion, and then invest the time, resources, and commitment to make it happen’ advice; which I know is trite and cliche. But it’s true; totally holds up to the practical experience of starting a venture and making it grow.
But on a different note, I’d like to advise them to enter into repair for the right reasons.
As an entrepreneur, if you want to run a one-person show and you don’t have/build a passion for the technicalities of the trade, you’ll end up becoming disappointed and fast. In such cases, where only money (which there is plenty – just to be sure) is the objective, you’re much better off hiring skilled resources devoted to the repair craft to do the executions for you – and then keeping them happy.
But if you are fascinated by the specialist intricacies of the field, I’d strongly recommend you to take up a training course or two to gain a good headstart.
It is for this very reason that we’ll soon be launching RepairDesk University on our official website – to empower both existing and a new generation of skilled repair technicians. It would be a great idea for you to seize this opportunity.
Other than that, I think people nowadays – from longtime investors to fresh high school and university graduates – are more aware of what they want to do with their lives than their early generational counterparts. I wouldn’t want to restrict their ascent with any more prescriptions – as such ‘advice’ sessions are often wont to become!