Episode 12 - Anthony Martin
Meet the Customer Where They Are: Why this Mobile Company is Growing at Lightning Speed
4 Key Learnings – Anthony Martin
About this Episode
Anthony Martin is the co-founder and Chief of Strategy at iCracked, Inc., an On-Demand iOS life-cycle company that he and friend AJ Forsythe created in 2010. Anthony oversees the creation and strategic initiatives within the company. In this episode, Anthony talks about embracing being uncomfortable, the importance of continuous learning, and making sure you’re passionate about what you do.
“What we're trying to do is build the modern day Geek Squad that can service customers conveniently and at their location so they don't have to take time out of their day to go ahead and drive down to a store, wait an hour, and then drive back”
More on – Anthony
Anthony Martin is the co-founder and Chief of Strategy at iCracked, Inc., an On-Demand iOS life-cycle company that he and friend AJ Forsythe created in 2010. Anthony oversees the creation and strategic initiatives within the company.
Connect with Anthony
- Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen
- “How I Built This” w/ Guy Raz
- Masters of Scale Podcast
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones
Welcome to the Career Hacking Podcast. I’m your host Max Altschuler and today’s guest is Anthony Martin, Chief Strategy Officer of iCracked.
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We have an awesome show for you today. Our guest is Anthony Martin. He’s a Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at iCracked, the world’s largest network of smartphone repair technicians throughout the U.S., Canada, Japan, and recently Cambodia. iCracked has transformed from a college business to make extra cash into building one of the largest consumer brands in smartphone repair now becoming the modern day Geek Squad for large carriers, insurance companies, and retailers throughout the world. Anthony has been recognized on Ink’s 30 Under 30 list, Forbes Top Ten Entrepreneurs Who Are Creating Jobs, has been named Santa Barbara’s Young Professional of the Year at 24.
We have an awesome show for you today. We’re going deep into one of the continuous learning mindsets, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and then really making sure you’re passionate about what you do. We get right into it. So, thanks for joining us today, Anthony, and let’s hear more about iCracked and how it started and what it is today.
Yeah. Totally. So, iCracked started really in humble beginnings while we were in college. It was interesting. At the time, I was cutting my teeth on my first startup and it was really solving my own pain point in college, which was this crazy marketplace of textbooks. I just saw all throughout my career in college me buying these books for hundreds of dollars and then going ahead and ten weeks later selling it back to the bookstore for pennies on the dollar.
So, I wanted to take that head on and build a marketplace so students can go ahead and buy books directly from themselves and cut out that middleman. I was taking a big arbitrage for just ten weeks of my owning this book.
It was really a chicken and the egg problem of having supply and then to be able to bring demand and get people to buy those books. Really big challenge for a first-time entrepreneur, especially with one that didn’t have a lot of resources.
I had to be resourceful and, basically, I would go into every class and present and say, “Hey, you’re basically getting screwed by the bookstore. We’ll buy your books for the cost that you purchase them for and then we put them on a platform so can go ahead and purchase those.” Ultimately, the goal was to get students to be able to buy a book for a certain price and then ten weeks later, sell it for the same price to another student.
Like I said, there’s a big chicken and the egg challenge and I had to spend a lot of time and money building up a website and what have you, which was a really good experience. What I learned was when you’re starting a business, it’s great to start with one that’s a cash flow business that you can go ahead and start to roll out and make money as you go versus having to build a whole platform and marketplace to be able to get that scale to be able to build a business model.
What was interesting was at that time, my friend AJ was up at Cal Poly and he built this little business called iCracked. Him and I built a relationship throughout the years. We actually met through a mutual best friend and we would talk shop all the time and talk about different ideas, business models, and what we were doing with ours.
I saw that he was fixing phones on his college campus and I was interested in it because we saw this emergence of smartphones happening at that time. This was like 2009 – 2010. Really, it was really rare for someone to have an iPhone at that time or a smartphone. I know I had a Blackberry at the time, but we saw this transition happening in the market where there’s this crazy adoption for smartphones.
Meanwhile, everyone was going and taking their shovels to the gold rush of building the next software app. What we saw was that there was a huge issue with our friends dropping these phones, breaking them, and not really having a resource to be able to get it fixed easily. Though the resource then was probably go to the Apple store and pay $200 to get that fixed. That just didn’t make sense for most of our friends and fellow students.
What AJ did was, he’s always been a tinkerer and he was really the first repair technician. Basically, he sourced parts online and figured out how to fix it himself for much, much cheaper. So, he was doing this on his campus. I saw that opportunity and saw that this market was going to grow really big and that we should be at the forefront of it.
So, we partnered up. I put a little bit of money in that I saved and we were able to buy our first set of inventory, go to China and meet with suppliers, and build our first version of our website. At that point, we went ahead and put 100 job listings on college campuses and we figured we would replicate exactly what AJ was doing on his campus.
Within 30 days, I was responsible for expansion while AJ was working with the engineers to build the first website. Within 30 days, we had 23 iTechs that signed up to become an iTech, went through all the training, and then we got them all the parts and tools they needed to replicate what AJ was doing on his campus.
At that point is when we really kicked off and were like, “Okay, this is a business and now, what do we do? We need to figure out how to make these technicians successful.”
So, a lot of it was around giving them the business development tools to start and get the word out about their services on their campuses. Really, obviously, it’s evolved throughout the years and we’ll get to that, but that was the very first challenge is okay, now we have the technicians, how do we support them?
We went from those 23 locations where we’re sourcing parts for them, we’re building training manuals, where we have the website where at that point it was just … We had a list of names and phone numbers of the technicians you can contact if you’re in those locations.
We started to understand the value of a network where suddenly you can have the same level of service across these 23 campuses and our goal was to grow to 100 by the end of the summer. We did that and really what it’s done now is it’s really evolved into we not have a network of over 3,000 throughout the United States. We have what we say is 94% coverage in the United States. That is saying that there is an iTech within 10 miles of 94% of the population when they put in the request.
So, it’s really grown throughout the U.S. but we’re really not stopping there. Just two years ago we launched in Japan, so now we have 23 stores in Japan. They’re beautiful stores. They’re like three-story iCracked stores, which is really cool to get over to Japan and Tokyo and the other cities to see these stores.
We have a great partner out there that scaling that as we focus our operations on the U.S. as well as we also just launched in Canada supporting a partner in that market. We have 80% coverage there.
What we’re trying to do is build the modern day Geek Squad that can service customers conveniently and at their location so they don’t have to take time out of their day to go ahead and drive down to a store, wait an hour, and then drive back. We feel like people are busy enough with their normal routines and how can we fit our service into working in their routine and making it as convenient as possible.
I think we need with that and being able to [inaudible 00:08:10] those customers and has a really good NPS score. We focused on the direct consumer for a long time, but as we built out a robust nationwide network, what we found is there’s other businesses that also need to have this level of service for their customers.
What we’ve done with the network is now opened it up to partners and those partners whether they’re carriers, insurance companies, or retailers, can leverage our scheduling APIs, being able to use them on their front-end interfaces or their claims dashboards or mobile apps and be able to offer their customer this white-labeled experience that we power for them. And, be able to offer on-site service for primarily smartphones, but we’ve also moved into some other services such as TV mounting and we’ve done smart lock installs and so forth.
We really see a need for the next generation of devices all requiring on-site service. So, we want to make sure that we’re positioned with the largest network to be able to support these massive partners. Also, have the APIs to make it super easy for them to spin up their service on the backend of our network.
So, what’s the relationship with the individual iTechs look like?
Yeah, so the relationship with the iTechs, I guess, is that they are all independent contractors. When we started it was a lot of college students that were entrepreneurs that wanted hustle to make money. Now, it’s evolved and we still have some ambitious college students that want to make money on their campus, but often times it’s now a 37-year-old male that comes from an IT background. Either wants to do this full-time or part-time. Has hobbies like woodworking and tinkering with things and is their neighborhood IT professional, like the person that you would typically go to when you have an issue.
We have a network of these technicians that are now able to support you and what we do now is we’ve really Uberized the experience where you can go on our website, quickly schedule an appointment, and then that technician comes to you and they all have their own apps where they go ahead and do before and after pictures. They do full 27 point diagnostic checklists and they complete the repair in a fast and seamless way.
Pretty incredible. Clearly, you and AJ are just a couple of entrepreneurs. You didn’t have any experience in this area going into it, right? This was completely from scratch.
What can you point to in either your upbringing or your schooling that might have helped you build this business?
Absolutely. I do think that I had a lot of help as far as mindset in being an entrepreneur especially growing up. My dad started his business at 25. He has a successful general contractor. He has 120 employees and I’ve watched him scale that from the ground up as well.
It was interesting. As soon as he got married and knew that he had a kid on the way, is when he started his business. So, relatively high stakes. A lot of personal milestones happening and he still jumped in the water and went into the unknown of building a business.
So, I learned a lot through him and whenever … I was also a baseball player growing up. Played baseball in college. That was my first life, my first passion. Whenever I wasn’t playing baseball, my dad would have me up working with him being on the roofs and on the sites and everything and seeing what he does and making sure that I had the work ethic for my life after baseball.
Meanwhile, my mom was also entrepreneurial. She started a series of small businesses growing up, anything from … She had a bounce house business. She would sell knock-off purses. She would sell a bunch of different products whether it’s kitchenware and what have you and built these small businesses while she was also a full-time mom raising us. So, I saw the ambition from my parents to just go off and do something and just start it.
I think that was really important for me to see, to be able to know that I don’t have all the answers, but I am confident in being able to just start something from the beginning and jump into the unknown and learn as quickly as possible along the way. It’s just as important to know what you don’t know as opposed to what you do know. Try and take, I guess, examples of what you’ve done in your past that you can identify your strengths and build confidence in knowing …
For me, it was baseball. I poured my life into that, my whole soul into it and knew that if I did the same with my business, that we would figure it out and that we can scale this even though we didn’t have all the answers.
Yeah, your background in sports helped you build that confidence that you needed to say, “Hey, throw caution with the wind and let’s dive right into this.”
Absolutely. If you pour your heart into anything, I think you have an unfair advantage of being able to succeed through adversity. Also, if you pour your heart and soul in anything, that’s when your passion comes out. Suddenly it doesn’t feel like, “Oh, I have to go and do a job or anything.” It’s, “This is what I live for,” and no matter what that is, try and find that.
It can be something as unsexy as iPhone repair. We love what we do and that helps big time on us coming in working our tails off and making sure that we’re building this company to what we believe it can be.
I think you’re absolutely correct. I find that more often than not, it’s passion around what you do and not the industry that you do it in. I never thought I was going to be into online education when I was working at Udemy. I was a terrible student growing up and I really just like selling and being at the forefront of an early-stage company that can make a massive impact on the world.
Allow anyone to teach a course online … I just liked selling it. I was passionate about selling. I wasn’t passionate about actual education. I think in this case it’s like, “Yeah, it’s an unsexy market, but you’re passionate about building a massive business that helps a lot of people.”
Back into something you just mentioned though, what were some of the adversities that you had to go through. I think from the outside, it always looks very rosy and it looks a lot easier than it is and people just read things on Forbes or CNBC or whatever other websites and they say, “Oh, they went from two million to 25 million in two years.” What were some of the things you had to overcome along the way?
Yeah, there’s been a lot of adversity. The interesting thing, probably, about entrepreneurship in general is … You read the articles, it sounds like you said all just rosy and rainbows and butterflies, but the truth is every day you have challenges on building something that’s never existed before. So, everything is new. You have to be open to learning and figuring out things and being able to put out fires.
Operationally, you experience that a lot. Just reading face value, some articles on someones raising a bunch of money or having a big partnership or what have you, it seems like, “Oh, wow. They’ve figured it out and everything is great.” But, the truth is you’re working very, very hard behind the scenes to get those headlines and it’s very difficult early on especially ’cause you don’t have the resources to compete with larger competitors that may be in your space or adjacent to your space.
You have to be resourceful and you have to figure that out. Some of the early adversity, I guess, personally, for example, one of them was we made a big leap of intuition to move up to Silicon Valley. We didn’t know anyone moving up here, but we knew and heard a bunch about it and thought that if we were going to build and learn from and be in an environment where people are taking on new ideas and scaling them and being around that environment to bring on great people, we wanted to be in the epicenter of the startups and growing companies.
So, when we moved up here we didn’t know anybody. It was rather lonely in the beginning ’cause it was AJ and I working out of a garage and doing everything for the business. I was focused on expansion at that time, bringing on new iTechs. We were all shipping out packages every single day and doing as much as we could to grow the business.
What we found was we knew that we also wanted to be a part of an incubator. We heard of all these incubators and we felt it would be a lot of value in learning from people who have done it before and also having a sense of community of other businesses that were actually doing it. In practice, if you remember what I said, we came up here to be a part of that culture, this startup culture, and what we were experiencing at that time wasn’t really that. It was just AJ and I not knowing anybody and building the business out of our garage.
What we did was we applied to Y Combinator and we spent a few hours on the application. We ended up hitting the submit button and somehow the whole application got deleted. We’re like, “Oh, my gosh. That’s so annoying.” Meanwhile, we’re under the gun because it’s due in two hours. So, we quickly rewrote it. Luckily, after, in hindsight, the second application was way better written than the first one. I don’t know if that helped us in getting through the process, but we definitely were grateful after the fact of that first one getting deleted.
There’s always a canary in the coal mine for things that can be adversity or being able to say, “Crap. We need to do this again,” and reiterate and so forth. I guess one of the biggest things is once we were into Y Combinator, there was 64 companies and AJ and I didn’t look like any of the other founders. Often, what you hear about Y Combinator is that it’s a technical background founder or founders that have some sort of semblance of pedigree from a major school or has worked in tech at one of the big four technology firms.
So, AJ and I didn’t really fit that mold. We were non-technical. We were just getting started in our business and so when we got there, we were surrounded by a bunch of people that have thought differently or had different life experiences. We were like, “Wow. We’re kind of the black sheep of this group.”
Meanwhile, what was interesting at that time with Y Combinator was a lot of, like I said, the technical founders that had an idea and were using Y Combinator as a way or an excuse to build that solution over a 10-week period and maybe quit their job at Facebook or what have you. Have the societal acceptance of being able to go out on a limb and build something.
Meanwhile, AJ and I had already had a business with 100 technicians and we were using it as a way to catapult our business and get exposure to Silicon Valley, meet this network, learn from them, and continue growing. So, that was a great way to leverage an incubator. I think, often times, you see that more than you did when we went through in 2012. That they are now proven businesses or businesses with some semblance of traction.
It was very interesting to feel like the black sheep and being like, “Gosh, do we really fit here?” What we found throughout the years is it’s okay to not know everything and especially for us it was the technical side of things. It’s not okay to tune that out or ignore it but to be able to learn and iterate and embrace the things that you don’t know. Either hire for the things that you don’t know, but also that doesn’t give you an excuse not to have a foundational understanding of whatever aspect or department you’re hiring for.
You need to make sure that you know every single aspect of your business and we want to have … Luckily, you wear multiple hats in a startup, but you need to have the exposure to everything and have some foundational understanding of things that you even don’t know.
Yeah. You mentioned to me separately one of your key learnings in your career so far is get comfortable being uncomfortable. I think that ties in perfectly to what you’re talking about there