Fairly, squarely, Repairly: Meet the 23-year-olds shaking up the smartphone repair business

We’re all guilty of it. We get our mitts – clammy with consumer capitalism – on a brand-spanking-new smartphone. If you’re lucky, it fares a matter of months before the inevitable smash. At this point, the options are bleak: either head to your local LED-lit FoneRepairs4U (or whatever the dubious alternative), or traipse begrudgingly to the Apple Store, where you’ll be forced to wait three hours in line for a new phone screen, and pay £120 for the privilege.

With Repairly on the scene, however, it’s a different story. The startup promises to pick up your phone (or tablet), take it back to their lair of engineers for fixing, and return it to you in a current average of three hours and 22 minutes. In a touch that’s half ironic, half just plain charming, return deliveries are conducted by couriers in white gloves.

Repairly’s customers have been taking to taking to Twitter to sing the company’s praises. One fawns emphatically: “I’m still in awe of how quickly @repairly fixed my smashed screen yesterday! Picked up, fixed and returned to me in less than an hour!!” Another user commended Repairly’s “Cracking decracking service,” providing a slightly more pared-down review: “2 hours, had pizza take longer to arrive, impressive.”

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The startup has attracted plenty of investor attention, with backing from Techstars and Virgin Media, recently closing a £265,000 seed round. In the words of investor Richard Fearn: “Repairly’s business is growing quickly into a large market, with strong unit economics and great customer reviews.” So, when you’re next due your biannual iPhone smash, remember Repairly is there to pick up the pieces. Literally.

I spoke to co-founder Rich Edwards about what he and CEO Fraser Williams are up to with Repairly, and where the boundlessly energetic team see the company heading.

1. Where did the big idea for Repairly come from?

Both Fraser and myself have worked in marketplace businesses before. Fraser founded a company called Checkit Proofreading, and I was one of the early team members behind Hassle.com.

If you take a look at most people around you, it doesn’t take long to figure out where our priorities lie. Smartphones and laptops play major roles in our daily lives. We could see the technology industry evolving quickly, but repairs were a cumbersome slow process stuck in the nineties. Trying to get a device repaired took days, even weeks.

The repair market looked like a sleeping giant. We saw just how radically it could be improved and that inspired us.

2. What big problem is Repairly solving?

People are more reliant on their technology than ever. Personally, I can’t even navigate around London without my iPhone. When that sacred piece of technology breaks, you’re lost without it, and need it back up and running as soon as possible.

At the same time, there’s a high expectation for convenience. We’ve seen the rise of “on-demand” services like Uber and Deliveroo in recent years. Waiting three hours or longer at a Genius Bar, if you can get an appointment, is no longer acceptable.

For the proactive person who looks for third-party options, they end up finding a highly fragmented market. There’s a barrage of small operators who don’t inspire trust with their flashing LED signs. People don’t know where to turn. We’re building a brand focused on quality, a brand that people can trust.

3. What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome since starting Repairly?

We’re committed to a high standard of service, but that starts from within. Operations is a critical part of our business. It needs to grow as we scale.

Every time Repairly doubles in size, we need to rethink logistics and ways to facilitate our team through communication tools. We want to enable each member of staff to work as efficiently as possible. It’s an ongoing battle. To deliver an amazing service, we need to uphold our super fast turnaround times, and tackle this by building the tech to facilitate that.

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Besides tech, we want our employees to be proud of where they work, which is why we’re committed to sustainable employment. Where [other] companies are making cuts, we’re finding ways to produce quality jobs. We value our team and company culture. From the people behind computers, to the couriers trekking across London, each plays a vital role in creating the perfect customer experience.

4. Where do you see Repairly being in five years’ time?

Our vision is to create a truly global business. We see Repairly as a model that can be retrofitted in cities and metropolitan areas from America to Asia. We want to help people on an international scale.

The good news for us, sorry to say, [is that] things will always break. Gadgets are coming out fast, and technology is reaching deeper into our lives with the Internet of Things, VR and electric cars. It’s vital for us to keep our finger on the pulse of new technology. We’ll be expanding what we repair to keep up with the growing technological economy.

5. What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started repairly?

The hard thing is always the thing that you need to be doing. It’s easy to get caught up with the day-to-day reactivity of a startup, but this can take you away from the truly important things. We’ve got very good with tackling problems head-on, even if it isn’t the easiest path to take. The obstacle is the way, as they say.

That and it was ambitious to think that scooters would be better than bikes. There’s not a need to reinvent the wheel, although it was fun trying.

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