ComputerMend: Ali Lijee
The IT veteran talks to Startups about his new computer repair service, as well as the highs and lows of his long entrepreneurial journey
Tell us what your business does:
ComputerMend is a brand new service which was launched in late July 2016, serving domestic and small/medium sized businesses. We aim to generate computer repair and maintenance work for our member technicians who are dotted around the UK.
Our members typically provide three types of service; A walk-in service (where you can visit the technicians at their workshop, sometimes by appointment, and sometimes on spec.), a call-out service (our technicians can come to your home, hotel or office), and a remote support service (our technicians can remotely access your device to solve any software or virus related issues, carry out data backups etc.).
What’s unique about ComputerMend is that the customer has a choice of skilled technicians local to them, and all offering different levels of service and skill sets that they can connect with instantly.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I am not new to providing on-demand technicians to homes and businesses; in fact, I started and still manage the largest independent Apple device repair network in the UK – “iTechnician“.
Most of the iTechnician members currently repair desktop, laptop, tablet and Apple Mac computers, so it made sense to provide them with a similar type of service to that of iTechnician, but this time focusing on computers.
The ComputerMend service was an instant success and our members on iTechnician wasted no time in registering on the site. There has been a lot of talk about the service among Facebook groups too, which has also increased the number of registered members.
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How did you know there was a market for it?
This all came about when I was looking for a technician to repair my iPhone, but I wasn’t prepared to leave my device with the repair centre for a couple of days when I knew an iPhone screen replacement, as well as many other popular repairs, takes approximately 30 minutes to complete.
I decided to change that model, and built a network of technicians that can provide a while-you-wait repair service in-store, at your home, hotel or workplace.
I launched ComputerMend after consulting with our member technicians, and they told me that the same turnaround can be achieved with computer fixes. The majority of computer problems can be completed in no more than two hours.
What were you doing before starting up?
I have always worked in IT (internet related services). I was at UKFast, a leading internet hosting provider for about seven years, and before that I was selling web related services when the commercial internet was still in its infancy and businesses back then didn’t know what a domain name was.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Yes, and from a very young age. I am creative and enjoy challenges – in fact, when I built my first network iTechnician, my intention was to change what I believed was an outdated way that the technicians were operating, rather than as a way to make money.
I initially made the service free for members, and I operated it that way for over 12 months. It was the technicians themselves that told me they really liked the service, and questioned why I didn’t charge for membership.
The relationship and trust I have established with the technicians is great, and they were the people who suggested I create them a platform for computer repair services – hence I went on to build ComputerMend.
How did you raise the money?
My businesses have all being self-funded. I would do my nine to six-day job, and then race home to switch on my laptop to work on my own business. I would also spend my lunch breaks in my car responding to emails and speaking with customers and technicians.
Now I have a great team of account managers, in-house developers and writers who constantly update and add new features to the site.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
The model is deliberately kept simple. We take care of the digital marketing and lead generation for our technicians, and in return, they pay a modest subscription fee of just £75 per year. I believe this represents excellent value for money, and brings in enough revenue to make it worthwhile to run the network.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
The whole entrepreneurial journey has been an interesting one. There have been highs and lows along the way, but the thing that has kept me going is our members, and hearing about how the service has helped their businesses.
Early on, we faced some challenges from the technicians themselves, who were not convinced that I could generate them sufficient work. This naturally drove me to prove them wrong, and so I worked day and night, building the brand online, and then over time I started to see the enquiries coming in.
It began slowly, but now we are at the point where we generate in excess of 6,000 repair enquiries each month for our members.
What was your first big breakthrough?
This came when I hired a PR and marketing company – it cost a lot of money, but they did a fantastic job, and we got even more exposure nationally by being mentioned in major publications such as The Sunday Times, GQ, BBC Radio..
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Have patience, be optimistic and don’t give up! I’d advise future entrepreneurs not to start a business if you’re just interested in the money side of it. You must enjoy what you’re doing, because that’s what will keep you going for years to come.
Difficulties are inevitable, but it’s how you cope with them that sets apart the successful and the unsuccessful entrepreneurs. To be a real success, you need to grasp setbacks and turn them into a learning opportunity – a chance to grow and move on. If you don’t, you’ve missed an opportunity. If you do, you will be on the road to success.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
We want to be the go-to place for computer and mobile phone repairs in the UK. With time, we will be looking to launch more interactive features that will open up additional revenue streams for our members, and maybe one day take our brands to markets overseas.
We really want to make our brands “ComputerMend” and “iTechnician” the place where non-techie customers can meet up with real technicians, and get the service they need, minus the jargon that often goes with electronics repairs.