Eazyfone Group: Nick Brown
An economic downturn is not necessarily unwelcome for the mobile phone company that wants to give you money
It is safe to say feelings are pretty mixed when it comes to mobile phones. For some, they’re an unnecessary tether to an increasingly demanding working culture. Others can’t remember how they coped in the pre-Nokia age. Certainly no-one, except perhaps the most avid eBay fans, thought the outmoded phone gathering dust in your desk drawer was a potential source of income. Eazyfone Group is set to prove otherwise.
“Up to 100 million phones are sat in people’s desks, drawers and attics around the country,” explains Nick Brown, managing director of the Eazyfone Group. And with estimates of over 20 million phones being upgraded each year, the stack of unused mobile devices is growing exponentially.
Eazyfone’s proposition is simple: log on to its website, enter the details of your mobile phone and you will be quoted a price. You can take the case or alternatively, you accept Argos points which are redeemable at a higher cash value.
Once the phones have been collected, the tech team at Eazyfone’s Macclesfield office give them the once-over. “Our objective is to reuse rather than recycle as much as we possibly can,” says Brown. As a result, over 95% of the phones received by Eazyfone are reused.
The next part of the process depends largely on where the phones end up. Those shipped to developing economies are sold in bulk in their existing form. Those sold in Western Europe, as 25% of the volume currently is, are refurbished before being sold back into the European marketplace.
It is not only individual consumers who get the benefits of the Eazyfone treatment. The group also collects phones in bulk from charities, schools and businesses. “No matter what sector you’re in we try to put forward an offer which suits you,” explains Brown.
The business was set up by founder Pete Petrondas in 2001 but didn’t really get going in its current guise until 2004. The original company was set up to sell mobile phones and contracts, which Brown describes as “a very intense sector.” “There’s an awful lot of competition,” he says. “And so Pete started thinking about what’s happening with the old phones.”
Thus, Eazyfone was born. Since its inception the business has experienced steady and consistent growth, however it’s the last six months that have proved truly noteworthy. Since January, the number of phones going through the system has almost doubled. This is clearly reflected in the figures: Eazyfone expects to almost double revenues this year to “somewhere in the £9m bracket.”
More importantly, Eazyfone has finally become profitable, described by brown as the “holy grail of entrepreneurial start-up companies”. “Our first profitable month was March this year, we’ve been profitable every month since then and look very much as though we will be this month as well.”
One of the team who played a key part in the company’s recently improved fortunes was their chief financial officer who spent his first year with the company streamlining operational efficiencies. “He spent the last year dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” Brown explains. “Otherwise we’d be doing double the volume with double the people and we still wouldn’t be profitable”.
Getting a handle on cash proved the most challenging for Brown, and he’s quick to assert cashflow problems don’t end as soon as you break through the profitability barrier. “Continually we want to try and drive our marketing activities but if I invest too much in marketing too quickly then I’ll strangle our cash again.”
But as he points out, managing such a volatile entrepreneurial businesses is his speciality. His last two jobs have been “rescue missions” and while this new role is different, there are some glaring similarities. “It’s still all about very difficult decisions, not having much time to make them, and then having the guts just to make a decision and get on and do it.”