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October Edition 2021

‘We are always looking towards what is next in the trade-in industry’: Stephen Wakeling, Founder and CEO of Phobio

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Established in 2010, Atlanta, GA-headquartered Phobio builds trade-in programs for some of the world’s most trusted brands and connects businesses with the secondary market for consumer electronics. The company believes in the circular economy as a lever towards a cleaner planet and is passionate about ensuring that when electronic items are traded in, they have a second or third life and stay out of landfills where they can pollute the land, air, and water.

The weather events of the past several months in the U.S., including wildfires in California, the unprecedented scorching hot weather in the northwest, and the recent flooding in the northeast make it clear that the repercussions of climate change are upon us. There is so much work to do to try and combat the effects and work toward a better future.

Trading in used electronic devices and other items when they are no longer needed is a simple thing everyone can do from their own corner of the world to keep e-waste out of landfills and to keep personal electronics in circulation so that fewer new devices need to be manufactured. Trading in old devices is not only a simple way for people to do something good for the environment; it also leads to increased purchasing power toward the next device.

We interviewed Stephen Wakeling, Founder and CEO of Phobio, to understand a little more about the company’s work and innovation. Read on for the excerpts from the interview.

Q. What helps Phobio stand out?

Other companies offer consumer electronics trade-in programs, but Phobio stands out for a few reasons. First, we are obsessed with delivering great customer service. We want everyone who initiates a trade with Phobio to be satisfied with the transaction. Our customer service department advocates for our customers and their goal is to ensure clear, transparent communication and successful outcomes. In 2020, less than 0.02% of Phobio customer transactions resulted in a complaint, which is a stat that we work hard to maintain.

We also make it easy for new clients to get started online with their own trade-in programs, and we ensure that the programs are designed with each client’s unique circumstances in mind. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution that we plug new clients into. Instead, we learn about their company and industry, listen to their challenges and goals, and build a custom program that meets all of their business needs. And we are with them every step of the way as they implement the program.

The team at Phobio is passionate about reuse and trade-in and about the fact that in success, what we do at Phobio leads to a cleaner planet for our kids and future generations.

Q. What motivated you to promote reuse of resilient products?

I started the company with my partners in 2010. The release of the first iPhone was one of the reasons we decided it was the right time to launch an electronics trade-in company. With software updates, the iPhone was the first mobile phone built to last several years, meaning it could serve multiple consumers.

As the years have gone on, manufacturers have continued to design and manufacture high-quality mobile phones, tablets, laptops and wearables that last much longer than some consumers want to keep them. Many people are early adapters who want to have the latest phones and computers. Trade-in allows their old models, that still have a lot of life left, to go on to the next consumer rather than collecting dust in a drawer and eventually being thrown away.

One of my main roles as CEO is to think about what’s next – what’s next for our company and for our industry. I believe there is opportunity to apply the trade-in model to a variety of new product categories, including consumer electronics items and smart home appliances. Phobio recently signed Drone Nerds as a client and we currently handle trade-ins for several models of drones.

Q. Tell us about the company’s work culture. What is your view on learning from mistakes and its correlation with employee innovation?

I always say that I want people who come to work at Phobio to do the best work of their careers. Part of my job as the CEO is to make sure we hire excellent people, and then get out of their way so they have true ownership over their work and the freedom to take big swings and make mistakes. My view is that if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough to innovate and push your job and the company forward.

Q. How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the company? How did you innovate to adapt?

The pandemic accelerated our business as companies, schools and individuals updated their electronic devices to work effectively from home. So, we did not see a slow-down at all. Our company moved to a remote work model, and we provided a stipend for employees to get their home offices up and running and provided assistance for those who took a financial hit.

The remote model has been very effective for our company and is something that we will continue indefinitely. The freedom to live the kind of life you want to live is much easier when you don’t have to be at a specific desk in a specific city from 9-5 each day. And for the company, a huge positive is being able to hire the very best talent available – even if that’s someone who lives 2000 miles away and doesn’t want to move.

Q. Could you tell us a bit about the recently launched Assembly platform?

Phobio recently launched Assembly, (oneassembly.com) an online auction platform for IT assets that makes it easy for businesses to sell their used computers, mobile phones and other electronics through our network of qualified buyers. Assembly gives businesses a valuable connection to the circular economy and allows them to recapture value to reinvest while contributing to sustainability goals and keeping employees armed with the equipment they need to be productive.

Q. What does the road ahead look like for your company and its customers? 

We are always looking towards what is next in the trade-in industry. Whether that is working with new products and new product categories, helping businesses monetize their old electronics inventory or even helping individuals get the most money they can for their electronics trade-ins. We are looking at new ways to do all of that, always with an eye toward extending a product’s usable life and minimizing e-waste.

Stephen Wakeling, Founder and CEO

A Tech entrepreneur, Wakeling has been developing disruptive, technology-powered services for more than a decade. He founded Phobio in 2010, just as the electronics trade-in market was taking off and consumers recognized the benefit of well-built electronic devices that can have a second life. As CEO, he has overseen Phobio’s rapid growth, working with world-class mobile operators and consumer electronics brands. Driven by a desire to leave a better planet, Wakeling and his company are seeking out new business categories to adopt the trade-in model so that even more products can have multiple lives. Wakeling is a graduate of Central Michigan University and an alumnus of Harvard Business School.  He is an avid pilot who has lived across the U.S., Australia, and Asia.

“The team at Phobio is passionate about reuse and trade-in and about the fact that in success, what we do at Phobio leads to a cleaner planet for our kids and future generations.”