I have been MEANING to write about the Los Angeles-based start-up TechForward for weeks now, but felt like I didn't have enough time to write the truly thoughtful post that it deserved. Now, I'm forcing myself to get off my butt, strangely enough, because I'm having a moral dilemma over what to do with my iPhone. More on that in a moment.
TechForward cofounders Jade Van Doren (CEO) and Marc Lebovitz (Vice President) like to consider themselves part of what they're calling the "Ownership 2.0" movement. The company has developed what it calls a Guaranteed Buyback program, which is good over a two-year period. Here's how it works.
Say you REALLY REALLY want to buy a new notebook computer, but know you're the kind of person who also is mesmerized by the latest new features. You want to keep current, but you want to be responsible. What TechForward does is allow you to pay a fee for the right to sell back the product at a specific price at the end of a specific time frame. Under this example, the customer might pay $50 for the right to sell back the computer for $650 at end of six months, $500 within a year, $380 within 18 months or $290 in two years.
Here's a diagram of examples:
Van Doren came up with the business idea several years ago when he traveled to Asia and discovered how quickly consumers in Japan and India turn over electronics equipment. In Japan, for example, some people were buying cameras every eight weeks.
Lebovitz says one of the biggest challenges with the venture was developing the analytics and algorithms for how to price appropriate buyback values. When you're ready to upgrade to another product and collect your money, you let TechForward know on your online account. They will send you the materials to ship it into the appropriate collection point, where it will be either resold or reused or (as a last resort) recycled.
Van Doren and Lebovitz say the company hopes to ink deals with big-box retailers that will sell their service at the point-of-sale; several independent retailers are experimenting with TechForward and one in eight are buying the service already. The company hints that a larger deal is in the offing. One pact that it has already signed is an agreement with W3 Solutions, which is an extended service provider that will bundle Guaranteed Buyback plans with its own services.
Here are some of the product categories that TechForward covers: - Laptops - Desktops - Flat-screen TVs - Monitors - GPS devices - Bluray DVD players - Digital cameras - MP3 players - Camcorders
Which brings me back to my iPhone dilemma. No dice on using Guaranteed Buyback there, which hurts a bit because I'm one of those people who bought it early. Not standing-in-line early. But early. Which means also that I will have to pay more than the supposed $199 pricetag if I decide I want upgrade more than just the software. Maybe I'll give myself a birthday present.
TechForward was kind enough to mention the names of a couple of other companies that are dabbling in trade-in programs for electronics devices. They include ecoNew, which you can read about here (it's offered by the N.E.W. services company), or Second Rotation, which will buy back certain products.
I'm betting this sort of company will become more prevalent, especially as people like me grapple with the idea of upgrading to a new feature that we actually really need (I really DO need the iPhone Active Exchange update) or being kind to the environment. These sorts of services make you feel a little bit better about buying something new, especially when the economy is giving us all sorts of excuses to keep our wallets closed.