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Swappie brings phones back to life

Swappie breathes new life into old phones – and takes off a chunk of their ever-increasing prices.Swappie

Swappie was born out of an unfortunate incident. Now it’s a blooming business expanding the life cycle of increasingly expensive smartphones.

Sometimes a moment of embarrassment can lead to a flash of brilliance. For Swappie co-founder and CEO Sami Marttinen, it has resulted in a company that, in its first year, boasted a turnover of over a million euros.

Marttinen was duped when he sought to buy a used smartphone on a popular Finnish C2C online platform. His money was gone, but the phone never showed up, and when he reported it to the police it turned out that the same person had been messing about with many others, too.

“I’m pretty ashamed of the story, really,” he admits. “I really thought I could trust the seller, as we had mutual friends on Facebook, and I figured there shouldn’t be any problems.”

The technology developed by Swappie is more scrupulous than that of many actual phone service shops. Image: Swappie

This prompted Marttinen and his friend Jiri Heinonen to look into the market of used smartphones. What if someone sold them it reliably? Could that help buyers and sellers – as well as the world by making people buy less new stuff and extending the life cycle of smartphones?

Changing the market

It turned out that Marttinen and Heinonen were onto something with their idea. The prices of new iPhone models were climbing higher and higher, but the technological advances weren’t that drastic, meaning that old phones were still very much in keeping with the modern day.

“It was pretty much by accident that it all came together for us at the right time,” Marttinen recalls now. “We wanted to change the industry and help people consume more sensibly.”

In addition to building a marketplace for used iPhones, Swappie also created its own repair system. Now, both companies and individuals can sell their phones to Swappie, which will then repair them to make them just like new – but sell them for cheaper.

“We change all parts that need changing, such as batteries, and sell the phones with a 12-month guarantee,” Marttinen explains. “In practice, it’s like buying a new phone.”

The repair infrastructure is built entirely by Swappie, and the company has invested heavily in developing software to fix the phones as thoroughly as possible. This has, according to Marttinen, helped take quality control and management to a whole new level. Even many phone service shops don’t offer the kind of repair work Swappie has developed.

“We can even fix many manufacturing defects,” Marttinen promises.

Keeping phones going

Developing the system has been expensive, but Marttinen says there’s an ecological aspect involved. By repairing used phones, the life cycle of each phone is at least doubled – even tripled – which reduces its carbon footprint remarkably.

“This way, we can make much more use of the devices than we otherwise could,” he notes. “Internally, it’s really important for us and one of the reasons we’re doing this to begin with.”

Sami Marttinen paid a high price for a phone that never arrived, but it also made him the CEO of Swappie. Image: Swappie

Current global trends, such as the talk of the problems of electronic waste and recycling in general, are of course helping Swappie grow. The goal for the company is to be a market leader in Europe in the next five years – and not just in used iPhones. What else is brewing behind the scenes is, however, still a secret.

From a two-man band, Swappie has grown into an employer of about 50 people. Most of them work in repairs, but then there are customer service agents and a team of developers. The company operates in Finland, Sweden and Italy, and at least a couple of new countries are in the works and will be added to the list this year.

On top of keeping phones alive for longer, there’s another mission for Swappie: no one should be duped into buying non-existent phones ever again.

“Absolutely no more embarrassing stories,” Marttinen says laughingly. “After all, it’s what started all this!”

By: Anne Salomäki