On Starting An Online Business Buying Old Phones [Re-purpose 40K+ Phones Per Year]

Published: February 7th, 2022
Tim Duggal
Founder, Mobile Monster
Mobile Monster
from Melbourne VIC, Australia
started January 2012
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Hi! My name is Tim Duggal and I started an online business in 2012 where people can sell their old phone, called Mobile Monster.

Our main service is buying back people's old smartphones, saving people time, and creating a more sustainable world.

When I first started, only 2 people sold their device to me in 6 months haha - it was an iPhone 3GS. By the end of 2012 we were buying approx 400-500 devices per month and today we re-purpose more than 40,000 devices per year.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started buying and selling friends' laptops when I was in high school, I just loved wheeling and dealing when I was young. I continued into high school, buying phones and then selling them to people who wanted cheaper alternatives to buying new ones.

I realized that people were time-poor, didn't have time to sell their phones through auction sites and the world needed an alternative. I knew in my heart that I didn't want to do anything else. Once I started the business it became financially successful within a few weeks.

I was broke at the time in 2012, and just about to start work in a call center, but got told I didn't get the job. I chatted with a good friend about my business idea and he said it's a great idea - give it a red hot go. I started the business with $0 capital in my 2nd bedroom in St Kilda East in Melbourne, I was in over $100,000 credit card debt by the 3rd month in.

I had a good background in I.T, with my passion for trading and eCommerce selling through my younger years it was the perfect mix. Oh, and I love taking risks.

The first business I started failed. I came up with the idea of a cute Monster when I was hungover one day and it became an instant hit.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Since our website was offering a service, I spent very little time planning things out on how I was going to receive and test the phones, and be able to pay people within 24 hours of receiving the devices.

I leveraged my second bedroom and offered the service of people to drop off their devices to me in St Kilda where I lived at the time to create more trust.

I integrated very quickly into the service a good mail-out platform to send people's satchels to anyone in the Country so they could send in their device easily. I called every single customer who submitted their details so they would send in their phone. I learned by doing that, WHO my customers were and WHAT they wanted.

Within 3 months I was able to get into a small 20 square meter office and hire my first employee.

My very first office, 505 Church Street Richmond. It was a corner office facing the sun - it got VERY HOT haha

Describe the process of launching the business.

I was always a rebel, I never believed in any planning of any sort. I just wanted to get stuff done quickly. I had a very agile mindset and changed direction when I needed to.

Timing is everything, start and see where it goes.

I started the business with no capital, I went into credit card debt to fund it. I believe starting something from nothing is the best way to learn, get to know your customer, and have some fun.

Initially, I spent $1,500 only on creating the first version of the website. I paid an agency to do this, and they had some UX experience. I iterated from there, over and over again. I was able to get customers the day I launched advertising on Google. It’s an amazing tool for any business to advertise, and I am eternally grateful to live in a time that the Google was born.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Timing is the biggest advantage I had over anyone else and persistence. Fail fast, don’t waste time to get things perfect. I jumped right in and didn’t waste any time. So many of the things I thought would work didn’t, and often don’t, but because I moved quickly I failed and learned quickly.

The most important thing is that you're there to provide awesome service. If you're always trying to improve this, you will retain your customers for life and get more repeat business. Word of mouth is the best way to advertise. It beats and supports any traditional advertising.

I knew I didn’t know much about advertising. So I spoke to people who did, learned some of the best practices for Google, and understood some of the tools out there. Chances are, you're not an expert, go find one.

First version of the website in 2012

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Over the recent years, we have seen a decline in overall net profit. However, taking into consideration everything we have learned we hope to increase our net profit by 20% this year.

Our overall digital strategy is very complicated, but we have a fierce following on Google - our SEO has been growing phenomenally each year.

Today we operate from an office in the CBD of Melbourne in a 320 square meter office with over 15 staff processing thousands of devices each week.

Our strategy is to educate more people that such a service exists, to capture more market share.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One of the things I learned after several years is that money only motivates you to a certain extent.

A dramatic shift in recent years was ensuring all my staff is happy, and how to reward long-standing staff. Develop meaningful relationships with the people around you, and they will be loyal. If you are there to serve your customers and your staff then running the business becomes fun.

I learned some valuable lessons that cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to put things in writing. Since there is a lot of development in our type of business, be detailed and have proper agreements between you and your suppliers.

What helps me is exercise, it’s always been the cornerstone to a healthy mind and being productive.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For Mobile Monster, we have a custom website. Because it’s a reverse-logistics type of business, it’s very custom. Therefore, we wanted to make it custom to provide a great experience to our customers.

Right now social media has not played such a pivotal part in our success.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

When I first watched some videos online from Simon Sinek, it completely changed my perspective. Simon Sinek’s video on WHY changed my focus to always thinking about my vision and my purpose.

I was lucky to meet Jay Shetty in India, also love a lot of his material.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Some of the most successful components of today’s amazing stories like Uber, AirB&B, Afterpay are that they all took risks but it was timing. There was a need in the market for it. He who solves the biggest problem has the greatest life. Look to serve, and look to connect with other people. Timing is everything, start and see where it goes.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!