Los Angeles-based TechForward (www.techforward.com) recently announced a round of venture capital funding from First Round Capital, for a service that allows consumers to lock in a trade in price for their laptop computers at the time of purchase. We spoke with the Jade Van Doren, the company's CEO and co-founder, as well as Marc Lebovitz, co-founder and VP of Operations, to get more insight into the service and company. socalTECH's Ben Kuo conducted the interview.
Thanks for the interview. Can you describe what your service is, and what it offers to consumers?
Jade Van Doren: Basically, what we are offering is a product called guaranteed buyback. It's like an extended warranty, in that it is an add-on at the point of sale. It's different from an extended warranty, in that instead of covering damage or workmanship, we basically allow consumers and small businesses to lock in the future trading value for their devices.
Marc Lebovitz: We're offering a way to lock in trade in values. Right now, we are doing this for laptops, but we will be expanding to other devices, such as digital cameras. What that provides to our customers is it provides ability to upgrade more easily, affordable, and frequently. We take the hassle out of upgrading, taking care of disposing of the device, destroying data on the device, and offer trade-in value to apply to your next upgrade purchase. You can lock that in before the sale, and you are able to take advantage of it whenever you feel like you want to upgrade. That allows you to take advantage of new products that come out on marketplace that have additional benefit for you.
Where did the idea come from?
Jade Van Doren: We find ways to make it easier to upgrade your equipment. We looked at the market as accelerating right now, in terms of product cycles, ways at which we could help people manage the constant flow of devices that come into and out of their lives. We looked at consumer electronics, and ended up with this product that made sense for both consumers and retailers. It's similar to things they know from the extended warranty and trade-in world.
What happens with equipment after trade-in?
Jade Van Doren: We have reverse logistics company we are working with which resells the equipment on various secondary markets. We're reselling them to be able to pay people what we are guaranteeing them.
How did you decide this was the right opportunity to start a company around?
Jade Van Doren: I basically started the company at the beginning of business school. We met at business school at UCLA Anderson. I was traveling through Asia, and I saw people leasing cell phones for a short period of time. I began thinking about the model of moving electronics more from products into services, and helping people with the continuous flow of new devices, and upgrading more easily and affordably. I'm one of those people that loves to have the newest, coolest stuff, and I don't want to deal with reselling devices myself. That gets expensive. I was looking for some sort of product that would make the process easier.
Marc Lebovitz: To add to that, the reason why it was a great opportunity is it made a lot of sense for lots of players in the value chain--from the consumers who want to take the uncertainty out of upgrading and make it an easier and quicker process, to the retail partners who can sell it as an add-on service like they sell warranties, and also get commissions. They can also add timed marketing and store credits, which can shorten the upgrade cycle for consumers.
Jade Van Doren: I think it's a win, win, win, for the consumer, retailers, and us.
Can you talk a little bit about how the funding round from First Round happened, and how you (or they) decided that this was a fit?
Jade Van Doren: We were actually put in touch with people who we went to school with at Anderson. We didn't actually know that Mazen had taken a job there. (Editor's note: Mazen Araabi is a venture capitalist who just joined First Round Capital, and was most recently an MBA student at UCLA Anderson) Marc was president of the Entrepreneurs Association at Anderson, and it happens that Mazen was president the next year. We knew each other very well, plus I was on the board as treasurer of the Entrepreneur Association. It happened really quickly. We talked to them several times on the phone, and we just ended up getting along really well. Mazen could also vouch for us. The round was closed within several weeks of when we first talked to them.
Marc: I think a lot of the reason it was a fit for us, from both a personal and working style, as well as the types of investments they've made in the past in the consumer electronics space.
Where is the service now, and is it available?
Jade Van Doren: It's live for PC laptops at techmylife.com, which is our direct consumer brand. We'll be expanding to other devices such as digital cameras, iPods, and Apple Computers in the next month or two.
Thanks for the interview!