Getting a tablet or smartphone fixed by Alexandra McConnehey is not your ordinary repair shop experience.
No dropping off your device at a counter, or sending it in the mail. The 24-year-old founder of “See Jane Fix” makes office calls, and she actually prefers it to be a social experience, talking with her customers and showing them what she’s doing as she fixes a cracked screen, a broken button, or another common problem. It’s a fun educational experience.
A University of Puget Sound history graduate, Alex stumbled into this line of work through a combination of serendipity and determination. She turned it into a business last year with the help of mentors and friends in the Seattle-area tech startup community, and has experienced enough growth and success that she’s adding staff to meet the demand.
Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for her answers to our questions, including her tips on keeping your phone or tablet from requiring her services.
What do you do, and why do you do it?
I fix broken phones and tablets – all kinds – directly in the offices of some of the best employers in Seattle. Sometimes people are so thrilled at having their phone fixed they surprise me with a hug, and that might be the best feeling in the world!
I got into fixing phones when I broke my own iPhone and asked a friend to fix it for me — and he ended up offering me a job. He knew I loved working with people and he was looking for someone to man the customer service desk of his mobile repair shop. He told me I didn’t need to learn how to fix phones, I could just sit there and smile. The problem-solver in me pushed me to ask question after question about repairs, and before long I was repairing devices as a full-time job. Now I have a small team of technicians that visit offices throughout Seattle, fixing everything from cracked screens and broken buttons to soldering on new charging ports and microphones. And of course we spend a lot of time fixing devices ruined by water damage, this being the Pacific Northwest, after all.
What’s the most memorable story you’ve heard about how someone broke their phone?
I recently fixed an iPad mini with a cracked screen that a 10-year-old girl used as a weapon. Her older brother said something mean so she threw her iPad at him. I said “I hope he learned his lesson!”
Toughest fix you’ve ever made?
The first time I fixed an iPhone 4 screen was by far the toughest fix, because I had no idea what I was doing and customers were waiting impatiently. I ended up locking myself in the bathroom and crying about how much I hated technology. I called my boyfriend and cried “I don’t know if I can do this!!” and that this has got to be the worst idea I ever had – to be a repair technician. I broke 3 iPhones in one month back in college, who was I kidding? I just knew I would screw up and I couldn’t face the customers’ (justifiably) mean looks and angry words if I had to tell them I broke their phone! That was my Moses moment and it took all my courage to realize that I could do this, even though it was so far outside my comfort zone. Something pushed me further, whether it was my stubbornness or my experience working with my highly entrepreneurial family, and by the 3rd or 4th phone I fixed, it felt like second nature. Now I’m the one teaching people how to do repairs.
Advice for people to help them avoid needing your services?
Put a case with rubberized edges on your phone or tablet! If you have kids or are accident-prone, an Otter Box will save you the headaches (if you can handle the bulkiness). And don’t listen to music while you are in the shower! If you have a phone or tablet sitting on the bathroom counter while you’re belting out the tunes, you are slowly killing your phone. Steam is the silent killer.
Advice for people thinking about starting their own businesses?
Know who your customers are and what they need, be ready and willing to change your plans, do your homework, find good mentors, take at least one full day off per week, and be prepared for a lot of mistakes. Above all, have fun and don’t get discouraged when things don’t work out the way you planned.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration in the people I meet every day, whether it’s other entrepreneurs, or people who are juggling school, a career, and kids. If you can get someone to talk about something they love (which is fairly easy), it’s easy to be inspired by their passion. Make it a habit of seeing the wonder in the ordinary and you’ll find inspiration everywhere.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why?
My phone without a doubt. My parents and siblings live in Idaho, my cousins live out in New York and my grandparents are down in California, and I talk to all of them at least once a week. Staying in touch with my family and knowing what is going on in their lives is really important to me.
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you?
I don’t like to sit in any one place for too long, which is why I love the mobile business model. If we’re doing repairs in a coffee shop, someone inevitably asks us what we’re doing. I got lucky one day and had a young gentleman around 7 years old join me at my table while I was doing a repair, and now we sometimes meet up and take things apart together (pictured). Kids are so much fun because they have no fear of sounding silly, and they ask the best questions.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.)
Keeping everything in perspective has been the key to staying sane. I remind myself every day of why I started See Jane Fix and think about how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I do. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, but remembering why I’m doing what I’m doing in the first place really helps alleviate the inherent daily stress.
Also, a fabulous mentor named John told me I had to read “Personal Kanban”. So I use the Trello app with the Kanban way of getting things done, and haven’t looked back since. If your to-do list keeps you up at night, I can’t recommend the book highly enough.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac, because I consider myself software deficient and need something easy to use.
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Janeway of course! But I secretly wanted to be Seven of Nine when I was younger, because she was always so blunt and didn’t really care what everyone else thought of her.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time Machine. I was a history major in college, and the past is full of valuable lessons for humanity. I wouldn’t want to travel forward in time though, because I think it would ruin the surprise of the future.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Start an organization to match brilliant minds from the tech sector with non-profits and NGOs. There is so much room for innovation in our approach to solving global poverty, and it would be amazing to see the kinds of solutions that came out of serious collaboration between these sectors.
I once waited in line for … Molly Moon’s ice cream. I regularly wait in line for their salted caramel flavor.
Your role models (And why?): My Mom is probably my biggest role model, because she loves people and loves helping them. She raised me and my two younger siblings while she was in medical school, which was unheard of back then. Sheryl Sandberg is another role model, and her whole ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign really struck a chord with me, because I was known for being ‘bossy’ growing up. I deeply respect people who are willing to take risks and make mistakes, especially when they’re going against how society has told them they should act.
Greatest Game In History: Gin rummy and Hearts. I love card games.
Best Gadget Ever: Does an espresso machine count as a gadget?
First Computer: A 2007 MacBook, which is still alive and well to this day!
Current Phone: iPhone 4 and a Nokia Lumia 520 for work.
Favorite Cause: Seattle Against Slavery is doing such important work in this city in raising awareness around an issue most people don’t know much about.
Most important technology of 2014: The Fairphone! Cell phones are essential these days, yet the means of production are questionable. A sustainably sourced and produced cellphone shows how technology is moving in the right direction.
Most important technology of 2016: Technologies and software that help reduce the inequalities in the global food systems, like devices that could help small farmers get better prices for their crops. I’m really excited to see how technology will affect the NGO and non-profit sector and how it can change our approach to solving global poverty.
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, that’s where all the learning happens.