116: human-I-T: 2017 eBay SHINE Awards Finalists – Gabe Middleton & James Jack

In 2012 Gabe & James co-founded human-I-T, a nonprofit focused on digital equity and sustainable e-waste management. Their humble beginning in a cell phone repair shop has crystallized their vision into what human-I-T is today. human-I-T breathes new life into your unwanted electronics; converting e-waste into opportunities for others.

Interesting Notes

  • Gabe and James both have a passion for technology. They don't have a formal training in IT. They learn things only by day-to-day tinkering. They wanted to share their passion for technology to others. They founded the human-I-T and do it full-time since 2012.
  • human-I-T is a non-profit business that takes in unwanted or inoperative technology. Instead of recycling the said technology and breaking it down into the commodities, human-I-T refurbishes the technology and redistribute it into the hands of the low-income families and non-profit organizations.
  • Gabe and James's mission is to offer low-cost technology not only to their recipients but to the community at large.
  • They also open the doors of their warehouses to the communities. This way people could come and learn the importance of reusing and repurposing technologies. It also provides people with vocational skills that they could enter into their resume and have a better chance of employment.
  • Most companies across America are paying e-waste recyclers to take their equipment away. Recyclers grind those up to try to take some gold and silver out of it.
  • As a social enterprise, human-I-T offers FREE services to businesses to get unwanted or inoperative technology. human-I-T would either show up with its truck or coordinate shipping of palettes of equipment from different companies that are getting rid of laptops.
  • human-I-T also provides corporate data desynthesization. It means that human-I-T wipes out customer information from the hard drives for free.
  • human-I-T has a very expensive software. The software produces a Certificate of Destruction. It does not only captures the serial numbers of the hard drive but also confirms that it has wiped, how it was wiped, and whether it is still reusable or not. In its day to day due diligence, human-I-T stays on the edge of data desynthesization.
  • If something is too broken and there is no way some parts can be used, recycle is the last resort or it would be completely shredded.
  • Hospitals and banks can work with human-I-T. Its processes are compliant with other certifications and regulations.
  • human-I-T is one of the 2017 eBay Shine Awards finalists for the Charitable Business category. With over 2,400 applications, Gabe and James felt lucky enough to be chosen by eBay. Their business is given the opportunity to be featured. They meet some great people not only at the Conference. It was a great experience for them.
  • eBay has always been a part of their business plan from day one. They were both 25 years old with limited business experience when they started out. They knew that they have to generate revenue on their own. They knew that they wanted to use eBay as a way to generate revenue, keep them sustainable and grow their vision.
  • They identified items that every family can use like computers. But they also offer their services to businesses so it gives them not only computers but office phones, servers, network switches.
  • They created a business model where they refurbish and resell outlier technology on eBay. They monetize it for their mission to offer or donate computers for free to the community
  • Today, though technology has value, one has to put a lot of work in to actually realize that value. The businesses are not only giving items with a value to recyclers, if they are not giving the items to human-I-T but is actually paying a business to take away the $150 laptops.
  • That creates a huge opportunity for human-I-T to grow fast because it has a no brainer offer. Its biggest limitation now is that businesses do not know that human-I-T services exist
  • human-I-T has a lot of partners who help get the technology from various businesses. It has partners too who help get the technology out to the families.
  • It took Gabe and James a lot of trial and error, in the beginning, to figure out how to price used technology. They also trained their staff on how to price the items depending on the specs and the condition. They want to be competitive in the eBay marketplace. They knew that a lot of their customers don't have the expendable income to get the technology in.
  • Like any brick and mortar shop, they offer a 30-day money back guarantee. Trust is the number one thing for them. They want their customers to trust them. And they find a big way to convey trust by accepting returns if customers are not satisfied with the items.
  • They offer the money back guarantee because they test all their items before selling.
  • They use eBay Promotions Manager and Markdown Manager with their sales plan. They see the drastic difference having a sound system around the sales and promotions compare to just shooting in the dark and doing it whenever they have the time to do it.
  • In the beginning, James and Gabe did everything. From marketing to pick-up and distribute, then to sales. They wear all the hats. But they reach a point in their business where they can't do it just by themselves. They needed to find good people to help them. They are lucky enough to convince a lot of people to help them out. 90% of their employees started out as volunteers
  • James is very good in the IT side of their business. His skills helped them in the early stage of their business before they got some real gigs in their warehouse to do the dirty works. He also has previous experience selling on eBay and how to be successful on eBay.
  • Gabe specialty is on creating a business. He makes sure that logistics are set up. He compartmentalized every aspect of their business.
  • Over time, they learned how to systemize the random technology in. Everything is broken down into a system. They keep producing a standard quality brand image and sell those items. If they don't sell, they can't do their mission to help the community.
  • One breakthrough that Gabe came up with, from a pricing standpoint to a selling standpoint, is to spend only 5 hours on a $30 item. They would get a raw material, working or not. They would assess how much does the item worth if it is working and not working. Depending on what those price ranges are, Gabe developed a system to where their team is presented with the exact amount of time they should spend on an item assessing it if they can get the item to a working condition. They know when they need to stop and send it through. If it has a value, they assess it and get it sold. If it doesn't, then it gets to e-waste. The simple cutoff time, knowing what you should do helps scale their operations.
  • eBay for Charity is an amazing program that eBay develops. On all the human-I-T listing, 100% of the proceeds go to a non-profit through eBay charity program. human-I-T pays zero seller fees on all its items because 100% of the revenue generated go to its 501(c)3 non-profit.
  • With eBay for charity, eBay sellers can donate a part or all their proceeds to a charity on eBay. Depending on what percentage they are donating, they don't have to pay eBay fees. On top of it, they can receive tax deductions because they are donating to a charity.
  • Millenials or the younger customers on eBay seek out a business that supports a good cause. It gives the business a competitive edge if it is associated with a good cause. It does not matter what you donate, 1% or 20% or whatever it is. Once a business is aligned with a good cause, it can actually help its sales.
  • Today, the two 25-year-olds who started their business from their bedroom, operate their business in 3 locations in Southern California. They have 2 warehouses: one in Downtown Alley and the other is in Commerce, California, which is about 15 minutes south of Alley. They have an administration office at Longbridge, California, where they do all their HR and Accounting stuff
  • They have 30 employees. 20 people are working in the warehouses. They do the pickup, handling of the inventory, testing the equipment, and shipping the items once they sell. The rest of the people are focused on the marketing and spreading the awareness to the companies that there are better solutions dealing with unwanted technology.
  • They have a photo booth and one staff is assigned to take the picture. The staff puts the data made by the other staff, then make the item live on eBay.
  • One of their challenges is to have a clear and crisp picture. Sometimes, they may have an item that is as small as M&M or something as huge as giant printer, the size of a person
  • human-I-T also provides low-cost internet to couple to a lot of the technology that they sell. Because when it comes to a digital buyer, a computer is not enough to do anything today. You need the internet. So they try to pair those two together.
  • Opportunity is a big word around in human-I-T.
  • Gabe and James want an opportunity to make a difference. They want an opportunity to show people what they can do.
  • They observe that consumers are purchasing technology at a rate faster than any other time in the history. e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Gabe and James both believe that human-I-T is needed in every single major metropolitan in the United States. Their vision is to provide services nationwide, connecting people to technology all over the country.
  • Once, Gabe and James, have distributed 100 computers in one day. It seemed that the family received their first computer ever. It is really what it is all about. It is why they do everything they do. It is why they create an eBay store.
  • They are both thankful for this interview. Let's help them spread awareness that any business can call them up and work with human-I-T tomorrow, save some money, and help their community.

Advice, Tips, and Tricks

  • If you think about all your business processes at once, it is too overwhelming. You have to compartmentalize it. You have to make sure that you have protocols and a system for every scenario that you can think of. Measure everything that you do because you can't manage what you don't measure.
  • In building trust, the customers have to know what they are buying. human-I-T is upfront on any kind of damage or scratches. The technology arrives at the customer's doorstep exactly as how they saw it.
  • You need to listen to the customers because they will tell you what they expect from you. human-I-T does not want to lose the trust of its customers. Without the eBay buyers, there is no human-I-T.
  • It is a need to have a consistent backdrop for all items. Clear and crisp pictures improve sales.

Quotes

  • “eBay is absolutely the key component for us to keep doing what we are doing and help many people as possible.”
  • “Trust is the number one thing for us!”
  • “Everything is broken down into systems.”
  • “You can't manage what you don't measure!”
  • “The customer has to know what they are buying.”
  • “Trust is everything! Without that, we won't be here.”
  • “Without the eBay buyers, there is no Human IT.”
  • “Google puts the world at your finger and it creates an opportunity.”
  • “American dream does not really exist unless you have a computer with an internet.”
  • “We are just trying to give what we have received.”
  • “Every single business in the country is getting rid of unwanted technology.”

Tools

  • Promotions Manager
  • Markdown Manager

Contact Information

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