Following the Money: Why Entrepreneurs Should Pick Up the Phone When the Market's Calling

Five steps to changing your business with the times

I ended up in the swimming pool with my phone in my back pocket. My friend's toddler fell in, so I jumped without thinking about my technology getting fried. I thought I was out $300, and my husband was mad that I ruined another phone. Instead, I got paid a good amount of money for that broken phone by a company that is doing more than saving people like me money... But it didn't start out that way. They had to upgrade and listen to the call of the market.

This Boston-based family business, Gizmogul, started when the Schneider brothers decided he no longer wanted to go door-to-door, knocking on dentist offices to collect and recycle scrap metal. After a while, he realized that this way of doing had become a dinosaur.

Their "Aha!" moment came when those customers started asking for advice on how to recycle motherboards, keyboards and phones.

Taking the experience they had from the commodities industry, the Schneider brothers upgraded their family business to the 21st century and began to focus on electronic waste and recycling.

"As scrap metal became less of a money-maker, new technology was a cash cow," explained Stephen. was born and started collecting, erasing and e-cycling smartphones and tablets.

"We wanted to create a business that was environmentally sustainable. We knew that pretty much everyone has outdated or broken electronics at home that still have value. Our goal was to figure out how to motivate people to recycle those devices for profit and the good of the environment," said Cory Schneider.

They also realized that people didn't want to blindly send in a broken phone without knowing how much they could get for it. When I sent in my phone, I was able to plug in the type, model and condition (drowned) and found out that my estimated payout would be $130.

They sent me a free mailer to ship the phone free so I didn't have to wait in line to mail it -- a big plus for me. I asked the brothers what advice they might have for other entrepreneurs who might feel like their current way of doing business is outdated. They provided five tips to help your business change with the times:

1. Be flexible: Industries change and so should your company. You may "want" to do one thing in theory, but the market is telling you to do another. Simply follow the money.

2. Create valuable content: Social media is here to stay and it's now an integral part of how your business is evaluated not only by search engines but also by potential customers, too. Utilize these opportunities by pumping out valuable, interesting content. One of the ways we managed to stand out amongst our competitors was by creating viral content.

3. Update: Constantly be updating your materials, your website, etc. You can always be doing something better and as new technologies hit the market you should take advantage of them. A perfect example is last year we changed the GizmoPack mailer we send to customers. Instead of sending four different mailers, we streamlined it to one two-way mailer that was USPS approved as a First Class letter, which allowed us to save paper and tens of thousands of dollars in shipping every year.

4. Be clear in your messaging: You'd be surprised how easily people are confused by something as simple as signing up online for a free, prepaid mailer in order to send in your smartphone to get paid. We have staff follow up via email and over the phone with customers to make sure they're clear and we also make videos to hammer home the point.

5. Give back: The more you give, the more profits you make. It's karma or some universal law, but it works. Gizmogul takes a philanthropic approach to everything. When people recycle with us, they're not only doing the environment a favor, they're helping to fund education."

I loved the last point, and asked how the brothers give back. They work with buildOn, an international charity that funds the construction of new schools globally and supports after school programs domestically. One smart phone donated equals one week of after school program for a teen in an inner city school! One thousand smart phones equals one school built in a developing country.

If my husband wouldn't get mad, I'd smash or drown another phone for that cause!