Meet Stephen Wakeling, Founder of Atlanta Rethinking Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy


Entrepreneurs working in the circular economy see both the financial and environmental benefits of rethinking e-waste.

Atlanta entrepreneur Stephen Wakeling has observed the transformation of space over the past decade while creating Phobio, a SaaS platform designed to facilitate the exchange of electronic devices.

“The useful life of a phone lengthens, as does the distance it travels around the world.” The circular economy, Wakeling says, could be more accurately described as a spiral now, as devices have multiple owners before they are ultimately recycled.

And with key partnerships with Apple and Costco, the primed startup has big plans to reinvent the lifecycle of more consumer products.

Wakeling’s entrepreneurial career has taken him from journalism to marketing and ultimately to the consumer electronics and tech space. After spending fourteen months in Hong Kong studying the realities of the e-waste industry, he and his co-founders built Phobio from scratch in Atlanta.

Times have changed, says Wakeling, since personal cellphones first hit the market. “The sales model for consumer electronics, and in particular cell phones, was really built on planned obsolescence. Now devices are more expensive, but their useful life is longer.

At first, Phobio focused on collecting devices after a few years of use in the first world for distribution in the third world. A new $ 1,000 iPhone may be out of reach, but a three-year-old refurbished phone for around $ 75 has become a big segment for Phobio’s business.

But as iPhone prices have increased over the past five years, Phobio has started to see a growing national appetite for take-back phone products.

“We are in an advantageous position,” he adds when asked about developments in the trade-in industry. “Until about five years ago, we focused exclusively on cell phones. Then with our relationship with Apple, that expanded to include all of their flagships, like Macs, iPads, and Apple Watches. And these weren’t really part of the circular economy before… but now people across the country are more comfortable buying these second-hand items.

What’s next in the circular economy

Initiated to date, Phobio has landed on the Inc 5000 list and named one of the 40 fastest growing mid-market companies in Georgia.

As students and employees scrambled to find devices at the start of the pandemic, Phobio’s business skyrocketed. But Wakeling says it also helped take a step back and make sure the team was taken care of.

“I feel like the CEO mantle has changed in 2020. You really had to express opinions and take sides on things that you wouldn’t have had two or three years ago,” says Wakeling.

For Phobio, that meant building up a small fund for employees who needed help coping with the realities of the pandemic and increasing wages.

While Wakeling and his team grew the business out of Atlanta, customer support, partner success, and engineering teams are spread across the United States.

The team now sees an important opportunity to introduce different products into the circular economy in the future.

Whether it’s power tools, furniture or even drones, Wakeling thinks that “one should expect that when you go to a Home Depot or a Lowe’s or a target there should be. have a few items that you could eventually trade in ”.

This opens new doors for Phobio, adds Wakeling. “We are really excited to be the software hub of the circular economy as it expands to other consumer durables. The big challenge for us five years ago was “how do I move a 28 inch iMac pallet?” We’re now excited to find out how you do this with other products that haven’t had an easy take-back process before, and how to make it easier for retailers and consumers.

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