After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia and setting up a company to sell used cell phones, Brian Laoruangroch wanted to find minority partners and workers he could trust.
Laoruangroch didn’t have to look far to staff Green Mobile. He picked five members of his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, who also earned their business degrees earlier this year, and he discovered that a brotherhood can create a booming business.
Laoruangroch and his partners found out in June that the Small Business Administration had agreed to back a $250,000 loan that will allow the company to expand and open a similar operation in Champaign, Ill.
“Most people graduate from college and take a nap; these guys opened up a business,” said Jay Edwards, the SBA’s senior area manager.
Edwards and Jim Gann of the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship helped guide the graduates.
“We gave them their options for funding, watched them practice their presentation and told them to dress for success,” Edwards said.
“They have played a very large role for us,” Laoruangroch said, “including advice before we presented our business plan to banks, counseling about business help in general, helping to prod the SBA to approve our loan guarantee, and letting us do practice business-plan presentations before them and many different members of faculty from the university.”
Laoruangroch, the president and chief operating officer for Green Mobile, said the idea for the business stemmed from a series of mishaps.
“I had broken five or six cell phones, and it was starting to cost a lot of money. I did some research and realized that pre-owned phones on eBay were going for a fraction of the cost” of new replacement phones, Laoruangroch, 23, said. “Being a business student at the time, I made the connection that there’s a need for these pre-owned phones, so I started selling them on eBay myself.”
Last summer Laoruangroch decided to broaden his eBay business and created a Web site. Shortly thereafter he moved into an office at 816 Broadway, above American Shoe, were he brought in 20 of his fraternity brothers as employees.
The company generated more than half a million dollars in total sales over the next six months, he said.
To increase its exposure, Green Mobile opened a kiosk in the Columbia Mall the day after final exams wrapped up at the university in May.
Brandon Scott is vice president of sales and marketing, Davie Holt is general manager of the kiosk, Stephen Sedlak is vice president of Web site development and chief operating officer, Josh Roberts is the chief financial officer, and Spencer Oberg is the director of purchasing.
“I already had a job lined up after a successful internship and was planning on going back to Kansas City when Brian and Josh convinced me to keep the six of us guys together and make this happen,” Scott said. “I agreed because I wanted to stay young, stay in Columbia, not have a 9-to-5 job, travel and work with my best friends.”
The phones re-sold by Green Mobile are collected from other companies and from drives at churches, schools and corporations. They’re then refurbished with new parts. This method helps keep lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium from leaking out of improperly disposed cells and into the environment.
Green Mobile says all refurbished phones come with free 30-day warranties and are sold at a fraction of the retailer’s price, making Green Mobile the perfect option for people who have lost their phones or just wants upgrades. The cheapest models go for $49.99, and the most expensive, the LG Chocolate, is $249.99.
“Let’s say you break or lose your phone after six months of insurance,” Laoruangroch said. “You would have paid $36 for the six months of insurance, plus a $50 deductible. That’s $86 for a replacement you had insurance on, whereas we sell a lot of phones for under $50. Plus, not everyone has insurance, and even with insurance your phone can only be replaced twice.”
Laoruangroch may be the brainchild behind the business, but he credits many people in his life for his success.
“I’ve had a lot of support along the way to get where I am now,” said Laoruangroch, who served as the MU student body president in 2004. “My parents, the guys I work with … these guys were the most active guys on campus, and each of them brings something to the table. They’re all business savvy, and I trust them.”
The Green Mobile guys all had a surreal moment recently when they all went out to dinner together and saw their commercial on a nearby television. The ad features “Green Mobile Man,” Laoruangroch in a green-and-white superhero suit, venturing out to solve the world’s cell phone troubles.
“We were trying to generate as much attention as possible, and it worked,” Laoruangroch said. “I’ve done commercial acting for about five years, and it was really just one of those things where somebody had to do something ridiculous to get people’s attention. My grandma actually made the spandex superhero outfit.”