ControlZ strives to undo the damage to environment with renewed smartphones that are as good as new

This Gurugram-based startup founded by 21-year-old Yug Bhatia has developed a comprehensive component-level renewal process that seeks to make pre-owned smartphones look and function as well as new ones.

ControlZ strives to undo the damage to environment with renewed smartphones that are as good as new

Wednesday August 09, 2023,

5 min Read

It may be tempting to toss your old phone and upgrade to the latest model in the market. But the constant consumption and purchase of new smartphones is leaving behind a huge carbon footprint. 

When you need to change your phone, used smartphones may be an environmentally conscious choice, but many people tend to avoid this due to their reduced aesthetics and functionality. 

Pre-owned smartphones come with significant wear and tear—in the form of scratches and dents. When it comes to functionality, battery life takes the biggest hit. Then there is the issue of phone hanging, owing to the manner in which the device had been handled by the previous user. 

This is where controlZ hopes to make a difference with renewed smartphones

With an aim to provide a sustainable solution that doesn’t generate too much e-waste, 21-year-old Yug Bhatia founded ControlZ in June 2020. The startup strives to refurbish old smartphones and make them as good as new, using a streamlined industrial process. 

Explaining the difference between the used phones in the market and ControlZ’s renewed phones, Bhatia says while pre-owned devices undergo basic refurbishment before being sold, ControlZ’s expertise lies in comprehensive component-level renewal.  

“Basic refurbishment involves simply replacing just a few parts to make the device function for resale,” says Bhatia, adding that the existing segment of pre-owned smartphones is primarily unorganised with no standardisation and guarantee on the overall quality of the device. 

“We want to streamline and standardise the process and elevate the pre-owned smartphone experience,” he says. 

How it all began

Bhatia’s fascination with smartphones and the influence of his family, who are passionate about sustainable practices, fuelled his desire to find an innovative solution that would create a positive environmental impact and also serve people’s needs. 

“Then the events of 2020, especially the global pandemic, brought to light the role of pre-owned smartphones in providing affordable connectivity to people during challenging times,” says Bhatia.  

“I became determined to unlock the untapped potential of the pre-owned smartphone market while addressing the pressing issue of waste generated by the industry,” he adds. 

Renewed iphone by ControlZ

Renewed iphone by ControlZ

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How it works

When a used smartphone arrives at ControlZ’s Renew Hub in Gurugram, it undergoes a comprehensive initial quality check using advanced automation technology. 

ControlZ’s team of skilled engineers detect any issues and work to restore both the functionality and the aesthetic appeal of the device. While the battery is changed, other parameters such as camera, display, sound, and printed circuit board assembly are checked, fixed, and renewed. 

Each device is carefully disassembled, diagnosed for defects, and thoroughly renewed, elaborates Bhatia. Then every part is repaired, retaining up to 80% of the original components. "Our primary goal is to not change anything in the phone but renew it. Think of it like we are remaking the whole phone," he emphasises.

Every refurbished device undergoes rigorous quality checks to ensure it meets high standards of both appearance and functionality, so that it feels and performs just like a new one, Bhatia adds. 

ControlZ’s goal is to extend the lifespan of smartphones and reduce the carbon footprint that comes with manufacturing devices. 

A large part of a smartphone’s carbon footprint is generated during the production process. 

Team at ControlZ

Team at ControlZ

“Refurbishing does create some carbon footprint, but it’s much smaller than making a new phone. Studies show refurbishing emits 80% less carbon and uses 85% less energy than making new devices. By choosing refurbishment, you’re helping cut down electronic waste and environmental impact,” points out Bhatia. 

Currently, the startup’s quality assurance process is semi-automated. The team at ControlZ, comprising 70-odd people, is working towards complete automation in the renewal process for quicker, easier, and more accurate results. 

The company has implemented a circular channel for components, including an in-house store for renewed components. When a device comes in for renewal and the engineers see a faulty component, they do not immediately resort to repairing it. 

Instead, they obtain a working component from the store to be used in the meantime, while the faulty part is being repaired and renewed. This decreases renewal time and speeds up the turnaround, says Bhatia. 

Renew Hub’s workspace is designed to minimise environmental impact and ensure sustainability. Bamboo is the primary material used in the building. Renew Hub also incorporates features such as solar power, rainwater harvesting, and biodiversity preservation. 

Growth and market opportunities 

Till date, the startup has refurbished and sold 60,000 units, primarily Apple and OnePlus phones. The cost of the renewed devices ranges from Rs 9,799 to Rs 39,999 for iPhone and Rs 6,499 to Rs Rs 46,999 for OnePlus—this is 60% lower than the cost of new devices, says Bhatia.  

According to Bhatia, ControlZ is poised to clock a revenue of Rs 50 crore in FY24 and reach the significant milestone of Rs 100 crore in FY25. Last year, the company’s revenue was Rs 25 crore. 

The used smartphone market is expected to touch $10 billion value by FY26, according to a RedSeer report. Cashify, ReFit Global, Qarmatek, Slyod, Aforserve Service, and Yaantra are some of the players in this segment.

Till now, ControlZ has been bootstrapped, relying on internal resources and revenue to support its operations and growth. 

To aid its growth strategy going forward, ControlZ plans to raise $2 million in debt funding this year. The startup’s plans include setting up an in-house research department and increasing its renewal capacity to 6 lakh devices a year from 20,000 devices currently. 

(The copy was updated with additional images.)

Edited by Swetha Kannan