Fei “Phil” Lam, a 17-year-old high school senior from Flushing, Queens, is worried that his idol, Steve Jobs, hates him.
He has a pretty good reason to believe so, too. On Tuesday, the New York Observer ran a story about Lam’s self-run e-commerce site, WhiteiPhone4Now.com, which sells $279 conversion kits that can turn your passé black iPhone 4 into one of those phantom white ones. The kit comes in four parts: a white back glass panel, a white front panel, a white home button, and a set of opening tools, protective case and screen protector. Lam has posted third-party YouTube tutorials on souping up your phone.
When he started the business in July, Lam didn’t expect all the orders that flooded in — he doesn’t even own a mobile phone, let alone an iPhone — but he has pocketed nearly $40,000 since August.
The legality of the business is murky. This week, a self-dubbed private investigator who claimed to represent Apple warned Lam to desist his operations. Lam, whose parents are unaware of the situation, quickly hired a lawyer.
“The private investigator is off my back now,” Lam said in an interview chat, although Apple has taken up the “trademark” issue with his lawyer. Meanwhile, his conversion kit business continues to flourish.
Lam’s business idea literally derived from a piece of spam. In July, Lam replied to his umpteenth spam advertising repair parts for the white iPhone 4, and hit a stroke of marketing genius.
“People have been selling these parts months before me. I just thought to advertise it as a conversion kit,” Lam said. Despite reports claiming Lam’s contact works at Foxconn, Lam says that this is simply not the case.
If his start-up shuts down, Lam is already cooking up a new start-up launching early next year. He describes it as “a super simplistic way to connect with a potential friend online…like a Chatroulette but less random and with more clothes on because there won’t be video.”
And given that Steve Jobs got his start by selling illegal blue boxes which allowed people to place free calls, it is probably no surprise that Lam’s idol is Steve Jobs. “Too bad he probably hates me now :(,” Lam wrote.