On Tuesday, The New York Observer reported that 17-year-old Fei "Phil" Lam has made a killing selling white iPhone 4 conversion kits, parts he imported factory-direct from China even before Apple. Now, in an exclusive interview with Fast Company, Lam — a self-professed computer geek from Queens — says business is booming.
"I made $8,000 so far today," he says, attributing the skyrocketing sales on WhiteiPhone4Now.com to the news that he's already sold $130,000 worth of parts. Since the story went viral this week, his site has been overloaded with new customers: It received more than 130,000 views today alone. While Lam wouldn't confirm exact figures, he did say his revenue was between $60,000 and $130,000. And profits? So far, $30,000 to $40,000.
Not bad for a high school senior.
But the media buzz is a gift and a curse. Several days ago, Lam received a letter from a private investigator, which claimed that Lam is the focus of an investigation regarding the sale of stolen Apple white iPhone parts. The PI works for an anti-counterfeit and trademark protection firm, and the letter threatened a possible criminal investigation if Lam did not call.
"Nothing is stolen—that's why I was confused when the PI said I was selling stolen parts," says Lam, before launching into a description of his supplier. The details are a little hazy, but according to Lam, who is fluent in Chinese, he first came in contact with "his guy" after receiving a spam message hawking Apple replacement parts. He decided to reply to the message on a whim, and soon began talking with his future supplier about the parts.
Months later, Lam says, he learned his contact used to work at Foxconn, and still has friends there, although Lam is clear that only "some parts are from Foxconn" and that "nothing illegal was done behind the scenes."
When I asked Lam why he would trust a person he met through a spam message and why he would ever agree to send that person money, Lam could only say his contact seemed "really nice." Lam also stresses that his contact could've "booked it" and took his money, but he never did.
That's not to say Lam isn't worried about potential consequences of importing the parts. "For sure I'm stressed about the legal issues—I have contacted a lawyer," he says. "I've not told my family."
But in the meantime, as Lam says, "business [is] still in operation." He says he started the site to earn money for college, and to eventually fund a startup he's been planning.
And possibly one day work for Apple?
"I'm a huge huge Apple fan," he says. "Maybe — who knows?"