Business Lessons from the iOS Community: Making the Case for Incipio

Incipio is a difficult company to categorize. And that is a good thing. They make some of the most recognizable cases for iPhone, iPads, and Android phones; and their sister company, Tavik, makes swimwear and apparel. After Apple revealed the iPhone 5C and 5S, Incipio immediately followed with a same day announcement of a wide range of cases for both products. They understand the anticipatory nature of the Apple market. Regardless of the yawns or cheers from analysts, the fervent Apple customers start looking immediately beyond the announcement horizon for industry support. Incipio vows always to be first to market.

Incipio does business from its headquarters in Irvine, CA; an area that used to be known as Silicon Valley South when the likes of Dataproducts, Gateway, and Western Digital grew footprints there, followed later by newer engineering firms like Broadcom.

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At Incipio’s helm sits Andy Fathollahi, a longtime resident of Orange County. His case-making days go back to the Palm Pilot. And like most entrepreneurs in the tech industry, Fathollahi started Incipio in his parent’s garage. His parents were also his only investors. He proudly states that the company remains “100 percent private. No investors and no partners.” 

Incipio has grown from a one-person show to 250 employees and now offers a wide range of products for Apple’s iPhone and iPad as well as various Android and Windows devices. Incipio has ridden the surge from the first iPhone, to the iPad, to the expansion of carriers, and that ride has helped them grow tremendously since the release of the first iPhone.

Incipio isn’t just about cases anymore either. They also offer sync and charge solutions, including Lightning; along with near field communication solutions, headphones, and earbuds, styluses, and bags. And as stated earlier, they also sell swimsuits. Fathollahi keeps his brands rationalized, but products cross the chasm. The swimwear and casual apparel product lines come from the acquisition of Tavik. And Tavik now sells iOS device products that align, like the “Little Black Book” iPhone case, which fits the consumer lifestyle niche served by Tavik.

Most recently, Incipio acquired Braven, a portable Bluetooth speaker manufacturer established in 2011 that Fathollahi says will take on Beats and Jawbone. “We aren’t afraid of them. We have tremendous vertical presence.” These speakers, which retail between $100 and $300, are designed to appeal to the core mobile customers, not audiophiles, but there are a whole lot more mobile customers looking for good sound options than people willing to resuscitate tube-based receivers.

Incipio’s vertical presence isn’t lost on observant consumers, who will find the company’s cases at almost every major retailer, including airport retail outlets. And that presence is differentiated by well-designed packaging that make sense when people open them. They are attractive and economical, made mostly of recyclable material.

The boxes receive the same design emphasis as their cases, all of which are designed in their Irvine headquarters. They also pick, pack, and ship directly to thousands of retailers daily from the same facility. Not only are the cases designed by Incipio, but they also come up with trademarked materials, like “Plaxtonium™ designed to optimize the protection of fragile consumer electronics.

When asked about the future, Fathollahi says, “I’m driven. I’m driven to grow. I want to grow the business where it makes sense. We have always been profitable. We want to follow good business practices and produce a good, honest product every day.”

After 15 years in the case business, Fathollahi and his team at Incipio have established themselves as the premier case experience for mobile devices. Virtually every smartphone case comes with a screen cover, cleaning cloth, and an applicator card.

Those good business practices extend to what I consider the great practices aimed at partners and press. Every sample comes in a black, Incipio embossed box. Open the box, and you don’t find the regular corn starch peanuts or bubble wrap, no, you find black, embossed tissue paper and a handwritten note from your contact.  Fathollahi pushes attention to detail into every aspect of the product. “Everything is focused on how consumers use these products and the benefit we can offer. We want a great experience for our customers.” Fathollahi says.

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Daniel W. Rasmus is the Founder and Principal Analyst at Serious Insights. Rasmus is the author of Listening to the Future and Management by Design. Rasmus teaches at Bellevue College where he teaches Social Media and Personal Branding. He is also the Chief Knowledge Officer with the Virtual World Society.