f you like this publication, you’ll likely enjoy reading
about iPhone Life’s evolution into the media company
it is today, and how it’s been able to weather a rapidly
changing tech industry and declining magazine industry.
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, my publishing company was supporting users of Microsoft-based
Pocket PCs and smartphones. To my dismay, the economy
collapsed the following year, and Apple dominated the smartphone market.
By mid-2008, advertising, newsstands sales, and subscriptions for our Smartphone & Pocket PC magazine had all but
stopped. I tried pruning down our staff of 15 people, but we
were in deep trouble. I told my editor of 20 years, Rich Hall,
and 13-year customer service rep, Marge Enright, that I would
have to shut the business down. I had an idea, but there
was no money to pay anyone. If things worked out, I would
compensate them fairly. My plan was to continue producing
the magazine but to make it exclusively about the iPhone.
Richard and I started working on the issue even though we
knew nothing about the iPhone. Marge, who had never sold
anything, started selling ads.
We sent the first issue of iPhone Life magazine to our large
newsstand distribution base and to our subscribers. Happily,
42 percent of the copies of the first issue sold (we had been
selling about 20 percent of Smartphone & Pocket PC magazine on the newsstand). Only a few subscribers requested
refunds, and we had a normal renewal rate. In 2009 and 2010,
with a small staff and just four issues per year, we were quite
Given the fast pace of iPhone adoption, I decided to go all
in. I wanted to sell the business and have a substantial retirement income. We hired more editorial, marketing, and ad
Then, in early 2011, we had unexpected newsstand compe-
tition, an advertising slowdown, and delays in newsstand pay-
ment. Our revenue could not keep up with our higher payroll,
the print bill, and marketing projects. I knew I could weather
the storm, but I was out of energy. I didn’t want to lay people
off, restructure, and start over again.
Even though the business had value, I decided to let it go.
I brought in three talented, 20-something employees—David
Averbach, now CEO of iPhone Life; Raphael Burnes, now
CTO; and Alex Cequea, who has since left the company—
shocking them with my plans to shut down.
I asked if they wanted the website. Raph said, “Sure.” Then
I said to them, “Without the expense of print, maybe you can
make the digital magazine work.”
David, a business major, started playing with the numbers.
With reduced staff, a loan from me, and the three budding
entrepreneurs initially working for little, they could make the
entire business profitable again soon.
After several days of negotiation, we came to an agreement
we all felt good about. The mutual trust, appreciation, and
respect among the partners, even through challenging times,
has only deepened over the years.
David, Raph, and Alex’s replacements Noah Siemsen and
Donna Cleveland, have done an extraordinary job assembling
a dedicated, talented, harmonious team that has navigated
challenging times in the publishing industry.
For the full story, check out an interview with me featured
in episodes 116 and 117 of the iPhone Life Podcast (you can
find them at iPhoneLife.com/Podcast). I discuss my new
book, The Meditating Entrepreneurs - Creating Success from
the Stillness Within, in which I tell the story of how I left be-
hind a career as a Hewlett-Packard engineer in California to
join a meditation project in the cornfields of Iowa. I also share
lessons from 14 other entrepreneurs who started businesses
from nothing in pre-internet rural Iowa. �
The Evolution of iPhone Life
Hal, along with his wife Rita, founded iPhone Life’s original publishing company,
Thaddeus Computing, in 1985. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out
Hal’s new book at meditatingentrepreneur.com.
Illustration by Mikaila Maidment, mikailamaidment.com