Such is the psychological trauma of losing a BlackBerry that some shrinks in the USA now provide a special service for victims. "Research shows that emotionally, the experience can be akin to being in a minor car accident," says Frank Hannigan, managing director of Yougetitback.com.
Almost as soon as he'd heard this, Hannigan spotted a business opportunity. "Like all successful business ideas, it is a very simple one," he says. "We provide a lost and found tagging service that makes it easy for people who find lost items like BlackBerries, mobile phones and laptops with Yougetitback.com security tags to return them."
The tags – which protect items for a period of three years – are either bought by individuals or by companies such as Lexus, Vodafone and Deloitte who provide them to customers, clients or employees.
Each tag, which may be adhesive or metal, contains a unique ID code with an international free phone number and web address, along with a "Reward Return" incentive, to make returning a lost item as easy as possible for the finder.
"Things like mobile phones get lost almost by definition – that is, because they are mobile. But our initial research showed that they get found in huge numbers too. London black cabs find 60,000 mobile phones every six months," says Hannigan, who adds that other items that can be tagged include laptops, mp3 players, keys and cameras.
With 20 years experience at the helm of both established and start-up ventures, Hannigan felt he would be well-placed to found such a business and as such, he appeared on the television programme, Dragon's Den back in 2005. The Dragons rejected his idea, but this didn't put him off. "I remember sitting with a pint of Guinness after the show, trying to untangle what happened," he recalls. "I came to the conclusion that the programme is a Pop Idol for entrepreneurs – in that the primary purpose seemed to be trying to make you cry or scream to make good television. I came away thinking that the Dragons were more interested in making you look like a fool than anything else."
The sweet irony, he says, is that he constantly gets calls from people who have seen reruns of the show. "Having discovered that we made a success of the business, they want to become customers," he laughs.
After trying to fund the business themselves, Hannigan and his co-founders Paul Prendergast and William Fitzgerald (now marketing director and operations director respectively) sought funding from a business expansion programme and were invited to pitch at the Investment Club Network in January 2006. This resulted in Yougetitback.com receiving £510,000 – twice the amount they asked for on Dragon's Den.
"These were financial directors of multi-nationals right through to farmers who heard our story and, unlike the Dragons, thought our business idea made tonnes of sense and were prepared to put a few bob behind us," says Hannigan, who reports that the company still has 39 separate investors.
"At that time, the company was valued at £4m and it's now worth £6.8m, so they are very happy," he says. "The forecast is even more optimistic, with the company estimated to grow in value 20 times by 2012."
Hannigan reports that 75 per cent of all lost items are returned to Yougetitback.com. "Interestingly, the reward – which equates to £15 worth of our products or a cash reward – is not a key driver for people returning lost items," he says. "The kind of comments we get are, 'No need – what comes around goes around.' As such, we are thinking of providing an option whereby people can donate their reward to a charity such as Unicef."
This, he says, would reflect the increasingly global nature of Yougetitback.com, which already has offices in the UK, Ireland, USA and UAE, and will be opening offices in Madrid and Paris this year.
The bulk of the company's revenue comes from large deals, worth on average from half a million to a million pounds, with clients such as mobile phone carriers, retailers and manufacturers. "It's a point of differentiation for them," says Hannigan.
Yougetitback.com tends to hire people at MBA level and currently has 11 full-time employees, along with another 60 people who draw a significant part of their salary from the company. "We do a lot of outsourcing," explains Hannigan.
Hannigan says he has been surprised at how smoothly the building of the business has been. "I think I half expected not to be taken seriously by big corporations. But all our customers have been so enthusiastic about what we have to offer," he says. "I think a sense of a 'can do' attitude has become particularly prevalent in Britain over the last 10 years and it is very refreshing. We have worked time and time again with people in huge organisations that have given us a chance."