As we process applications for the 2012 Inc. 500|5000, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. One that caught our eye was San Luis Obispo, California-based company iFixit.

Kyle Weins, 28, is a classic do-it-himself kind of guy. When his iBook broke in 2003 he decided, as any computer geek and broke college student would, to take it apart and put it back together himself. He quickly discovered one big problem: There was no product manual available to help him. He eventually fixed it himself but in the process he realized that he probably wasn't the only one in need of a manual. And not just any boring manual with cryptic illustrations, but one that was easy to use and engaging with both text and multimedia content.

Doing the coding himself, Weins built a platform to host free online manuals, ranging from how to de-glitch your iPod to how to be your own car mechanic. By selling parts to coincide with the manuals, his idea quickly became a full-fledged company, iFixit, which earned a 3-year growth rate of 126% between 2007 and 2010 and a rank of No. 2009 on the 2011 Inc. 5000 list. 

"We've organically grown into the largest online fix-it manual," Weins says of iFixit, which grew to $4.1 million in revenue in 2010 and 30 employees with only word-of-mouth advertising.

The beauty of iFixit is that it empowers its users. Instead of going to the Apple store and hearing that it will cost $800 to fix a MacBook’s cracked screen, iFixit sells the parts and provides a manual for much less. Along the way, users can discuss issues with one another. IFixit remains up-to-date by integrating its content with client content, and that’s what sets it apart from a completely user-driven site like Wikipedia. There are currently over 8,000 manuals available on the site with an estimated 77 million views.

“We keep the community discussion focused on solving problems,” Weins says.

In April, the company launched another software division: Dozuki. With Dozuki, businesses can format manuals and provide them in product packaging. There have been some growing pains, however. Rather than changing something in the system and walking down the hall to tell the development team, there is now the added expectation to record these changes for business that pay to use the software.
“Dozuki has forced us to grow up a little bit faster as software company,” Weins says of white-labeling iFixit’s software. “It’s certainly a push and pull.”