Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview two Yorkshire entrepreneurs, Oliver Todd & Mark Heptonstall. They started an innovative car buying platform earlier this year called CarHerd. This is just one of a number of businesses they have started. Here's the interview:
Hi guys, thanks for being on YHP today.
Can you first of all give me a little background to yourself?
My name is Oliver Todd; I am originally from Bradford, now living in Leeds. I had a very brief stint in Architecture after leaving school, before setting up as self employed. From there, I went on to meet my current Business Partner Mark Heptonstall and set up a number of Businesses. We own a Sports Management Company, Renewable Energy and Building Compliance Consultancy which are currently trading.
My Name is Mark Heptonstall, I’m 32 years old and from Leeds,West Yorkshire. I studied Architecture at Sheffield University before getting into land buying for national housebuilders – Persimmon Homes and Barratt Homes. I was made redundant in 2008 during the property crash and managed to secure a job for a renewable energy consultancy. After seeing the growth potential in this industry I started a company called C80 Solutions in early 2010 along with Oliver Todd. The company has gone from strength to strength since its formation and we have set up several other companies in different industries – one of these being CarHerd.
So tell us about CarHerd:
Carherd is a platform for buyers of new vehicles to receive discounts they wouldn't be able to negotiate themselves. We use the power of group buying to unlock greater discounts than an individual could negotiate.
What was the inspiration behind starting it?
We saw that the Group Buying concept work well in a number of markets, and wanted to see if it could be used in high value asset purchases. We tested it with high end vehicles initially and got enough interest to start testing within the volume new car market.
How many customers have you had so far? and how did you go about getting your first few customers?
So far 480 customers have come through the site and 42 vehicles have been delivered. We had a few websites run articles on our business when the site first launched, the first set of customers found us through those articles.
What has been the feedback from dealerships?
Getting agreements in place with Dealerships was probably one of the biggest challenges. They had not come across the concept before and it was difficult to get them to agree to formal agreements. Once a dealer came on board, they begin to understand why the model has a higher conversion rate than a traditional sales route and are helpful with input to how we can develop our process, which is invaluable.
What is your business model?
We generate income from a fee paid on each vehicle sold by a dealership.
How have you funded the business?
We self funded the project from our other business ventures.
How do you manage multiple businesses at once?
At times it is a challenge to keep track of how each business is developing but we have been able to recruit expertise in each area of Business we operate in, which is a huge advantage – and in some cases our choices in recruitment have determined the success of a venture. It’s important to not start to get involved in the actual fee earning work if possible, this way you can stay focused on what you want the business to achieve and how you want it to grow.
We decide early on which one of us is going to have overall control in running each company but we both provide valuable input to each venture. This way we achieve the best of both worlds.
What has been your biggest challenge in starting a business?
With CarHerd.com we think the biggest challenge was getting car dealerships to believe that this group buying concept would work. We had individuals who worked at different dealerships that would understand the concept and would be keen to work with us, but had difficulty when a decision had to be made at management level, actually entering into a formal agreement with a new start up like ours.
And how did you overcome that challenge?
We managed to get dealerships on board with the concept with a combination of traffic and interest we received on the website once it launched and also the member of staff we brought in who had a lot of experience within the new car markets, Andrew Brayshaw. Andrew was able to leverage his contacts and knowledge to start bringing dealerships on board as partners. We then found once we had a few dealers set up with agreements, it started to snowball and easier to get new dealers.
What advice would you give to others looking to startup themselves?
We see a lot of people giving advice to others who have considered starting up their own business, and often it’s ‘go for it’ and ‘what are you waiting for’. We think it’s important to take time to think hard about whether the idea is strong enough to spend a large amount of time on. It’s imperative that you make decisions based on facts, as opposed to emotions. Coming up with a good idea is only the very start of a business, we often see people being brainwashed by their own initial vision and they are not able alter or fold the Business if it does not have commercial success. Once an idea has been formed and you have committed to spending time on the venture you should enter a testing stage, to find out if there is uptake by potential customers, to test if the process works as per the original idea or needs to be altered and to see if the market is big enough. Only then can you make a decision on if it is worth launching the business.
Don’t waste any time on writing business plans or projections. You don’t know exactly who your customers are or what your product/service benefit is until you get out there and gather feedback. By feedback we mean comments from actual customers not from people who you've conducted market research on. There is a big difference between what people say they will do and what they actually end up doing. Create a minimal viable product and put it out there to receive feedback as soon as possible – then adapt quickly and repeat the process.
What's the worst thing about running your own business?
Probably the huge responsibility of having people work for you. We are very keen on lean start-ups that can be automated to avoid the need to employ hundreds of employees in order to operate.
What is the best thing about running your own business?
When you are in control of your own projects then you have the ability to determine your income streams and how your time is spent - So being free of another person’s agenda or vision.
So if you're looking for a new car, check out www.carherd.com