I’ve only sold one car in my life. It was a 1996 black Honda Civic hatchback. The process was exactly what you’d expect. I put up a Craiglist advertisement and hoped for the best. 2 weeks and 4 or 5 test drives later I sold the car. The problem on my side was that I don’t really know that much about cars: how much they are worth how, what type of presale patience I should do. Enter RollSale, a St. Louis based start up that is closing in on an initial $1 million start up investment. Earlier, I spoke with the co-founder Brian Moore about RollSale and how it came to be.
How did RollSale come about?
RollSale started in May of 2011. At the time I was working as a consultant in the automotive industry, and my cofounder, Mike Nichols, had been involved in the dealer side of industry since the 1990s. Together it was a good combination. I knew the industry from a top down corporate view and he understood everything from the bottom up. A mutual friend introduced us and we struck up a conversation about online car portals. We agreed that companies were doing some really innovative things with new car dealers, but nothing in the used space.
We started by outlining the broken parts of the used car industry. One is that dealers can’t find enough quality inventories. In the past they relied on auctions to get inventory, but they are expensive in terms of both money and time. We started to think, “We have all the technology today, what would the most efficient wholesale ecosystem look like?” Our original idea was a dealer-to-dealer product that allowed dealers to gain inventory by circumventing the auction, but this evolved into allowing consumers to sell cars directly to dealers. We thought, Lending Tree but with used cars.
You were saying early that there were a lot of broken parts in the industry. What were they?
Auctions are a huge piece of it. They build in a lot of additional fees and wasted time. There was also a concern about the security of online transactions. EBay and Cars.com have systems to trade cars, but security is still a concern for consumers and whom they are meeting and how it may go. We wanted to build something that would help both parties and allow transactions to occur with out just having 2 strangers meet in a parking lot.
She said it as a passing comment and it ended up being the click moment for us. We’d been staring at cars all day and it was a simple aside that revealed the answer.
It sounds like you guys are solving the inefficiencies of the market, is what we say today the main idea or has it evolved.
At its core it is still what we wanted it to be, something that solved inefficiencies in the market, but it has absolutely evolved. What we have now enables dealers to transact inventory easier and faster than a lot of the methods out there.
Is this your first venture?
Mike has been involved in a few other start-ups, but this is my first go at it. For me being in the Tech Stars program was hugely helpful, an introduction to this start up world and community.
How did you get involved with Tech Stars
I applied for the NYC Tech Stars class back in January or February on a whim. We figured it would be fun and we’d talk to a few people about our idea, and we ended up being one of the finalists. We didn’t make it but
were introduced to Nicole Glaros from Tech Stars Boulder. We interviewed with Nicole and several mentors and then were selected at Tech Stars Boulder.
We believe that a lot of moments in life that spur innovation or great ideas happen randomly. Are there any stories of serendipity in the company?
Before Tech Stars we talked how to incorporate the consumer, but we didn’t know how to accomplish it. That was until a Tech Stars person randomly suggested we just have dealers compete for consumer cars. She said it as a passing comment and it ended up being the click moment for us. We’d been staring at cars all day and it was a simple aside that revealed the answer.
Are you yourself a car guy?
I love them but I’m not a classic car guy. I couldn’t fix one but I love driving them. I’m also a bit of an industry outsider in that I didn’t work at a dealership, but I think that’s been helpful.
How was being an outsider helped?
Our CTO, Chris, and I both come from a different background than Mike Nichols (the car guy). When we talk and strategize, we play the role of a consumer. Neither of us have a working knowledge of a dealership, but we know what it’s like from the outside. It’s been very important to have both dealer and consumer viewpoints when we build our features.