Great Lesson For A Startup – Realising The Real Value & Finding Your Core

Sometimes a company’s real value is not what their core offering is. Here is the story of such company that I was involved with and was fortunate to find their niche.

In the mid 90’s there was a bit of a fad in the US automotive industry around touch screen kiosks to showcase new models and to show new and used cars they have for sale. This was particularly good for dealers with multiple sites and to place these kiosks at shopping Centres, etc. The downside with this was that they were cumbersome to update meaning as soon as they were updated they were out of date.

“it’s all about the data”

Two guys out of Austin, Texas built on the concept and made their kiosk offering Internet connected, dialing into the car dealer’s computer system to retrieve the inventory details so that no matter where the kiosks were located they were automatically updated daily. On top of this, it simultaneously gave the car dealer a seamless and integrated Internet strategy for their web site. This was cutting edge stuff in 1995 and Digital Motorworks Inc (DMI) was born.
Their business model revolved around selling the Internet kiosk package to dealers, particularly targeting the big dealer groups who would pay monthly fees on a per kiosk and/or website basis. Not a bad model in theory especially considering there were over 20,000 car dealers in the US. By 1997 they were finding it difficult to get cut through at a dealer level “knocking on doors” and this was slowing growth (and affecting cash flow). They were doing it tough after such a promising start.

…the kiosk software was not their most valuable asset; it was in fact the software process and infrastructure they had created to automatically extract…

Through 1998 I was busy implementing the same business model for Reynolds in Australia and caught up with the DMI guys at the National Automobiles Dealers Association (NADA) conference early on in 1999. The change in their attitude from the last time I had met them was immediately noticeable and I quickly learnt why – “it’s all about the data”.

What they had discovered over the previous 18 months was that the kiosk software was not their most valuable asset; it was in fact the software process and infrastructure they had created to automatically extract the vehicle information from the dealer’s computer systems. So much so that they were no longer a touch screen kiosk provider and were now a data aggregation company! And it totally transformed the business.
They signed a deal with to provide them with the vehicle data from all of their thousands of dealers on a nightly basis. They went from having to knock on dealer’s doors to make a ~$500 per month kiosk sale to having dealer orders emailed to them at recurring ~$100 per month – an immediate 5,000 dealers at $100 per month is a lot of touch screen kiosk sales in one hit!

Fast forward 20 years and DMI today extracts, normalises and aggregates vehicle, sales, customer, parts & service data from over 25,000 dealerships across North America for a range of different clients as a fully owned subsidiary of CDK Global (formally ADP Dealer Services).

Without realising their real value and making it their core offering, they certainly wouldn’t be around today selling touch screen kiosks.

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