Monthly Archives: April 2017

carsales – if it was easy, everyone would do it


The carsales story is a tale of many things coming together to create the business it is today.

One of those things is foresight; fundamental to building a successful dot com into an ASX Top100 company.

I have watched the business start and grow from near and at times little further away. Right at the very start my first business trip overseas was July 1997 to the US to review two new technology products with a view to make a recommendation on which path to take.

I was working with Reynolds & Reynolds Pty Ltd (R&R) and had just been giving the job of getting their E-Commerce business going.

Over the previous 3-4 years I had been designing and developing software to that utilizes the new DealerLink private network that would revolutionize the dealer management software services in Australia.

The software products I were to review were touch screen kiosks; a new technology showcased by a few vendors at the NADA convention earlier that year in San Francisco.

A dealer had seen the technology at NADA, immediately saw some benefit in helping his dealership and grabbed the CEO of R&R to show him.

The value he saw was the ability to have his inventory from all three locations available to be viewed at each location complete with photos. At the time, this was ground breaking.

The first place I had to visit was the Reynolds & Reynolds Inc head office in Dayton, Ohio. As they still had a small strategic stake in R&R and had a kiosk solution, it seemed prudent that we considered their software.

Their kiosk software was slick and worked well with the only downside being that each kiosk was standalone meaning the only way to update each kiosk was to load the inventory by disc each time.

The second stop was to Austin, Texas where Digital Motorworks Inc (DMi) had built the kiosk software our Australian dealer had been wowed by earlier in the year.

Whereas the Reynolds kiosk solution was standalone, the DMi solution utilized the Internet to update its inventory automatically.

Remember this was 1997; using the Internet to drive your business solution was somewhat new and deemed to be somewhat risky.

What this did was not only fed the kiosk solution, it also immediately enabled an internet strategy for the dealer – their inventory could be searched online within the dealer web site and it enabled individual dealer inventory to be aggregated together.

This was groundbreaking stuff back in 1997, especially in Australia and my mind was made up so I started preparing my recommendation paper.

The one hurdle was the cost of each – the DMi solution was over 4x the Reynolds solution up front and considerably more ongoing. I didn’t know how this would work as I put together my findings and recommendation.

Well on my return the decision ended up being clear cut – the Internet driven DMi solution, despite the relative cost, was chosen very quickly without too much debate – The leaders at R&R had bigger plans.

The last software piece I had developed before heading over to look at the kiosk software was the automated aggregation of dealer inventory direct form their dealer management system to a centralized database with a view to creating a wholesale vehicle sourcing system we called StockLink.

We used this software to populate the kiosk inventory database automatically and within months had kiosk systems running in each of the dealer’s three locations and searchable on the dealer’s new website.

Little did we know (or maybe we did) what this was the start of what would become carsales.

We thought touch screen kiosks would be a big hit, be in every dealership, shopping centers, airports, etc so people could find the car they were after, wherever they were at the touch of their fingertips.

Well the touch screen kiosks didn’t last but the Internet did, carsales was born through this technology and we are where we are today.

So, who had the greater foresight here?

Was it me for creating the software to automatically aggregate inventory and recommend the internet based solution? Hell no, I was merely following directions from my esteemed leaders at the time although I can take solace in that I didn’t hesitate in recommending the Internet based DMi solution.

Was it the car dealer who had the foresight to see the value of a networked solution? Yes he has to have some of the credit as he had a vision and whilst it ended up a little different to what was originally envisaged, he saw some value at the start.

Was it the leaders of R&R? Yes most definitely. They saw the vision of what this could bring to R&R, dealers and consumers.

It would have been much easier taking the Reynolds solution to fill a need. It was far cheaper and developed by trusted partners but it didn’t provide a platform for the future.

The fact that they took the harder, more expensive option was not the first time they would a similar road. They had the foresight to be brave in their business decision making.

If it was easy, everyone would do it. Amen.


Before you can help me, please sign the NDA


I’ve come to see you about a new business venture I have because I think it could be a great opportunity for your business.

This is usually code for “I’ve got a great idea but need your help to make it a great outcome”.

The next thing they usually ask for is for you to sign a NDA.

But hang on, you’re asking for my help and I have to sign a legally binding document before I can help you?

It’s a funny concept when you think about it in the context above; well I reckon it is.

I regularly see entrepreneurs, startups, etc coming in to get advice on and/or present the next big thing that is going to help “make carsales a lot of money”.

The first thing they want is a NDA signed to protect their idea and fair enough I suppose, I would expect the same thing but that’s not to say I can’t help but ask myself “Really; aren’t you asking for my help?”

There is, however, a very good chance that a large online player – not just carsales, I’m sure this applies to all leading online players – has already explored ideas very similar and/or has plans to execute on similar ideas at a point in the future. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they have not.

Of course the online company is not at liberty to say at the time if they have or haven’t looked at similar concepts (this would be commercially sensitive) and in order for them to pursue anything there would need to be documented proof before that meeting and/or signing of the NDA.

Therefore any NDA has to cover this off which can be difficult to understand for the entrepreneur!

I am sure this scenario would be pretty “standard” in any online company of a reasonable size especially with teams of people charged with the responsibility of keeping the company “ahead of the curve”.

I had an example recently where a couple of guys came to see me about their new business. They took me through the plans for their new business showing me their point of difference to anything else out there – “they had done their homework”

“This is leading edge; no one is doing it online and it is waiting to be exploited”, they said.

Before we went to the next step of doing some due diligence on the concept, they wanted me to sign their “standard NDA” which was fine and I explained that it needed to be looked at by our legal experts first.

“But this is a standard NDA that everyone uses”, they said. I countered that “there is no such thing as a standard NDA and I need the right people to look at it first”.

We made a couple of changes that are somewhat mandatory for our business; the changes were pertaining to protecting the business from doing something similar. To them this implied we were going to steal their idea.

What they didn’t realise was that we had looked at a similar technology process some time before – whether we were going to implement the same or a similar process hadn’t been decided but the business reserved the right to do it themselves not remove that right because someone came up with the same idea and wanted to make money from it!

I’ve been a party to literally hundreds dozens of NDA’s and never seen two the same, the other side always needs something changed although the end result sees them usually have the same meaning. They may not though.

Of course getting a NDA signed off before giving away too much detail on your idea is seen as an important step for entrepreneurs and startups; just make sure you always have a legal representative working for you, give you advice before signing one and most importantly, understand that not all ideas are “new”.