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.