Category Archives: Me

The Platform Advantage. For who?

The “platform advantage” is something every online business strives for; where your platform becomes the default method in which people use your chosen service.

carsales sells a car every minute (you might have seen the ads 🙂 ) yet doesn’t own a vehicle; Uber is a the biggest taxi company in the world and also doesn’t own a vehicle; and Airbnb is the biggest accommodation provider in the world yet doesn’t own any real estate.

Each of these businesses has leveraged their “platform advantage” primarily through matching people with people in order for them to transact be it to buy a car, get a ride or rent a place. I still have people asking me if carsales has certain types of cars in our stock and when I explain that carsales is “just” the online platform for buyers to find cars from sellers, the concept that “it is just a website” can be hard to fathom for some (how can an ASX100 company be just a website?).

There are, however, many moving pieces in operating an operating online marketplace like carsales and one of them is managing your brand, especially since the primary purpose of the business is relying on a buyer and seller to reach (and execute) a mutually acceptable deal to purchase a car. carsales does not get involved in the transaction but when something goes astray, it is the carsales brand that can take a hit and as such carsales has lots of proactive and reactive measures to stop things that could in any way damage the carsales brand.

“This Airbnb thing is so easy…”

Airbnb is the same. It has a user controlled rating system for vendor and renter as well as a long list of terms and conditions that are meant to protect both parties; until one side takes advantage of those “terms and conditions” that is. We had an example using Airbnb over the New Year period where the Airbnb platform was taken advantage of.

My sons and a few mates were heading down the Mornington Peninsula for New Year’s Eve to join another group of friends who had organised a gathering at a family property. They searched Airbnb and found a place that suited their needs beautifully with the only drawback being that they had to take a minimum of three nights so they thought they’d make a weekend of it. This Airbnb thing is so easy.

They arrive at the property at around 5pm and headed out onto the back verandah to have a few drinks, put some music on and play a little backyard cricket in the confined space. They were living the dream.
Just after 6pm (yes they had been there just over an hour) they receive a call from the person (let’s called her Zarah) they had organized the Airbnb stay with – she had received a call from a neighbor complaining about the noise so she informed them that they were being evicted immediately for excessive noise and hosting a party. WTF? Summer holiday period, late Saturday afternoon, sitting on the back verandah with music on and they were being evicted for this? WTF?

Zarah arrives shortly thereafter with the police. Yes, the police. They inspect the property (nothing had been used, no beds slept in, etc) so obviously nothing is out of place, no damage (heck they’d had an hour there) and the police apologise to the boys saying “this was not what we expected but it is out of our hands, sorry boys”.

This is where an online platform like Airbnb differs from a hotel or caravan park

The boys contact Airbnb to argue their point and at the very least get some if not all of their 3 nights money back; Airbnb should be responsible after it all it was Airbnb who facilitated the rental. Airbnb take the boys version of events and then take Zarah’s version before informing the boys “sorry, there is nothing we can do because you have violated Airbnb’s terms and conditions by having excessive noise and hosting a party”. WTF?

Let’s get this right again. Airbnb rental, summer holiday period, late Saturday afternoon, no request to kindly turn the music down just a neighbour’s word that loud music equals a party and this constitutes a breach of Airbnb’s terms and conditions to which Airbnb wipe their hands of all responsibility and the boys lose their money (and a summer experience).

Was this a scam? This is where an online platform like Airbnb differs from a hotel or caravan park (the traditional alternative) where they would have people that worked for them on the premises to control exactly these types of scenarios. What was stopping Zarah from organizing a neighbor to call to complain so that she could “exercise her Airbnb rights”, take 3 nights income and alleviate all risk by getting them out before they have even stayed?

…my older boy went to a 21st birthday celebration at an Airbnb rented house 3 weeks later…The neighbor came over early in the evening, introduced himself and said “have a great night just turn the music down after midnight if you can please”…

Airbnb were not interested, this was between the boys and a faceless Zarah for them. For the boys yes Zarah is a douche but it is was Airbnb who failed them here in their eyes. The Airbnb accounts were quickly deleted and they mercilessly sprayed Airbnb through any and all of the social media accounts they were active on (read, all of them), letting everyone know just how easy it is to be taken advantage of on the Airbnb platform and Airbnb didn’t care in the slightest.

In reality, did the Airbnb brand take a hammering? Not really, this was not worthy of a TV news grab to cause too much brand damage. No one was hurt, no property damaged, a few kids (and their parents) felt they were “duped” out of $800 odd dollars, a “first world problem”.

Was this Airbnb’s fault? Probably not. They were running their business according to their “platform advantage” that works seamlessly 99% of the time in all likelihood.

Incidentally, my older boy went to a 21st birthday celebration at an Airbnb rented house 3 weeks later back down the Mornington Peninsula. The neighbor came over early in the evening, introduced himself and said “have a great night just turn the music down after midnight if you can please”. That wasn’t hard was it?

This is the new world we live in where using online platforms to find someone willing to rent their house out or drive them from point A to point B or buy their car is the new norm. We still have to deal with people at some point though as the “platform advantage” only goes so far. I wonder for how much longer.

Does a business card, title and office define you?

Business Cards – like job titles and an office – some people love them; it can define them – or so they think, remembering perception is reality.

Years ago business cards were a must have and in a lot of cases today they still are. Swapping Business Cards when you meet somebody in business can be an important ritual in most instances.

I’m now doing business regularly in many countries and no matter which country I have a meeting in, the handing over of business cards is part of the process.

I was chatting with a friend recently and the topic of Business Cards came up. He was putting the case forward that they aren’t needed in today’s LinkedIn world.

I countered that maybe putting your Business Card into your LinkedIn profile can somewhat “legitimise” it? Just a question.

It’s funny because I’ve never really thought about them but take a look in my drawer and there they are dating back to my first business card in 1998.

Does that make them important to me? I can’t say no because the prove is there…. for me they define and remind me of the path I have taken.

Today we do that pretty easily through LinkedIn where we have our professional history laid out for all to see.

Like a Business Card, LinkedIn has different meanings and uses for each person but here’s what a Business Card does that LinkedIn cannot – Anyone can created their own LinkedIn profile and have a license to tell their own story, not so with a Business Card (in any reputable business that is); in most cases you have to earn a Business Card. Not everyone gets one and not everyone needs one – ok maybe I’m putting a little bit of sauce on this!

My Business Card progression is similar to my LinkedIn profile experience progression, as it should be I suppose.

My first Business Card was a big deal to me. I’d been a developer/product manager for nearly 10 years and stepped into heading up the e-commerce push for Reynolds & Reynolds in 1997.

I then had the first ever Business Card created in early 1999 for my trip to San Francisco for the NADA Convention whilst I was working for Reynolds & Reynolds.

Is a business card still a required item in today’s business world? Of course it is!

I still like to read the printed version of the newspaper on weekends too; it is still a ritual at the start of a business meeting with people you are meeting with for the first time no matter where you are in the world.

And what would your LinkedIn profile look like with an image of your business card there in each position?

Would it legitimise it, cheapen it or just look stupid?

3 real time carsales metrics

I’ve spent the best part of the past 18 years leveraging the power of data in the online classifieds space.

When you have millions of consumers searching and finding their next car on a country’s number 1 automotive portal like carsales, Encar, Chileautos or Webmotors, data can invariably tell thousands of stories.

Here’s a few powerful “real time” metrics that only a carsales is able to provide with any credibility in their respective country’s car retail market:

Supply and demand
The Days Supply metric is one of my favourites, as it provides real value and something more accurately in the used car market that I don’t think can be replicated. It shows whether supply outstrips demand and vice versa. The beauty of Days Supply is that it can be measured for makes, models, versions, etc and for different geographical regions.

So if you were say a Melbourne metropolitan new car Dealer and a buyer has a 2015 Mitsubishi ASX as a trade in, a vehicle your used car team knows little about. Wouldn’t it be great to know that this model is the most sought after vehicle in Melbourne from a supply and demand perspective for vehicles that are less than 8 years old, have less than 60,000 kms and an average asking price of over $20,000?

What this means is that in the past 60 days 116 were sold but there are only 29 for sale which gives a Days Supply metric of 15 meaning that supply of this model for sale will run out in 15 days. Supply and demand says this is a car you should stock (all things being equal with the acquisition price).

Using the carsales LiveMarket Stocking feature, here’s the hottest used vehicles in Melbourne at 27 July 2017 (using the parameters above).

This list can be a pretty handy shopping list and reference point for any used car dealer.

Whilst Days Supply has been in available in Australian Dealers for some time, it hasn’t been used extensively from a buying perspective whilst some of the most profitable used car operations in the US use this metric to make great buying decisions.

Competitive sets
What better way of knowing what the competitive set is of a model of a car than comparing the models a consumer is searching, viewing and enquiring on?

We see millions consumers searching and finding their next car. Most consumers do not what they are going to buy next when they start their car finding journey on carsales. We see them search, view cars, narrow the search, view more cars, save cars in their Membership and finally enquire on cars, usually more than one.

By analysing this activity, we can categorically provide the true competitive set of each model of car and more often than not, the true competitive set is a little (or a lot) different to what the OEM thought was the competitive set for most cars.

The beauty of these data sets is that is always being updated and available virtually real time meaning that fluctuations in any competitive sets is quickly seen, providing enormous value to any “always on” marketing campaign.

Brand loyalty
When a consumer puts an enquiry through on carsales, many include their trade-in details with the enquiry. This information gives us a real-time view on brand loyalty, before the car has been purchased! Post enquiry surveys can then provide another level and view on brand loyalty too.

Comparing the make of a car being enquired to the make of the trade-in vehicle nominated immediately gives us a picture of brand loyalty. If I am enquiring on a Toyota Landcruiser and in the enquiry I include my Land Rover Discovery 4 as a trade-in, I think there’s a pretty good chance that I am thinking of swapping my Disco for a Cruiser wouldn’t you think?

When I am surveyed about my experience on carsales and if I bought the car I enquired on, this then provides rock solid evidence towards the brand loyalty indicator.

Using this data, brand loyalty can be measured daily and is accurate as opposed to waiting for registration details or OEM surveys.

The take out
These metrics are just three of a plethora of such metrics that carsales, Encar, Chileautos and Webmotors has available to benefit OEMs and Dealers, whether it be for effective advertising, pricing, appraising or buying cars.

3 things never to talk about

People say you should never talk politics or religion with friends (you could throw footy in there with some).

I’ll add schooling preferences in there as well. It is an argument not worth winning.

You’ve probably heard it before, “I didn’t go to a private school and I’ve done alright” or “so and so went to the local high school and he’s a multi millionaire”.

I read an interesting article in a Saturday newspaper recently comparing kids coming through public and private schools in regards to their readiness for the AFL (Australian Football League) system.

Looking at the data, players from private schools are coming into the system a long way ahead of those from public schools in terms of coping with the professionalism required.

The debate around public vs private school regularly comes up with people I associate with, usually after a few drinks have been consumed, and it was this article that spawned my last “conversation” on the topic and reasoning for putting down my thoughts.

Before I go further let me lay out these things:
1. I went to a catholic high school, definitely not private and not public;
2. My kids have/are attending a private school; and
3. I sometimes question the cost/wisdom of our choice for number 2

The reasons I have chosen to send my kids to private school are the experiences, opportunities and beyond all, playing the percentages; if this isn’t the advantage of a private school education then there a lot of highly educated, smart people wasting their hard earned (not to mention the parents busting their backsides, going without to give their children a leg up).

I suppose the gist of the before-mentioned article backs up my argument.

My friends usually bring up 2 topics that stem from talking private schooling:

1. Private schools are a waste of money, they know heaps of people from public schools who have done better than people they know from private schools.

2. It isn’t fair that private school education holds more weight than a public school education – this is in reference to comparing two resumes of people you do not know and having to choose one to interview (maybe a bit of unconscious bias here, which we all have).

The unfortunate reality is that we are not all in a position to have the choice to send our kids to a private school; I know and respect that and it is probably why I didn’t go to one.

And yes there are some who make the choice not to; we are different and it would be a boring place if we weren’t.

When someone has a choice and another doesn’t, the conversation usually goes just one way and not the good way, again especially in a social setting with a few drinks.

From a job perspective, should the school one attended come into the equation? There are a lot of factors as to should it or shouldn’t it.

From my perspective sending my kids to a private school is an investment I made in them as people and I would hope that the rounded experience gained from this would help them get the jump on those that haven’t. If I haven’t achieved that then my investment decision hasn’t been great has it?

Like politics and religion, discussing the merits of sending your kids to private schools when you are and they aren’t (and visa versa) can only lead one way and it is a way you don’t want to go.

Why Australia was different in online auto

Around 12 months I wrote a post titled “Why Australia was different to the US, UK & Canada”.

Here’s another angle to why Australia was different in the online auto classifieds space.

From an auto, jobs and real estate classifieds perspective in Australia, the old school media giants missed out online, big time.

With the exception of News Limited’s $2.2m acquisition for 40% of back in 2002 (which is now risen to 61% of over $8b value at time of writing), the media heavyweights in Australia being News, Fairfax and later Sensis (Telstra), especially with their $636m acquisition of the Trading Post in 2004, really missed the boat.

I can make educated guesses about how/why News and Fairfax failed in jobs and real estate classifieds online but I’ll concentrate now on the auto online vertical where my experience is much stronger.

The way they approached it was different and they did different things wrong.

News were too late to the party with Carsguide. Their first online auto go was Newsmotoring which didn’t even leverage their Carsguide offline brand and when they launched Carsguide online in 2003 it was too late. This should have been done in 1995! Isn’t hindsight beautiful.

Fairfax launched Drive online early but (in my opinion) didn’t leverage offline anywhere near well enough. Maybe this was because they were trying to protect the riches of their offline asset?

To highlight my point, when carsales started it was called because you couldn’t register a generic name as a domain in Australia back then.

Then one Friday the Drive newspaper lift out had a computer on the front with a car crashing out of it with the caption which read something like “ – the end of the used car salesman?”.

So here we have Fairfax through its Drive newspaper brand brandishing an alertnative auto domain to their brand on the front of their lift-out and worse, no one owned the domain – for long……the guys at saw the lift-out, checked the status of the domain, registered it and carsales was born.

Additionally, in both News and Fairfax’s cases, they had opportunities to acquire carsales early and didn’t. Again, I think they were trying to protect offline.

Sensis did a few things wrong. The number one thing was that an online classifieds site was way out of their core competency (I would have thought that they learnt that lesson 5 years earlier in 1999 when they spent millions trying to launch an auto online classifieds site and failed).

The second thing was that with Auto being the biggest part of Trading Post, by 2004 it was too late to win Auto online, especially with their lack of online expertise.

But from an operational point I actually don’t think they did too much wrong in terms of execution except that their thinking was protection of their print legacy rather than online first.

Could they have really done anything more than they did? Maybe but I’m not really sure what; the horse had bolted very, very quickly and before they knew it, the game was over.

The fact is that each of them did what has been done in virtually every other country but they ran into the perfect storm that carsales created.

As soon as carsales moved from the “pay per listing” model (which was/is used by 99% of online classified players) to the “pay per lead” model the game was up for News and Fairfax’s online auto transition from offline and Sensis’ new foray into online classifieds (even before they had started).

carsales made changes to its website to drive leads to dealers, at the same time the model encouraged dealers to put all their inventory online and the inventory was always refreshed because dealers didn’t want to pay for leads on sold cars.

In the same year carsales moved its private seller to pay until sold which saw a sharp increase in private sellers which in turn drove traffic and brought more buyers of dealers cars. The perfect storm.

For dealers, leads quickly became the way that online automotive websites were measured and no site could get near carsales for the number of leads a dealer would receive.

The reality was that no matter what the competitors did at that point and moving forward, the horse had bolted, carsales had won.

Traffic kept on growing as did leads and as a result, revenue just kept growing too.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all roses for carsales and did not come easily. They were incredibly smart and worked incredibly hard, after all the business decisions they made are what made them!

If the big media players did anything wrong (apart from the acquisition thing) it was not realizing earlier that the game was up; each of them kept throwing good money after bad thinking they could win.

We are all salespeople

I’m not a salesperson but I reckon I can sell anything….and I reckon most people are in the same boat, they just don’t know it yet!

I know that we are “selling ourselves” all the time and I am not referring to that sort of sell here. I am talking about actually something (i.e. product and/or service) to a client in return for something (i.e. money).

“getting a job, a pay rise, a date or just selling something to earn a living – usually you are selling yourself”

The absolute key and number 1 thing for me is having a real passion and believe in whatever I am selling. Here’s when I realized I could sell anything, even as a software developer!

When we started Digital Motorworks in Australia back in 1999, a data & web services business, I brought technology and subject matter expertise to the table while my business partner brought sales and business experience to the table.

We felt we had a good mix and most certainly his experience was a guiding light for me.

Almost immediately we had a potential opportunity with one of the largest companies in Australia who were looking for something like our expertise. Because my business partner was living interstate at the time, I was front and centre with the client making sales pitch after pitch before moving on to negotiating a deal. These were things I hadn’t been involved with before.

It wasn’t a case of learning on the job; it was a case of just getting the job done – a multi year, multi million dollar contract within a few months of starting our business. Not only did it get the startup moving, it got me moving and gave me the confidence to tackle whatever came in front of us.

What it showed me was that we are all salespeople when we want to be – getting a job, a pay rise, a date or just selling something to earn a living – usually you are selling yourself so you need to believe in yourself!

I’m not down playing the art of being a salesperson here, not by a long stretch. It is another skill all together to be able to sell something you don’t have a passion for or more to the point, don’t have a passion for on any given day and having to do it day in day out.

I’ll leave that to the experts.

1 out of 3 ain’t bad, apparently

To find a used car to buy before the Internet world we live in now, you would read the Trading Post or newspaper Classifieds and/or visit a good strip of multiple dealers close by so you didn’t have to run around too far.

Today it is so much easier to see all the cars for sale online in the one place but that in itself can make it somewhat harder as you second guess yourself and try to do everything to ensure you are getting a fair price.

I’ve just been through the car buying process again and can confirm that buying a car can still be hard work and stressful, even with all the information available today.

This was the process I recently went through.

The first step was to narrow down a few makes and models. I did that by searching through carsales, saving the cars in the member area, reviewing, culling and finally coming up with a model choice.

This part is definitely easier with lots of photos, information and great tools to help the search for the right car.

The second step was to visit a dealer to test drive the model I selected. As soon as got to the dealership another model jumped out as “car of interest” so I test drove both models. The new choice of model got the nod.

The third step was to get back onto carsales to find the right deal. I narrowed it down to three cars so I submitted enquiries on two of them as the third one was at the dealer I visited the previous weekend. Both dealers were prompt in contacting me which was great and I indicated to both that I would be visiting their dealership the coming Saturday.

The third step was to visit the dealer to check the cars out. I went out to the first dealer and headed into the new car sales as the car I had enquired on was listed on carsales as a new car demonstrator vehicle with a few thousand kms.

When I asked for the sales person I spoke to on the phone I was directed to the used car section. This was strange. Even stranger was the actual kms on the car – 27. Not 2,700, not 27,000, just 27. This was a new car. Being sold in the used car section. WTBH (What The Bloody Hell).

I asked the sales person the obvious question – Why? “The new car department is too busy so we are helping them out”, was the reply. It didn’t gel. I checked over the exterior of the car closely and found an obscure little divot that looked very much like a hail divot. This has to be why it is in the used car yard.

I asked the sales person if this car was a hail damaged car. “No, we don’t have hail damaged cars” was the response. I showed him the divot. He looked surprised, reiterated his answer, I questioned again so he said he’d check and waddled off to the office.

He came back five minutes later and said “Yeah, well it is a hail damage car. That’s why the price is so great. There’s only the one divot, it’s a new car in every aspect with the 5 year new car warranty, capped price services and all that”. Yes there’s only one divot, that we can see now. How many were fixed?

Ok, so 3 questions and 1 straight answer. Further to that, the car was advertised online as a new car demonstrator vehicle with a few thousand kms on the clock with no mention of it being a new car with hail damage. This is clearly misleading.

I ask the question now – which approach is better? To mislead and lie per my experience just described or to have advertised the car as “A great deal to be had, brand new car with minor hail damage, 5 year new car warranty, capped servicing, don’t miss out!”.

I don’t quite get it out but then again as I have had pointed out to me many times before, I’ve never actually sold a car (my previous cars sold themselves)

The things successful people do…..

“I exercise in the morning like nearly all the articles and blog posts I read……and I’m not getting more successful!”

First thing in the morning, is really the only part of the day that I fully control and own.

And what do I choose to do? Exercise. I love exercising in the morning, particularly before work.

Things come up during the day – meetings, calls, the unexpected but you control the start of the day and I find it a great way to start each day.

I can’t work it out though; I exercise in the morning like nearly all the articles and blog posts I read about “the things successful people do” and I’m not getting more successful!

I have my tongue firmly planted in my cheek here; yes I do exercise in the morning but no, I don’t do it because I think it will make me more successful.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson talks passionately through his social posts about getting up at 4am every day to hit the gym as his “anchor” and this is his edge over his competition. He urges everyone to find their “anchor” that works for them.

I love this quote from him – “We’re all busy, we’re all tired, we all got families to feed and work to get done. Whatever it is, find your anchor. Use it and and project it. It’ll help bring your balance in this crazy thing we call life. For the records, your anchor does NOT have to be weird shit like big heavy chains that look like they belong in the next SAW movie.”

I love the feeling of starting work having exercised, it is empowering – for me. I feel like I have something over my peers and people I’m dealing with because I’ve already worked hard before getting to the office.

It’s funny how people who like to sleep in or stay up late (is it the same thing?) are absolute in their belief that you accomplish more late at night. Then again I’m just as absolute that you get more done first thing in the morning because I control that time.

Two men said they’re Jesus, one of them must be right……..

Ironically enough, the most successful (from a status/financial perspective) people in business I have worked with closely have been night people and the opposite to me – up late with office hours of 9:05am to 7-8pm (and no morning workouts!).

But then again, what is successful? It is different for everyone as we all have different goals. For some it is status or money. For some it is just being happy and healthy. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing and where I’m at so I think I’m successful. Some may disagree and that’s ok, we’re all different.

The main point here is not about exercising and it’s not about whether you get up early or stay up late, it’s about finding something that makes you feel good on a regular basis that can enhance you.

I’m getting better at finding, recognising and acknowledging what is important to me and ensuring that these things are given priority.

Maybe it’s because I exercise in the morning.

Maybe I need to exercise for longer.

Which carsales moves were most critical?

After an article I wrote a little while ago (6 moves that drove carsales) I was asked by a number of people “were there any one of these moves that if not made, could have been terminal for carsales?”.

The 6 moves I talked about were introducing Private Sellers, adopting the Sell Your Car Until Sold model for Privates, moving to the Lead Model for Dealers, Acquired Trader Assets (cars, bikes, boats, etc), creation of Mediamotive and the implementation of an All Car Search, all in chronological order.

It’s a really interesting question and really who knows; I’ll have an educated guess nonetheless remembering I was not in the carsales business for ANY of the 6 moves I talked about although I was very close in running DMi, an independent technology/data services provider working with carsales’ competitors.

I can safely say that if carsales hadn’t have introduced the Lead Model in 2002 they would have been in a lot of trouble and most probably terminal.

At the time they were one of 3-4 auto vertical sites with the same business model trying to make a dollar; none were profitable and carsales was the only business whose sole focus was the online auto vertical space.

Almost immediately the currency for ALL websites listing dealer cars online was the number of leads they delivered and because of this model and the actions around it (like the mandated use of Autogate Lead Management), carsales were delivering a minimum of 4-5 times the leads of their competitors.

They had differentiated themselves from their competitors with a profitable business model and had created the ultimate barrier to exit for dealers – they become an integral part of the process for dealers to sell cars.

carsales made the car buying process all about the car and not about who was selling it. This flew in the face of virtually every dealer at the time who were convinced it was their brand, the dealership, that drove the sale.

Do people really care who they buy a used car from? No, they care about getting the right car at a fair price. This was true then and holds true today.

So what about the other points? Well, there could be an argument mounted that if they hadn’t have introduced private sellers in 2000 they may not have made it to 2002 for the next two important moves.

When they introduced Sell Your Car Until Sold (also in 2002), there is no doubt that this pushed their private seller business to relative levels no other auto classified vertical site in the world has reached.

But the fact that this was done in the same year as the Lead Model makes it hard to say that if they hadn’t had made the move it could have been terminal. In isolation, yes.

As for the last 3 moves, no they would NOT have made carsales terminal had they not been made. These moves just helped to accelerate the business.

Acquiring the Trader assets was very nice, gave the company added breadth and strengthened their offering but if it wasn’t done, carsales was going nowhere.

Establishing Mediamotive has been fantastic for the business in terms of diversifying and maximising revenue but again, the business wouldn’t have been terminal.

Same with All Car Search; excellent differentiator and driver of sustained growth but not terminal if not done but did have high risk in terms of potentially reducing dealer leads in favour or private leads (this did not happen).

All 6 moves weren’t without a high degree of calculated risk even if they all wouldn’t have risked the company.

To reiterate, I wasn’t working with carsales for any of these moves but I was working with carsales’ competitors at the time and saw first hand the impact each move had on them.

Any Questions? No, I Know It All

It is fair to say that these days a company usually knows that they have to be a lot better equipped at bringing young people into the company with on-boarding programs, training and mentoring programs.

When I started my software development career it wasn’t quite that way.

I was one of two people hired as a trainee programmer many years ago. We had both very young and had graduated from the Control Data Institute with a Diploma in Computer Programming.

The software language we were hired to develop in was Pick (or D3 as it was later renamed), a multi-dimensional database language and a world away from the language we had learnt in our course, Cobol.

So for the first few days we were given Pick book and green screen access to a Pick system to “play around”. After a few days our manager said to the both of us “I want you to take the book home tonight and come back with any questions”.

The next morning I arrived at work with a whole list of questions which I was eager to ask about.

My new colleague was asked if she had any questions. “No”, she said. “You have no questions at all?”, our manager asked. “No, I know it all”.

We all know the person that actually thinks they know it all. When someone says or acts like they know it all, one of two things is at play: they are either over self confident or they have no confidence at all.

In this case I believe the latter was true; this person was no over confident. It was obvious she was a young girl lacking in the self confidence to be able to show that she needed some help combined with the fact that equality in the workplace wasn’t quite around in 1988.

I think back now with the benefit of hindsight, empathy, a greater appreciation of equality and wonder just how uncomfortable it would have been for her. I’m sure it hindered the experience of her entry into software development and the work force in general.

It wasn’t helped a few weeks alter when we were both mocked by a more senior software developer as I described in another post I wrote “I Think I Was Bullied“. I still wonder where that guy ended up.

Today we have much better understanding and appreciation for all types in the work environment to ensure they have all the help and tools to be successful. At carsales not only are we being proactive with a diversity programs, our mentoring program is fantastic for allowing all levels the opportunity to learn from more experienced people within the business.

Mentoring is a great initiative. As long as the mentor doesn’t think they know it all….

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”.