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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Building and Growing the Airbnb for Car Maintenance

Andy Bowie
Andy Bowie
December 31, 2020
Category of startup
Transportation
Country of startup
New Zealand
Revenue of startups
No Data
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Building and Growing the Airbnb for Car Maintenance

Andy Bowie
Andy Bowie
December 31, 2020
Category of startup
Transportation
Country of startup
New Zealand
Cause of failure of the startup

While working at Uber, Andy got to know more about the car maintenance industry and how outdated it was. At one moment, he stepped aside from the company and started his own startup, My Auto Shop, which is an Airbnb for car maintenance. After some pivots, the startup is growing incredibly fast, powered up by the pandemic.

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Hi Andy! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

Hi, I’m Andy. I was raised in Auckland, before heading off to chase winters all over the world, throwing myself off jumps and down half-pipes. Whilst I’m now back in the city (and able to get a tan again), the enthusiasm for trying something new, and a little crazy, hasn’t disappeared. I’m an ‘off the chart’ extrovert who loves meeting and working with new people. I’ve just tipped over the hill to 30, and live back in Auckland, trying to get out as much as possible on the weekends whether that is exploring our country’s beautiful backyard, or catching a surf on the West Coast. 

I’ve since branched out to start my own technology marketplace business, My Auto Shop. We’re reimagining how car maintenance is done in NZ by partnering with fully vetted, MTA approved garages and we make it easy to find, compare, and book the best mechanic for customers around New Zealand. We’ve essentially become the ‘Airbnb for car maintenance and repairs’ and a really easy way for Kiwi’s to sort out the hassles of getting their car repaired or serviced. 

My Auto Shop banner

Through My Auto Shop, you can schedule what maintenance you’re needing, pick a workshop that suits you based on reviews, receive the price upfront, and then schedule a pick up for your car by an independent, E-Scooter wielding, driver from wherever suits you.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

After chasing winters around the world competing and running my own coaching businesses, I moved back to Auckland. There I spent time in a couple of sales roles with Frontside Media and Facebook, before becoming one of the team to start Uber in NZ. I held roles in marketing and operations in both NZ and Singapore at Uber, then finally as Country Manager for Uber Eats New Zealand until October 2019.

After Uber reached a stable state in New Zealand, it began to consolidate operations and the New Zealand team didn’t have the punch it used to. This provided the opportunity for me to try my hand out on my own, and from my time working with many drivers at Uber, I saw car maintenance as an industry really behind the times in its digital progression.

Before building My Auto Shop, I went through a period exploring many different business ideas, mainly in the Future of Food and Future of Workspace (what I knew). However, it was clear to me that there was already so much money being pumped into both of the spaces (i.e they were too sexy) meaning fiercely competitive and often over-funded. I wanted to look elsewhere, into maybe a slightly smaller market, but one without all the attention: car maintenance.

In the last ten to twenty years, we’ve seen a massive advancement in technology in cars.  This corresponded with new generations generally becoming much less practical which has resulted in a huge gap of knowledge between a mechanic and a customer. Unfortunately, some mechanics have taken advantage of that gap.  Mechanics have been rated as some of society’s ‘least trusted people’ alongside used car salesmen and real estate agents. As you generally can’t work out your car’s problem yourself, you don’t know where to get your parts from, and you don’t know if the mechanic has fixed the issues until you’ve paid and driven away, you need to trust what they say and assume the price is fair. This makes for a pretty lopsided transaction.

My Auto Shop solutions

Auto repair is such a fragmented industry in New Zealand with 4600 independent garages, working on about 10 cars a day. They’re just trying to keep their heads above water, so no one has the capacity to rethink the industry.

COVID definitely threw a spanner into the mix, and it did for us all across New Zealand. The business model of My Auto Shop changed a lot through the pains of lockdowns. We went from primarily an ‘Uber-style’ model for car maintenance with a team of drivers who used scooters to pick up and drop off people’s customers, but we transitioned into more of a booking platform for car maintenance. We learned heaps in the first few months.  But then of course COVID hit and we had to reassess what we were doing.  Throughout the lockdown, we decided to double down on the parts we can solve quickly - upfront pricing and trustworthiness

We’re coming up to a year of the business existing, and we’ve learned and adapted a lot, but there's more to come.

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How did you go from idea to product?

The concept of My Auto Shop started in October 2019, and through a couple of months of research and iteration, we landed on a prototype that was a similar business model, but had more of a primary focus on an ‘Uber’ delivery experience of customer’s cars using e-scooters. We wanted to push that live and then ‘learn as we go’. This was built quickly by a friendly development agency and pushed live in January 2020. 

In my experience, it’s important that before anything launches, you understand the macro environment of where your business is going to sit. What are the customer demographics like? What are their purchasing habits? What does the vehicle market look like in New Zealand? What’s your TAM? etc. However, we wanted to get our hands dirty ASAP so we jumped in head first pretty quickly.

We intentionally launched in a quiet time so we could figure out our operational processes. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) we landed on the national newspaper and suddenly had jobs coming through, which led to a frantic couple of weeks. Once we got our feet under us we started moving well, only to be hit with COVID lockdowns next. We’ve only just been in a position to really focus on growth in recent months. 

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

As we are a marketplace business, we need to grow both sides in tandem for the business to work nicely. Without garages, we don’t have anywhere for our customers to go, but without customers, we don’t have much value to garages. 

Starting with garage side growth, we’ve had to keep it old school. A big aspect of our growth has been picking up the phone, sending letters in the post but nothing seems to work better than just walking into a garage and having a face to face conversation. 

With the increase in e-commerce through COVID, we know we’re in a great position to provide the best digital solution. This is where our focus lies being a digital business. The plan is to ‘Win the Internet’, to win the customer.

Pre-COVID, our marketing strategy was pretty bare in all honesty, our focus was growing the marketplace in terms of supply first of garages, rather than demand from customers. But COVID allowed us to grow our network size, as we could build on the narrative of helping garages get more work in their doors as the current economy puts a squeeze on their own customer base.

We’ve really started to see some traction in the last couple of months, just as we’re beginning to better define our GTM strategy. It obviously feels great that there’s validation from New Zealand customers as they use our service, but there’s still plenty of work still to be done.

How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

We’re obviously still pretty new, only operating for about 11 months, so still really scrappy, but feel we have a pretty good handle on what customers want and how a car actually works! The team is really growing into their own. Myself and a team of young weapons from Auckland Uni.

My Auto Shop team

While 2020 was about testing, learning, and finding product/market fit, 2021 is about putting the foot down and kick-starting a big growth curve for us. We are looking to raise some money shortly and will grow the team, foot print, and offering. Should be fun.

We want to be the one-stop-shop for everything car, therefore we have a long journey with many features & projects ahead of us. In the short term, we have a focus on making a complex process digesting all the different jobs people may need done, and turning it into a really easy UX for customers.

My Auto Shop app

On the side, I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle, so I’ve set myself a bit of a personal challenge to build a successful, hyper-growth tech company, without sacrificing the rest of my life. This means running in the mornings, spending time with friends and family in the evenings, and weekends away from the computer. While the typical startup narrative is a ‘non-stop hustle’, I want to prove that otherwise.

Since starting My Auto Shop, what have been your main lessons?

As touched on above, a big lesson for me is understanding the importance of work-life balance. My sense of fulfillment or satisfaction in life is derived from a variety of different experiences and learnings, with a career only playing a minor role in that equation, therefore if I get all consumed in work, I won’t be happier, even if my career gets ‘better’. However, I think there are peaks and troughs. Times when you need to lean into work, and others when you lean out of it. So it’s ok to sometimes focus on a career goal, work huge hours and sacrifice other things, but that can’t be sustained in a healthy way for long periods of time.

Other than that, three other quick-fire thoughts: Situational awareness is really important. Be aware of what’s going on in other people's lives, how it affects their perception and in turn, you can change how your message is received.

The second is to build your business with a team. Another three to four people in your corner makes the hard times much easier. Many hands make light work :)

And the third would be to test and learn in the market. Build an MVP, test that your assumptions around what problem you’re solving are correct, and go from there. And get your own data - don’t double down on previous assumptions by taking someone else’s data at face value.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

It’s pretty clear that coronavirus has presented the biggest challenge for our journey so far, but we are learning to navigate it. It really forced us to make hard decisions quickly to best position ourselves to get through the crisis and have a business that can succeed in a recessionary environment.

The big decision was transitioning our business model from an UberEats-style model to a more Airbnb-inspired model - helping customers seeking value not convenience.  What I mean by that is our original value proposition was driven by the ‘we can pick up your car for you so you don’t have to visit the garage’.  Now it’s driven by ‘we’ve vetted these garages so you can trust you’re getting value for money’. That’s got more longevity in the current environment where customers are watching their cash a bit more closely.

We still want to offer pick-up but there’s a bit of a question mark over the wanted-ness of that service, and whether people will be willing to pay for it.

What tools & resources do you recommend?

I keep a pretty tight calendar and drop everything in (both business and personal into one) to make sure I never forget anything. I’m also a huge list guy. Everything goes in Asana, and I work through it pretty methodically.

I am a big fan of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (about Loui Zamperini) and Endurance (Shackleton survival in Antarctica). I think about them a bit when having to push through/grind out something hard. It’s an amazing story.

Lenny’s Newsletter has been great too. He’s got some awesome articles on growing a marketplace business. They were great motivation for the team to understand some of the underlying factors that other unicorn businesses have seen success with.

Where can we go to learn more?

Feel free to check out what we’ve built at My Auto Shop. We also post frequently on our blog.

I’ve done a couple of other interviews if you want to hear more from me:

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