Hi Wei, and welcome to Entrepreneur interviews. I will start by asking what the differences between the regular classifieds sites and EasyAutoSales are?
Wei: The major used car classifieds today charge for distribution, which is what newspaper classifieds have done for years and years. Outside of distribution, they don’t provide sellers much else to find or identify potential buyers. Existing used car classifieds also pass very little data back to the car dealers except for filling out forms. In the web 2.0 world, a lot of this usage information is shared to help sellers know what potential buyers want and to let buyers know who the best-sellers are and what the best products out there are.
EasyAutoSales is different in that we allow sellers to market their new or used cars on the web for free, and we help them find potential leads. In addition to free vehicle listings, we are opening up the used cars marketplace to create an interactive environment where car buyers can help each other search for used cars and find the best vehicle for them.
Unlike traditional used cars classifieds, we also integrate our services with web 2.0 services and follow the users where they are the most active. Buying a car online shouldn’t be a chore; it should be an integrated experience, just like doing anything else on the web.
Most people struggle to find the perfect idea for a business. I’m dying to find out how did you come up with the EasyAutoSales idea?
Wei: Finding the perfect business idea is too hard, even for me. If you shift your focus to finding a solution that solves many peoples’ problems, it becomes a lot easier.
Where do you expect to see EasyAutoSales in 2-3 years from now?
Wei: With the internet constantly changing, that is a hard question to answer. However, we do see ourselves being one of the top players in the industry, helping people and dealerships sell cars.
Did you write any business plans before starting EasyAutoSales? What would be your advice for an entrepreneur for planning?
Wei: We did not write a business plan until we had a product – and we only wrote one because the startup competition we entered required one. However, we did do a lot of research beforehand to understand the size of the market and to understand what the pain in the market is. I’ve been told by some business mentors and angels they do not read complete business plans. Having a solid team, a working product, and proof of concept is more important to them than 20 pages of hype and (oftentimes base-less) assumptions.
You are a serial entrepreneur, having started several other businesses before EasyAutoSales. What are the benefits of having a previous experience when starting a business?
Wei: My partners and I have all worked on previous businesses before EasyAutoSales; some were internet-based, while others are just regular brick-n-mortar businesses. Having previous experiences really helps you focus on what you need to do to survive vs. trying to do too much upfront and losing focus on the product.
As a startup, there are always a million things you have to tackle day-to-day, but having previous experience does let you know what you’re good at and what works and what doesn’t work.
What about external influences like rising fuel prices? How will EasyAutoSales help folks get the care they really need?
Wei: We have a keyword search that allows users to search for hybrids vs. regular cars; other than that, we don’t have a solution today to help with the rising gas prices.
What kind of sellers, distributors, and buyers should use your service. I mean, what is your target?
Wei: Right now, we are focusing on the U.S. Automotive market, including all large and small dealerships and private sellers. There is no fee for the sellers to list the vehicles online though we will offer other fee-based, value-added services down the road.
How would you describe EasyAutoSales in 3 words?
Wei: cheaper, faster, better.
You have bootstrapped this start-up all the way. What advice would you give entrepreneurs about making expenses in the beginning stages?
Wei: Figure out what you can skimp on and try to save your money – but this doesn’t mean you should do everything yourself. If your service isn’t a complex solution, see if you can go out and buy software or get open source software that already does what you want it to do.
For example, there’s no point paying a programmer $12,000 to create a blogging service when WordPress is free. Similarly, if you need a business plan and it takes you 2-3 months just to write one because you’re not a great writer, maybe it is worth paying someone $1,000 to get it done in 2 weeks. Remember, your goal is to launch your business and have it make money. It’s not to tinker with the technology behind the business.
How many partners are in EasyAutoSales, and what’s the average age?
Wei: We currently have 4 young and hungry team members; all are between 25-30. We also have a very seasoned and successful board-of-advisors who help us with various aspects of the business.
What advice would you give anyone trying to start-up an Internet business these days?
Wei: Like all business startups, make sure you go out there, network, and sell yourself. Building a better mousetrap doesn’t mean people will flock to your solution if they don’t know it exists. I know many people who like to tinker with code and just leave projects sitting on the shelf once they’re done building them. If you want to be successful, you need to know how to sprint (development) and how to run the marathon (marketing) immediately afterward.
Do you think having more money to invest in or an outside investment would have helped things to move faster, or would simply be allowed you to make things a little less efficient?
Wei: Having investments would certainly help a startup. However, the founding team would need a lot of control to know how to properly spend the money. Before you even ask for money, you should create an income and expenses plan to know how much you need to get to where you want to be. You don’t want to ask for too little money, and at the same time, you don’t want to ask for too much and give too much of the control away.
Research. I bet that before anything, you did some research to see the market potential. Most people feel that they can’t start a business because they will not be able to fight the competition and find customers. How should one decide if there is enough place on the market?
Wei: If you can’t think outside the box to fight the competition, you probably should not be entering that market. Most startups do have some secret sauce that helps them in the beginning. If you can’t do things cheaper, faster, or better than the competition, you should re-evaluate why you’re going in. I think statistics would say most startups lose money instead of making money.
On a separate note, we are also keeping a blog at ComefortheRide.com for entrepreneurs who want to follow our progress and learn from our mistakes. We also link to some resources on our blog for startups to use.