Knook #23: My Auto Shop
We’ve all got those horror stories related to car maintenance.
Whether it's being stung with a huge bill once you’ve gone to pick up your car, or having the garage misdiagnose an issue and charge you for the pleasure, it can be a frustrating experience. That’s why when I’ve found a great one, I’ve found myself still driving across town to get maintenance done because of the hassle of finding a new garage.
My Auto Shop is revolutionising your car maintenance experience. Founder Andy Bowie’s five years setting up and running Uber in New Zealand lead him to the insight that maintaining a car can be full of confusion, uncertainty and frustration.
Through My Auto Shop, you can schedule what maintenance you’re needing, pick a workshop that suits you based on reviews, receive the price of said maintenance upfront, and then schedule a pick up for your car from wherever suits you (you can of course still drop off at your local garage).
I asked Andy how they got started.
“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.
“Auto repair is such a fragmented industry with 4600 independent garages, working on about 10 cars a day. They’re just trying to keep their heads above water, so no one is able to rethink their industry.
“We’re bringing a more customer forward approach to this relatively archaic industry using features inspired from businesses like Airbnb and Uber. We’re changing how pricing works, by using big data to bring the price upfront, and we help identify trustworthy garages and present information in an easy to understand way. The workshop sets their price through our pricing tool, which makes it easy to get a tailored cost specific to over 2500 vehicle makes, model and engine variants. Then we take a commission from that amount.
“We launched in January and tried to learn as much as we could. We sat in on some hard diagnosis of cars, got under cars, worked out the pick up and drop off, just trying to understand the issues associated with getting work done on your car.
“We learnt 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 confident the timing is right - the consumer is comfortable handing things over to people they don’t know, ordering things through their phone, etc. Kiwis want to just use their cars and be able to rely on them without any stress. About two weeks out of Level 4, garages were already back to 90% of their previous levels of business, so it tells us that even in this post-COVID environment, we’ve still got a huge opportunity on our hands.
“I’m big on the test-and-learn approach. We’ve built the cheapest minimum viable product before over-investing in development - that’s much better than building a great big thing and then realise that no one wants it. I wanted to build a simple solution to solve a problem, and we can grow from that MVP platform.”
It’s pretty clear that coronavirus has presented the biggest challenge in My Auto Shop’s journey so far. I asked Andy how they navigated that.
“Yeah, 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.
“Personally, throughout lockdown, I found it quite hard being an extrovert punching away by myself. It was quite lonely building a business in that environment, but as a team we’ve been able to get a lot done for not a lot of cash - and that’s put us in good stead going forward.”
I asked Andy how innovation has shaped the way he’s approached the business.
Says Andy, “Within the business there’s been two facets I guess. One would be how much off the shelf software there is available. You can build a great business without needing to develop your own technology, and that’s useful for being able to bootstrap and not take on big capital.
“The second is around the advancements in e-scooters. We use them to get our pickup team to meet the customer’s car and take it to the garage from there. That’s been a cool solve, but without those advancements, we wouldn’t have been able to make it work like that.”
I asked Andy what advice he’d give to other entrepreneurs.
“First is situational awareness for sure. Be aware of what’s going on and how that will impact your business, so you can make quick decisions and get the business through.
“Second is build your business with a team. Another three to four people in your corner makes the hard times much easier.
“And 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.”
I asked Andy what next on the radar for My Auto Shop.
“Obviously we need to grow, and build our operational learnings. We’re waiting for the industry to be back in full swing and then go hard on the marketing.
“But long term, we want to be New Zealand’s one stop shop for anything related to your car.”
For more info, visit: https://myautoshop.co.nz/.