By: Kevin Leigh
Bootstrapping a Business with a Triad of Partners for Better Decision Making.
It’s a proud time for our team at Dealer Simplified because we bootstrapped this company from the ground up to 10,000 vehicles sold in just a short time.
In this article, I want to discuss how a group of like-minded individuals could start a million dollar company with no prior knowledge of how to launch a start-up.
Our Think Tank: Denny’s
We sat in Denny’s at the corner of Buffalo Road and Southwestern Blvd, just around the corner from the Buffalo Bill’s football stadium in Orchard Park NY. My future partners, Phil Gates and Dave Kaiser sat across from me all discussing the Idea of leaving our excellent jobs with the West Herr Automotive Group and starting our own automotive software company. It was early 2014 and we had a single idea, create simplified processes for automotive managers to follow to increase profit. We did not even know what sort of process we were going to tackle first, but knew, like any business, car dealers needed help with the complexities in their offices.
Most automotive managers and staffers spend 10-20 minutes each morning just logging into the assortment of software packages and accounting systems required to do their job. But which department should we tackle first? We spent quite a bit of time drawing mental circles around each job function and position. We looked at the accounting office, F&I and sales departments, considering items such as CRM’s menu selling systems and dealer websites. After many meetings, we kept coming back to an idea that Dave Kaiser brought up in one of our discussions, the idea of Dealer Bid Sale Auctions.
Dealer Bid sales are small silent bid style auctions were the selling dealer invites in a few local buyers and allows them to put in a sealed bid on the wholesale cars that they would normally take to auction. In the past, Dave spent some time as a vehicle buyer for a Buffalo Wholesale Company and had been exposed to a silent bid at a local Dealership. We loved the idea, no one was in the space and it was an idea that worked well for many dealerships around the country. What if we could enhance existing bid sales with amazing software and help dealers start bid sales from scratch?
The problem was, we had all these other great ideas, which one should we pick as our first product?
The inevitable startup pivot:
Even though we were experienced automotive professionals, we knew that we were too close to the business to make product decisions by ourselves. So soon after we started Dealer Simplified we asked various automotive managers we knew in the industry to join us at our homes and even one time at the very Denny’s where it all began. We asked questions about our product choices and business model. Very quickly we came to the conclusion that the auction platform for dealers was the most innovative and would have the highest demand. So we built working models of our Sales Desking, Auction app, dealer website and CRM then asked a beta dealer to review our choices. The verdict was in. We were going to be in the dealer bid sale auction business.
The Power of a triad:
There is something magical about the power of three decision makers running the company, especially since we each have strong opinions about our beliefs. The advantage if gives is that no one person can dominate. In other words, two decision makers can overrule the one. Being the oldest of the partners I found it difficult at first to seek consensus but very quickly I realized the advantage. No one person on the team could force their idea into the company. The result: we seemed to make better decisions early on and as we grew, found that the decisions became easier when we quite literally put our heads together.
Even though we are a humble group of guys, we very quickly fell into roles. Dave became the CMO, Phil became the CIO and I became the COO. As equals we have left the CEO and CFO position vacant but as with all small businesses, we are forced to fill many hats, so we all assume those roles from time to time.
We have created a policy of creativity, leveraging the ideas we collect from our customers to improve and simplify our software and apps. Product development is one of the areas where a trinity of partners can really make a difference. Because major product changes require consensus, we tend to make simpler less bloated software.
Oh How We’ve Grown:
Three like-minded people can achieve so much in a very short time. Once we decided on the auction platform we began growing the company right away. And within a year were profitable and growing in leaps and bounds. By keeping expenses down we outperform our competitors and have a product that truly is “Best in class”
We recently branched our platform to include independent auction houses, again with incredible success and growth. We now have almost 5,000 registered buyers on our bid sale network, in 26 states, and grow it with our BDC at a rate of 2% per week.
To Simplify this Article, I’ll sum up with this:
“Trust in the triad partnership idea. Seek advice from your customers and be prepared to pivot and branch out.”
About Kevin Leigh
Kevin is proud to be a contributor to the success of independent dealers, franchise dealers, and independent auto auctions. Since his humble beginnings at his dad’s used the car in Ireland, he has looked for ways to improve profitability while providing a world class service.
Kevin can be reached at 716-818-4444 or Kevin@dealersimplified.com.
Bio: Entrepreneur / Writer / Serial Growth Hacker As the son of immigrants, Kevin Leigh lives the American dream and understands the value of hard work and enterprise. Leigh’s family immigrated to the United States from Ireland when Kevin was just 13 and Kevin has spent his adult life building a successful career while always staying grounded in his Irish roots. Leigh studied at Drimnagh Castle in Dublin Ireland and in Lancaster, NY and has spent the past 34 years working primarily in the automotive industry. Leigh’s work has involved sales, business development, digital marketing, software development and growth hacking. Leigh was the Director of Finance for an Auto Nation Dealership in Buffalo New York. for almost 14 years, working with Mike Maroone and his Father Al. Then Leigh spent nearly 17 years with West Herr Automotive Group, the top 25 dealer group in Buffalo, as the Director of Business Development and Digital Marketing. In both positions, Kevin was successful in implementing programs that increased both the size of the businesses and their profits. In one particularly successful project for West Herr, Leigh’s team created used vehicle inventory management software resulting in a 300+% growth in used vehicle sales. When Kevin left West Herr, the company was delivering almost 40,000 retail automobiles and another 15,000 profitable wholesale transactions. Most recently, Kevin Leigh co-founded Dealer Simplified, LLC, a company dedicated to simplifying automotive software. Leigh has called this venture his passion and it allows him to combine his entrepreneurial skills with his ability to utilize current technology to create more effective automotive solutions. The goal of Dealer Simplified is to jump-start the profit centers in dealerships while keeping the processes and software simple and easy to understand and implement. Kevin Leigh is also an accomplished author and is passionate about writing and blogging. His latest novel, “Gollup the Woods” was inspired by the stories he heard from his father on their many trips through the Irish countryside. The novel is targeted towards young adults and features the adventures of orphaned twins with magical powers. Kevin currently resides in Alden, New York with his wife Mary and their three boys. Leigh spends his spare time volunteering with various community organizations and is active in the Geocaching community.