Car Design Page

October 3, 2007

So our crack team of three founders have a ton of coding, Internet, used car, and entrepreneurial skills but we admittedly lack in one area that is rather critcal to a successful web company….design.  To this point, our lead (and when I say lead, I mean only) developer Eric has knocked out the majority of the design, other than the logo that Logoworks cranked out for us based on our other founder’s concept.  I think Eric has done a rather admirable job on the site and its very respectable for this stage.  That being said, each new design initiative is a major project for our team and takes many more man hours than if one of us had true design skills.  We drool over the Internet design by masters like Dan Cederholm, but we just don’t and probably won’t possess those kinds of design chops anytime soon

Our design “problem” creates some interesting discussion within our team as we have to even the balance between what changes are necessary design-wise compared to product development for less design centered ideas.  I thought the blog readers might find it interesting to see what we are currently debating in order to get a glimpse into what we are thinking/doing on a daily basis in addition to selling cars.

Every vehicle on our site has a Car Detail Page (CDP) that shows all of the details for each vehicle.  I have a personal affinity at the moment for the Range Rover Sport, and its CDP can be seen here: Land Rover Sport.  Eric will tell you that Range Rover’s are junk (he’s a Honda guy), but I love their look and would love to upgrade to one once I get rid of my Chevy Avalanche.  The CDP is an extremely crucial page on our site, maybe even more so than the homepage, as the majority of our traffic enters our site currently through CDP pages.  Many of our cars are listed on Craigslist and these cars link directly to their corresponding CDP’s.

Thus, we want the CDP to convert our traffic into qualified buyer leads.  We feel that our current CDP design is somewhat confusing for a few reasons.  The spacing below the pictures of the vehicle and the condition and option reports below it are way off and we’ve found that a lot of our visitors don’t ever realize that all of those juicy car facts are waiting for them if they scroll down the page.  Moreover, there is no sort of education about Evenlevel and someone unfamiliar with our site gets dropped into a CDP page and has no idea about how our process works or even where our used cars come from.  Additionally, if a customer gets to a CDP page for an expired vehicle, we’re not doing a sufficient job in telling them that the vehicle is in fact expired and then taking the next step and directing them to active vehicles that fit their search criteria.

All of the three founders have taken a crack at some form of the redesign and I started mine yesterday afternoon.  I spent about 4 hours on it and I think that another 3 or 4 hours of work today and I’ll have a version that I like…pending approval from the other two founders.  The worry is that we spend too much time on this and not enough time on other critical features.  But for the time being the CDP redesign is at the top of our list.  I’ll let everyone know once we’ve rolled out the latest version. With all of the creative energy going into the CDP, it is starting to feel like the car design page more than the car detail page.

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Car Flipping

September 25, 2007

Evenlevel is an Internet company and we’re constantly being reminded in the media of the recent wave of social networking online and its impact on the Internet and e-commerce.  We all have our Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts (to name a few).  The Evenlevel founders have been throwing around ideas for how to build a really dynamic community around some aspect of the car business.  One idea that has stuck has been to build a community around car flipping.

Car flipping is akin to house flipping.  House flippers look for cheap properties and either resell them immediately because their original purchase price was so far below market or they rehab them and then sell them for a profit.  I flipped a property a little over a year ago and had great success doing so and actually just bought another property a little more than a month ago and intend to do some extensive rehab and resell this property as well.  House flipping is not easy, my business partner is an architect and I could not do this business well without her.  However, with a little knowledge and a lot of hard work there is a ton of money to be made in that business, which now brings us to car flipping.

The concept is basically the same.  Find cars at below market value and resell them at market value for a profit.  I did some research online and found virtually zero resources for an aspiring car flipper, while you get inundated with books, seminars, and infomercials for people “specializing” in house flipping.  I did fine one poignant blog post about car flipping at Get Rich Slowly. This article generated a ton of discussion comments.  The comments seemed to go back and forth between some seasoned “car flippers” and those that seemed somewhat uninformed and skeptical of the whole practice and were calling car flippers “curbstoners”.

Curbstoning is essentially the practice of conducting business without a licence and often refers to the buying and selling of automobiles without a license.  Here in the state of Texas, common citizens can sell up to four cars a year without a dealer’s license.  You’ll need to check on the laws of the state you live in, but a Texas citizen can “flip” up to 4 cars a year.  If you sell 5 or more cars a year and you’re not a licensed dealer, you’re breaking the law and are essentially committing curbstoning…not something you want to do.

However, you can have a lot of fun and make a decent profit by flipping the allowable number of cars in your state each year.  In fact, it appears that many people are doing just that.  I was mentioning our business to one of our local Wells Fargo bankers last week and he told me that he and a friend had been flipping cars for years.  They were finding cars on Craigslist, buying them, and then reselling them on eBay or Craigslist .  They were very tuned in to what was in demand in the local market and knew a good deal when it came across.  They searched through hundreds of cars to find these deals, but had made more than $4,000 in profit on several occassions for vehicles that they resold for less than $15,000.  A pretty good profit margin if you ask me.  Once I told him about our business, he was immediatley interested in using our site to source vehicles as well.

The founders of Evenlevel think that our site could be a great resource for the car flipping hobbyist.  First off, you can sort vehicles on our site by their absolute value under the market average for similar makes and models.  Secondly, we just rolled out a new Email Alerts tool that will send our customers an email whenever a new vehicle is added to our site that matches their particular search criteria.  And we’re working on some other goodies that will definitely help refine these searches even further to deliver only the choicest cars to the consumer that is either looking to buy a used car for personal use or buy a car to flip it.

I’m interested in hearing some feedback from any car flippers out there to see if they would be interested in a section of our site dedicated to flipping cars.  We’ve talked about user submitted articles on best practices, what to watch for and avoid, and how to profitably flip cars while minimizing your exposure to risk, and how to conduct your car flipping business legally.  Additionally, we’d love to start posting success stories and pictures of flipped cars.  If we get some positive responses we’ll definitely push this up the chain on our priority list.

Houston Technology Center

September 24, 2007

One of the other founders and myself made a trip over to the Houston Technology Center for the first part of their Educational Seminar Series “Raising Capital in Texas Today”.    The first part of the series was a panel disucssion comprised of local companies that had recently completed successful fundings.  Their was a lot of great Q&A generated out of the session and the meeting was definitely a worthwhile event for us to attend as we’ve started actively seeking capital.  We’ll be back on October 25th to attend the next part in the series, “Current Active Capital Sources in Texas”.

While these events are always informative, the networking opportunities are always a key reason that we feel the need to attend.  We met many entrepreneurs at the event and its always invigorating to see other people with the start-up spirit and to reconfirm that there are a ton of other people like us, moving and shaking, to get our start-ups off of the ground.  We were able to meet a fellow entrepreneur that served on the discussion panel, Stephen Straus.

Stephen, was unique to the discussion because he used to work as a venture capitalist for Austin Ventures, and now is on the other side of the table having just raised money for his new start-up BarFly Interactive Networks. Stephen has found some provisions in liquor advertising laws that are allowing his company to bring a completely new type of advertising to the bar industry.  They’ve made a ton of traction with some of the major producers/distributors in the alcohol world and seem like they are ready to explode.

I took the opportunity to approach Stephen, as he is Austin-based as well, and he went out of his way to talk to me at the conference and then graciously offered to lend an ear to one of the other founders and I this morning over breakfast in Austin.  Stephen had a lot of advice for us that we’ll take to heart and hopefully we can build some type of mutually beneficial relationship with him going forward.

We’ve started to realize just how small the start-up community is in Texas and how building relationships with key contacts will be critical to our success.  Additionally, we’re really learning how to multi-task.  While we’re attending these events, we still need to keep the business going and sell cars.  Friday was a great day for us as we were able to close on two separate vehicles on that day.  We actually sold a vehicle while we were at the conference and then another truck later that afternoon.  Our sales are really starting to pick up, as has the general traffic and interested leads to the site.  It should be interesting to see how this week plays out.

Also, we added a new email alert product, you can view the news release for it here Email Alerts.

Building a Business

September 17, 2007

This is my first in hopefully a long series of posts over many of years.  Hi!  I’m Chris and I’m one of three, excited and motivated founders of www.evenlevel.com. The three of us all plan on contributing a ton of blog posts.  I’m going to focus more on the startup aspect of a new business.  I hope to let everyone in on the nitty gritty, the successes and failures, that are all part of building what we plan on becoming a fantastically successful business.  The other two guys, which I’ll let each of them introduce themselves on their own, will probably be focusing more on cars and perhaps building a successful site on Ruby on Rails.  We hope to appeal to a wide audience….car geeks, code geeks, and startup geeks.  Hopefully you fall into one of those categories.

 I’ll definitely bring you up to speed on more of our past in future posts, but I’m sure you’d love to know where we are TODAY. 

 We’ve started selling cars.   Yes we have and we’re thrilled about it.  The three of us came up with this idea a while ago and have been spending most of our hours fleshing out the details for this business.  While lots of businesses sound good, its amazing to put in all the hard work that goes into getting a business off the ground, actually opening the doors to our online dealership and then have REAL customers buy vehicles from us.  Of course, we assumed that people would have to buy cars right?  We figured out a way to deliver vehicles to our customers for several thousand and sometimes over $10,000 in savings….so why wouldn’t they buy from us?  Well we weren’t quite that naive.  We realized that buying a car online is a major thing.  For one, cars are expensive, people often have to have financing in place, how do you know if a vehicle is a good buy or not?  And most importantly who/what is Evenlevel.com anyways, and can I trust these guys?  Obviously these are all issues that we’ve begun to or have tackled and we’ll continue to deal with going forward.  But I’m proud to say that we’ve completed several sales to date and we’re confident that as people grow more confident with us and become more familiar with the way our business model works that they won’t be able to pass on the used car deals found on our site.  Yes, we feel that they’re just that good.

So I’m excited to end this first blog post.  I’ll try and leave a story or update on our business every few days to keep you all informed.  I’ve been motivated by a high level of blogging from such startup blog pros as Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, and Michael Arrington and I hope to develop a highly readable and entertaing blog in the fashion that they’ve managed to establish.

We’re happy to report that a customer just got her car. She had contacted us a few weeks ago looking for an older (’01/’02) BMW or Lexus. During her search there were quite a few very promising cars – she was surprised at all of the cars she could afford; her budget was roughly $16k, with a preference for imported cars, the newer, the better.

After looking for a week, including a couple 3 series, GS 300s, Camrys, Accords, and a bunch of other cars, she finally settled upon the Jetta. She was in Austin and the car was in Phoenix. Like most people, she was a little hesitant about buying a car without test driving it first, but the inspection report and return policy helped assuage her fears. She made the decision to buy the car. She sent us the money and we purchased the car for her.

We arranged transportation, and aside from a little hickup – the driver’s truck broke down in San Antonio – the car arrived safe and sound. She said the car was actually in better condition than described with more options than she thought it would have. I’ve been assured she’s very happy with the car and sent a few pictures for us to see!

Happy Customer By Her New Car

Jetta Off The Truck

Car on Auto Transport

We couldn’t stop with just the logo, so we redesigned the homepage as well. We could tell from talking to our customers that a lot of them wanted to find out more information about the buying process: how it works, how to get financing, what to do with their car, and what assurances they have. We listened, we thought, and we redesigned. Now, from a few easy places, customers can access all of the information they want. We hope you like it!