Fund Raising and Car Shopping

September 20, 2007

The Evenlevel team set out recently to raise capital so that we can properly grow our business.  To some the need for capital is obvious, to others not so much.  So why do we need more capital?  We’re ambitiously setting out to really change the way the used car industry works.  This blog’s title and the tag-line for our business is “Driving The Revolution”.  We’re talking about literally revolutionizing this industry.  In order to do that, its going to take some money to properly scale our business and to really get it off of the ground.

We want money to:

1. Advertise:  We’re creative folks and have been able to drive a lot of “free” traffic to our site, but there’s something to be said for money to drive paid traffic our way.  We need to get the word out about our great service and let people know what we do and how we do it.

2. Pay for Operational Expenses: We’ve got a great team of founders, which I’m sure would love to get even a meager salary, but more importantly we need to hire some additional sales force to help sell our cars, developers to help create all of the cool products and features we’ve thought of and have in the pipeline, and a web designer or two to put some spit and polish on our site and really make it shine.

 As I mentioned earlier, we’ve just begun to reach out to the venture capital (vc) & angel communities both locally here in Austin and throughout the country, so we’re complete newbies to the process.  All of the founders have worked at venture backed startups in the past, so we’re familiar with how interactions with vc’s work in general but we’re just getting our feet wet with telling the Evenlevel story and creating a compelling investment for an investor.  As we’ve immersed ourselves into this aspect of our business, I ran across a really great video posted on Venture Hacks last week that parallels buying a car and raising money from a vc, Venture Hacks Video.

We know we’re going to be running into a lot of skilled negotiators as we settle on terms with our eventual financing.   The tactics shown in the video are the exact same practices that we’re striving to eliminate with our business.  We pride ourselves on giving as much information as possible about each and every car we have on our site and we always display the actual auction price and our flat fee for every car on the site.  Since our fee is the same for each vehicle on our site, its in our best interest to get our customers into the best used car for them on each and every purchase so that they’re happy and will be repeat customers and send more “free” referral traffic our way.

I’ll keep everyone updated on the financing.  We’ve got a couple of networking functions the next few days that should make for some quality blog reading.

Yes Mom, I’m a Dealer

September 18, 2007

One of the more interesting parts of starting Evenlevel has been the fact that I get to tell people that I am now a used car dealer….actually a licensed used car dealer.  When I tell people the news, I always get a bit of a funny reaction and yes, I find myself telling people this with an overly sheepish grin on my face.  Why is this?

I was reminded of the industry’s reputation again yesterday as I read a great blog post from an up-and-coming personal finance site Mint.com. The article says:

Greedy dealers will do anything to nickel-and-dime you and jump as much money out of your pockets as possible. Some outright lie. Some even break the law. Just be warned that these dealers aren’t always Boy Scouts, and reading this article is preparing you for many of the steps you can take to avoid a bad deal.

 I was trying to think of any profession that has the name “dealer” in it that seemed somewhat reputable.  Let’s see, drug dealer (no), arms dealer (no), art dealer (YES!), and then car dealer (again, no).  So we’re stuck with illegal activities, car dealers, and art.  I’m glad that art dealers have stuck around, my dad, Brad Clever is an artist and does amazing work and of course I’m happy that a reputable profession has stuck with the name “dealer” and can move his wares.

 Why do car dealers specifically get a bad rap?  I’ve come to the conclusion that they’ve earned it.  The other founders (I promise I’ll refer to them by name once they’ve introduced themselves) and I have had quite a few business development meetings over the past few month, several of which have been with car dealers, and we’ve learned that the reputation of used car dealers in particular has been somewhat…..well…..earned.

 Why do we as consumers have to go to a dealership and worry about bargaining down the price of a car?  How about you show me your lowest price and let me decide if I want to buy at that price or not, and oh why you’re at it, how about you tell me something useful about the cars I’m looking at that would help me determine if the car is a good fit for me or not.  Also, why do dealers have to go back and forth to their “manager” so many times during the negotiation process of a car?  I could go on and on about dealer tactics and the slimy sales tactics of many dealers out there, but you all know the story.  Don’t get me wrong their are plenty of reputable and up front dealers out there, but the whole industry has a reputation for a reason.  At Evenlevel we’re trying to tackle this reputation head on and hopefully offer a better place to buy a car.

In recent years Carmax has done a great job of getting people through their doors by offering a “no-haggle” shopping experience.  They’ve got huge “feel good” dealerships throughout the country and have really refined their sales process so that its hard not to buy a car when you walk through their doors.  We whole-heartedly believe in this no-haggle philosophy as well.  Evenlevel does not have the huge overhead and advertising expenditures that Carmax deals with and we’re able to crush them on pricing and put more money back into the pockets of our customers.  The great thing is that we’re able to do this with a ton of transparency and with none of the guilt that I’m sure every used car dealer feels.

I have told my mother about this business, and our commitment to transparency and making the used car buying process easier and cheaper, and I feel that she can proudly tell her friends that her son, Harvard degree and all, is a used car salesman.      

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!

New Product Updates

July 16, 2007

If you came to the site a couple of weeks ago you probably noticed there were only about 200 cars, we made a few changes and now there are over 2,000 cars! Everyday we see that number grow and we will continue to look for inventory to the add to the site. You can check everyday and see how many cars we added if you’re really curious.

We also changed the way pricing is displayed. Before, we only showed the total price and if you wanted to see the price break out you had to click “Explain this price”. Now, the price is always broken out. You’ll notice that the Evenlevel fee now says $749 instead of $999, that’s because we put the auction buy fee in the price of the car, instead of in the Evenlevel fee. We think this  more accurately shows the price of the car.

Finally, to help consumers who are concerned about shipping, we added a simple way to figure out how much shipping will cost. Enter your zip code on the vehicle detail page and Evenlevel will automatically calculate the cost of shipping and include it in the total purchase price. Evenlevel has good relationships with several auto transport companies and we can help out with shipping.

More product updates to come soon!