Buying and selling a car is the root canal of transactions. Every step is fraught with ugh, whether it's the painful, ritualistic negotiation, or the fear that the joke about spit and duct tape applies to the pig-in-a-poke you just plunked down thousands for. To the rescue rides Beepi, a disruptive startup that studied every aspect of the purchase cycle, and smartly re-invented it.
In a time when the peer-to-peer economy is tackling mega challenges like making dogsitters available, Beepi has the audacity to take on the $58 billion secondary car market. (Disclosure: My company does marketing work for Beepi.) Last month, Recode headlined that "Beepi Could Be the Car Buying Site We've Been Waiting For." High praise for co-founder Alejandro Resnik, who at the age of 30 is taking on an industry more than twice as old as he is. I think you'll enjoy this conversation with the young man who predicts that used car lots will go the way of drive-in theaters.
Q: Describe Beepi in one sentence; what's your elevator pitch, and not the one for the elevator in the Burj Dubai.
A: Beepi makes buying or selling a great car simple, fast and fun.
Q: We always hear about the lightning bolts of inspiration that entrepreneurs have. What was your cosmic flash?
A: Like too many, I had a terrible experience buying a car. I had just moved to Boston from Buenos Aires with my wife to attend MIT. We did a ton of research and ended up buying a 2011 Jeep Liberty from a local dealer for $14,000. I negotiated a bit, test-drove the car, and drove off the lot.
Q: Sounds like a pretty ordinary experience so far.
A: So far is the operative phrase. Two days later, I got a call from my wife: our new car had overheated and she was stuck on the side of the highway. I called the dealer who was temporarily gracious, and paid for all the repairs. But after two more breakdowns our Jeep Liberty proved to be the proverbial lemon. Instead of taking the car back, the dealer disclaimed all responsibility.
Q: That sounds like an origin story to me.
A: It was. The disappointment, frustration and cash hemorrhage inspired me to create a better way to buy and sell a great car. Together with my co-founder, Omer Savir, who has been an invaluable partner, we set out to invent one.
Q: There are a lot of companies where you can buy and sell cars. How is Beepi different?
A: We're the first to take the car buying and selling experience entirely online, and the only one to eliminate the dealer. Without the middleman we can inject transparency, and offer buyers and sellers a better price.
Q: With such a small margin, do you have to cut back on service?
A: One might think. But one would be wrong. We certify every car before it's listed on Beepi. And we stand behind each vehicle in an unprecedented way -- for example, by offering a 10-day, no questions asked money back guarantee. We also believe the entire experience should be fun -- a word not ordinarily associated with our business.
Q: OK, I'll bite: where's the fun?
A: When something works with blissful ease -- and there are no surprises -- that's a fun experience. So we take the guesswork out of every step; you get a great car for a terrific price and you don't even have to get our of your PJs! We also take care the agonizing minutiae: we do all the painful paperwork and deliver your car to wherever you tell us. And because we're proud of what we do, every car is delivered detailed and with a big Beepi bow.
Q: How is Beepi doing? And don't give us the standard "We can't release any sales data" spiel.
A: We launched a month ago in the Bay Area. The response blew past our expectations: we've sold a car every day and have seen thousands of potential sellers come to the site to learn more about selling their car.
Q: Americans spend around $250 billion a year online. But a car is different, isn't it?
A: Everything we now buy online was different, once. But we're buying glasses at Warby Parker, shoes at Zappos, and even wedding dresses online -- all sight unseen before it arrives on our doorstep. Consumers want this same convenient, friction-free experience to be applied to big sticker purchases like cars and homes. In fact, a recent study by Capgemini found that 1 in 3 Americans plans to purchase their next car online. And since 40M transactions happen in the used car market every year, that's north of 13M potential online car transactions.
Q: If consumers are demanding it, why has no one invented a car buying/selling experience like this before?
A: Because dealers were protected by outdated regulations. Until recently, consumers couldn't buy or sell a car online because it was more or less illegal. In fact, the process of buying or selling a car has shockingly been the same since the dawn of the Internet.
Q: So what's changed?
A: We've seen two big shifts: first the FTC recently spoke out against laws and practices that protected car dealers from competition and voiced their support for manufacturers like Tesla and companies like Beepi who enable direct car sales. That's because the government knows that consumers are demanding it. The Capgemini study I mentioned even concludes that "consumers are done with the middleman in the conventional sense and 44 percent of car buyers would buy online."
Q: What would direct car sales mean to consumers?
A: More transparency. No more black box. On Beepi, consumers know exactly how much margin we're making. We're not ashamed, we're proud of how little we take. In fact, there was just a ton of publicity about the millions of cars that are unsold every year because the process is so broken. That's bad for consumers and bad for the economy.
Q: Haven't dealers injected more transparency into the process by offering certified pre-owned vehicles?
A: Certified pre-owned cars certainly give consumers peace of mind, but unfortunately it's another example of this industry acting against consumer interest. Here's why: Middlemen typically buy cars for 20 percent less than the value of the vehicle, because they know what a pain in the exhaust it is for you to sell it yourself. Then they turn it around and slap a "Certified Pre-Owned" label on the car and flip it for much more than they paid for it -- betting that buyers are more likely to pay that price then go through painful and oftentimes risky peer-to-peer sites or classifieds. And they do. So at the end of the day, both the seller and the buyer lose.
Q: You hire mechanics from the best manufacturers like BMW to inspect each vehicle. But they're famous for getting paid a lot, sometimes more per hour than primary care physicians. How can you afford them?
A: We pay them fairly and they believe in our vision of changing the car buying and selling experience by injecting it with transparency and trust. You can read more from our lead inspector about what our inspectors do on a day-to-day basis here.
Q: But can you really create a community of buyers and sellers in your industry? It's not as intimate as renting your apartment or house, after all.
A: You'd be surprised. Our lead inspector recently shared how emotional the experience is. Cars aren't just about getting someone from Point A to Point B -- they are collectors of memories. We've had entire families come out to say goodbye to the car that brought their children home from the hospital. People have organized parties to welcome their Beepi Car, with dozens waiting outside for delivery.
Q: How do you roll out a chicken and egg business? Seems like it's really tough to balance supply and demand with a marketplace business model -- and not end up with too many hens or omelets.
A: That's true in some businesses, where the benefits aren't immediately apparent to the chicken and the egg, simultaneously. In our case, both sides see the benefits we're bringing. Before we even launched, we had over 5,000 people signed up in the Bay Area. Neither buyers nor sellers were happy with the legacy model; they both paid too much to support dealer overhead.
Q: Any surprises since you launched Beepi?
A: Absolutely. We've found that 80 percent of all our buyers have used multiple credit cards. We innovated that method because we believed that consumers would want to divide up the purchase, and maybe rack up frequent flier miles on different accounts. It also saved time, by helping consumers avoid financing -- which can be lengthy and can impact credit scores
Q: Do you think a car can be haunted, and would you take it for sale? Some people say that Porsche that James Dean was killed in was haunted.
A: No one else's asked me that before. But now that you mention it, I think I'll add a "check for haunting evidence" as the 186th point on our inspection program.