AutoLeap Is Building Customer Trust In A Misunderstood Industry


The auto industry is undergoing a massive transformation. The urgent climate crisis, and recognition that automakers need to transition towards electrification and alternative energy sources, is revolutionizing the industry as we speak. While auto manufacturing revamps, the adjacent auto repair industry will also be required to evolve to meet changing market demand. Today, the thousands of mom and pop repair shops that have been servicing the current market have yet to convert their operations effectively to be in lock-step with industry changes.  Further to these broad industry changes, the auto repair industry has long suffered from a trust issue – customers walk into auto repair shops with an expectation they will be overcharged or swindled in some way. AutoLeap has emerged to be the catalyst repair shops need to survive the next decade’s transformation and help them build trusted relationships with customers.

The last time I spoke to the co-founders of AutoLeap, Steve Lau and Rameez Ansari, they were developing AutoLeap, their new auto repair shop software company, on the heels of a successful exit from FieldEdge, a SaaS solution to streamline operations for the small business HVAC, plumbing and electrical providers. One year older, AutoLeap has made significant ground in the auto repair industry and has garnered some important lessons in the process. I sat down with Lau and Ansari as they reflect on their journey and how they intend to make a meaningful difference in a sector that has traditionally been left behind.

Commitment to Underserved Small Businesses

Lau and Ansari have been deliberate in their commitment to the SMB market. At FieldEdge, they successfully created a transformational software solution that scaled to over 30,000 small HVAC plumbing and electrical businesses in the US. They wanted to make a bigger impact but this time in the auto repair sector, an industry that has been in even greater need for modernization. Ansari says what attracted them to this market was the large market size and the clear need for a modern technology solution.

“There are around 300,000 shops in the broader independent auto repair shop ecosystem. 70% of these shops are small, and are run by real salt of the earth, hard-working entrepreneurs who have cobbled together some savings to start up a shop. And because they’re small relative to dealerships or auto repair chains, they haven’t had access to great technology solutions.

These smaller shops employ about 1 million people in the US and need software that is incredibly easy to use, like Instagram or Amazon, because just like my father with his business, many of them did not grow up in the digital age. They need technology that’s deep, that can handle the whole business but, at the same time, be incredibly simple to use. It was exactly the same situation we found in HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors that we also found in this market.” 

The founders felt they could apply the same expertise from their previous business and pull together some of the same team to deliver the same incredible impact to auto repair shops and fundamentally change the lives of these entrepreneurs.

Lau sees these entrepreneurs as being neglected by modern technology, and deserve a technology stack that has not been available to them. Currently 80% of the market uses dated legacy software that is server-based. 19% of the market uses tools not built for running an auto repair shop and the remaining 1% use modern SaaS solutions. 

“The ability to make a huge impact is important to us because we want to improve as many lives and businesses as possible.  But then, it’s really the anecdotes that have stuck with us over the years:  The fact that for many small three-man shops, we were able to meaningfully increase revenue and save them hours of administrative paperwork in a single week meant they could take their kids to a baseball or hockey game, that they would have otherwise missed because they were stuck at the office.

Some of the results have been spectacular. Hank, one of AutoLeap’s customers in the Miami area, is the owner of Volksmasters, an auto repair shop specializing in Volkswagen and Audi. He reports that in his first year of using AutoLeap, his shop’s revenue increased by 40%. Alisha and Kevin, a dynamic husband and wife team who own A to Z Auto Repair Services near Salt Lake City, told us that they have nearly quadrupled revenue since they started to use AutoLeap. And in Toronto, AutoLeap’s customers, Francisco and Jason, the owners of Apex Automotive Solutions, were able to double revenue in the first nine months of using AutoLeap.”           

Ansari added,

“In Francisco and Jason’s case, the revenue growth and efficiencies that AutoLeap drove eventually allowed Francisco to renovate the kitchen and bathroom his wife had been pestering him about for many years, and he was finally able to bring his daughters to gymnastics. This is incredibly fulfilling that our software was able to unlock a lot of time with family, much more than they’ve had before. These stories just keep coming and that’s what drives us to work harder than ever to help these entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.”

Getting to the point where the shop owner sees value takes some time. Not wanting to learn a new system justifies the complacency trap many small business owners run into. Ansari agrees there is, at times, some reluctance when they first engage with customers about AutoLeap. This is driven by the accepted convention of working 60 to 70 hour weeks to keep the business running – without realizing there is a better way. Some of these repair shop owners have also tried solutions in the past and realize they are too cumbersome to seamlessly integrate into their business. As per Lau,

“For these businesses, they haven’t been walked through the process. And so we experience some reluctance to change out of inertia and skepticism. But once we educate them and walk them through that journey and how this can be impactful for their business, they open up. We are explicit about really listening to them and helping them transform their business and their life.”

On Customer Obsession

Lau and Ansari are hyper-focused on the customer experience and ensuring that customers are treated like royalty. So far, all signs point in the right direction as 90% of their customers have rated AutoLeap 5 out of 5.  For any company to have such a “raving fan base” bodes well in an industry that is highly connected and influenced through word of mouth. AutoLeap has benefitted in the process.

Ansari also believes in the strength of their product and the service that brings incredible value to the sale, and more importantly, after the sale. 

“When they see the product, they need to understand that we are not just replacing what they have; we are helping them save time and actually allowing them to be more profitable in the process. But the change has to be about that and then really helping customers succeed through that change and not just selling them software. And to truly make them successful, we are 20 times more involved right after the sale than we are before the sale. The investment in that whole process of growing their business, makes a game-changing difference to them. The first month is definitely a transition period but we try to set the right expectations and focus on building long term partnerships with the shops.  As early as three months, we begin to see transformations in their businesses. More importantly, the financial impact for these auto repair shops can be incredibly meaningful and often life changing!”

Fostering Trust in a Misunderstood Industry

Lau and Ansari have been deliberate in building a business partnership and company culture centered around trust. Building a business with the right partner is paramount to success, however getting to a stage where you build that second business, reveals an incredible shift in relationship and trust. How do you know that your partner is the right person? 

For Ansari, he remembers their first meeting at university on the squash court. Steve was two years older. When they started working together, they knew they had complementary skills that helped the partnership. Now, fast forward 15 years later to today, he shares where their relationship stands:

“When you finish off each other’s sentences, it’s clear you know exactly what the other person is thinking… all the time. This certainly wasn’t the case when we started our business partnership, but it has gotten to that point.”

Lau agrees, and explains that Ansari knows him better than Lau knows himself: 

“Because Rameez and I have built an incredible amount of trust with each other we always speak exactly what’s on our mind and never second guess the other person’s intentions. This helps us get to better decisions much faster and increases the fun factor 10x.”        

Lau and Ansari both appreciate the benefits of building trusted relationships and now they are focused on imparting this core principle of trust onto the often mistrusted auto repair industry. 

The auto repair industry has always been misunderstood. Customers are wired to be skeptical during their visit to the mechanic, expecting to be ripped off or disappointed. This perception exists despite the fact that most independent mom and pop shops are run by hard-working entrepreneurs who want to earn an honest living for their families. 

Lau and Ansari have ensured AutoLeap provides an avenue for auto repair shops to build trust and lasting relationships with their customers by providing transparency and crisp customer communication, both historically neglected aspects within this industry. By offering real-time communication capabilities with customers (digital estimates, detailed activity logs, etc.) and digital vehicle inspections (with pictures and videos), there is a newfound level of transparency between auto repair shops and their customers. Additionally, AutoLeap’s automated Google review capabilities result in an increase in the number of reviews for repair shops. When new customers read these positive reviews, this immediately builds a layer of trust. 

Ansari highlights that the concept of trust has always been paramount:  

“I remember from the early days of my parents’ business to growing FieldEdge, and even to Steve and I developing our relationship – the common fabric in all this was making sure we had an impenetrable force of trust with all key stakeholders – without that, you will operate in quicksand and progress is tough. So, it’s unfortunate that the auto repair industry is mired by customer skepticism, but it’s our job…it’s our purpose to make sure that repair shops have the tools and capabilities to build assurance with their customers because that’s what will give them an edge.”     

Lau mentions that customers are already seeing improved customer relationships:

“Rameez and I talked about trust since the first day we met. And now to have this run through our company, our employees, and our customers is truly meaningful. We’ve had customers like Imran from Minit Tirecraft in St. Catharines, Ontario tell us that their Google reviews have increased 10-fold since being on AutoLeap. This creates a level of confidence and brand presence that could be transformative for them. Hank from Volksmasters in Miami has significantly improved his communication with customers. Hank is as transparent as possible with the help of AutoLeap and customers are taking notice.”

It will be no easy feat, but Lau and Ansari are driven to bring trust and transparency, one repair shop at a time, to an industry that has for too long been misunderstood.

Lessons from Maturity 

Growing a business the second time around is less daunting. For Lau, he feels they are more focused and much less rattled. He recalls, at FieldEdge, when there was news about a competitor, they would be on high alert or firefighting mode. Today, they realize that’s just part of doing business. They recognize as long as they stay on course and keep a level head throughout the process, good things will happen. Ansari and Lau both feel fortunate that many of their current staff have followed them from FieldEdge and prior businesses to AutoLeap.

“We are blessed to have a lot of these folks come with us, but they too, have developed tremendously through their own experiences and that’s enabled both Rameez and I to move away from the details, and to empower them towards more responsibility, and at the same time, allows us to expand to other areas the business needs.”

AutoLeap today is exceeding expectations and investors have been quick to note the rapid progress out of the gates. AutoLeap raised their seed round in 2020. After just one year, they raised a higher Series A round of $18 million from Bain Capital Ventures. While they were not seeking extra funding, Lau saw this as a sign to further accelerate the company’s growth and take advantage of the market opportunity:

“There is a large market of 300,000 of these auto repair shops out there which are under-penetrated by modern SaaS technology and we’ve seen this story play out in the past in a big way. Many billion dollar companies were created in the last five years or so and I think that’s going to happen in this market as well.” 

The Long Game

What Lau and Ansari have demonstrated is the need for solutions among a small business industry that is ripe and open for change. They personally feel the impact when they spend time with customers. As per Lau:

“When that customer comes back and says my life changed because we decided to work with you, that’s pretty cool. And that’s very different from a lot of other markets.

For Ansari, there is a lasting impact for the company and the industry, 

“What Steve was saying earlier is so meaningful to that entrepreneur’s life and his or her family. You know, it’s almost a generational impact. It may sound dramatic, but I’ve seen that both of us have experienced this even within our own lives. The second piece is really building a software business with a team around us that’s trying to do the absolute best that they can. We’re all learning together. We’re having a ton of fun together and that is why we’re doing this. Our culture at AutoLeap means getting good at your craft, not taking yourself too seriously, and being really democratic about learning together. People talk about humility and while we don’t use that word, it truly is the essence of the automotive culture”. 

For Lau, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be:

“From a career perspective, this doesn’t feel like work. Oftentimes Rameez will call me and talk smack about my golf game and somehow we end up talking about work for 45 minutes but that was never the intention. It just felt like I was talking to a friend.” 

Both agree they are in it for the long haul. The auto repair industry is in much need of transformation and AutoLeap is poised to drive the change and enable shop owners to build long-term trusted relationships with customers.

.



Source link

Leave a Comment