Olga Gutsal, an entrepreneur who has been involved in motor oils for many years, is tearing up the IT industry patterns, becoming a start-up after 50 years. Her platform autobooking.com promises to change significantly the car service market. The rights to use the system have already been sold to a number of European countries, but to make the project truly global and start working in 40-50 countries, Olga is now looking for partner-investor.
You are a successful businessman. What prompted you to move into a new IT-sphere and start from scratch?
Before our eyes, cars manufacturers demonstrate more and more daring achievements in the creation of electric vehicles or cars with a hydrogen engine, drones and so on. But the service for servicing the car remained completely untouched by progress. Whatever car you drive to service in, the station for car service looks like it has been for more than half a century always the same. And the greater the success of developers of new cars is – the more noticeable the car service is lagging behind. Car repair and maintenance is a huge market with thousands of actors, entrepreneurs-car services owners, it is very conservative, and it was not touched by IT improvements at all. There are many so-called licensed stations on the market that are close to producers and interact with them. There they gradually moved on to repairing using the blocks – the unit where the fault has been diagnosed is removed, replaced with a new one and that’s all. Nobody gets inside the block. Another part of the market are independent players who are willingly getting inside and ready to dig and understand the smallest detail. But neither those nor others have yet seen in IT-technologies an essential resource for their development.
At the same time, fundamentally other requests to the service of car drivers have appeared – they do not want to know what is inside, how the car is arranged. And this is a huge change. I had been engaged in motor oils and technological fluids for cars for 25 years and I remember clients who all knew about the car and were ready to communicate on an equal footing with our specialists or mechanics at the stations. But today more and more people do not know and do not want to know how the car is built, what’s in it, what it needs and how to service it. Everybody wants to be served quickly and politely and at the same time, it is desirable to save time and save money. And we want to be not deceived; we want to trust the station or the mechanics.
There is one new thing associated with servicing your car. Previously, we always had a history of relations with the station, before we were familiar with the mechanic. Our dads or close friends gave us them literally by inheritance. We talked to the mechanic, as to a family doctor, were friends with him. Now we have no time for such relations, and there is no desire, we used to it, like in other industries that a good result can be obtained without the same. If before it was important for us to have a good attitude of the mechanic to me personally and hence to my car, now we want to choose by other factors: the price of the service, the ability to reach the station quickly, the possibility to book in advance, the possibility to choose a station from several similar ones, and the recommendations of other people who have already used the station. Service that will allow young people, women, expats, tourists not to search for “familiar mechanics”, but find a hint on the Internet will be in great demand, they will be happy and this service will have a huge field for activities.
We began to move much more around the world, we are accustomed to easily move from city to city, from country to country, and in any new place I want to be sure that I will be prompted a reliable Technical Service Station.
And has your project found the answers to these new requests?
I am absolutely sure after three years of work on the Autobooking project that we are responding to a new request of car service customers for today. So, for example, I want to book an auto service at 11pm, because I have remembered at that moment that I have not had the right headlight working. I want to book not in the working hours of the station and I can call it, but at a time when it’s convenient for me. And secondly – I want to be free in my choice. I have already used to use such a comparative service when I order hotels, tickets, food – compare, see other people’s feedbacks, read reviews and choose. It has become the norm, the natural way of ordering a service – therefore there is no doubt that this will work here. When we have realized it, it was “only” about to physically agree with the stations and technically train them to work in the new system, to connect them to a single network of service for drivers.
And the second fact that gives me the confidence that we will be able to serve a new request of car owners – our autobooking.com platform which has already been several times redesigned and improved. This is a multifunctional platform to which not only the service stations are easily connected now but, for example, evacuators, insurance companies, driving schools, sellers of OBD sensors or car alarms and any other service that may be interesting to the car driver. The platform is developing rapidly, it flexibly reacts to the market offers, it is already forming a certain community for car service, and I am sure that this is a very stable and promising model for the development of the project as a whole.
To agree with vehicle service station – is that the same that in due time made booking.com, having agreed with hotels?
Yes. Booking showed to the hotel all the benefits of getting acquainted with a system with a client who had never heard about this particular hotel and probably never would have heard about it. Yes, each station has some number of regular customers. But there are a huge number of people who could potentially use the services of this station, but they do not know about its existence.
I want to emphasize – we do this because we want us and drivers of cars to feel comfortable. It’s hard for you to imagine a station that does not have, let’s say, a phone which you can call or there is no waiting area or coffee machine, a timetable when this station works. So, autobooking.com is of the same cut of cloth, the obviously expected attribute. This is not something special, on the contrary – it is absolutely basic service, which in a few years will be offered by all stations. It would be strange to us that we have done without it before. Imagine a hotel that is not in booking.com or Trip Advisor. It is a sad sight, isn’t it? The online Check-in service, online recording for the service is very natural, especially in big cities or places where we do not live permanently and do not want to waste time discovering all possible options and offers. Remember how often we use it in other cases and to solve other problems.
And what level is the platform at now and where is it implemented?
The third year of project development is coming to the end. We spent a lot of energy, packed a lot of cones, and got a lot of experience. This is not the first or the second version of the platform. Today, week after week, there are ongoing updates. Now the platform contains promising solutions that will allow us not to make revolutionary changes for about a year. The system has reached the stage of stability and reliable operation. A lot has been done both in relation to the stations and in relation to the consumer. The system is complex inside, it gives a lot, it has many important functions and at the same time it is as simple as possible – this effect was consciously achieved. It is also important that the platform allows you to connect new services easily, and hence new ways of monetization. An excellent team has been created – and the group that is developing, and the one that is responsible for setting up relations with stations and users and the one that deals with sales, there are people marketing with those customers who have already used the system. The team works and it is good, I like it very much.
And we sold franchising to a group of countries. In two countries we started our offices, conducted testing – these are Poland and Ukraine. Now the most active system is running in Ukraine, we get from there a lot of feedbacks and a lot of understanding how and what actually works. We needed to see the reaction of the market, make our mistakes and correct them. At the same time, franchising agreements have been signed in a number of European countries – Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, Holland, and Belgium. The work begins actively there. There are negotiations with other countries, we are moving.
If to formulate briefly what does the driver get and what does the vehicle service station get?
The vehicle service station receives for very little money the opportunity to promote on the Internet. If they did it themselves, they would have to spend much more. In addition, they receive an online customers recording tool to their station, which they will be able to master and adjust (most do not have such a tool). They can also take advantage of the built-in automatic accounting of work (mini-SRM), which immediately makes all management of the station more modern and transparent for the manager.
And the customer gets, at last, freedom of a choice. It is very important for me. In addition, you can book at a time when it is convenient for you, and not when the station is working. The customer now has the opportunity to compare options quickly – because the stations give photos of service posts and waiting areas, and customers give feedback. In addition, the opportunity to look at stations in other countries in his or her own language (the platform is Multilanguage). And one more important possibility is to evaluate the service if the customer has actually used the services of the station. It is important that the owners do not pay anything, for them this service is free, the stations which have become partners of autobooking.com pay
In my forecast in 3-4 years, the requests and habits of users will change so much that without the Internet, without online booking, without the ability to find easily on the Internet what I need now and compare the options – no one will buy anything. This is not a matter of any futurology, remote perspective, but the reality of tomorrow.
I went to the link and saw that you also had a call-center with live operators
Yes. I think it is very important that in the first years of the project development the call-center also work. Sometimes, to make a decision we need to talk with someone. And this is the opportunity – to call and get advice or answers to questions, help in interaction with the station, with control over the order execution. Sometimes people call us and say: “I do not have time to read reviews and choose” or “I do not know how to book” – do it for me. Yes – they should get used to the service.
During working hours, our operators are sitting in the office, developers and managers hear all these conversations and this is very useful for the development of the system. And at night we give this service for outsourcing. I think that in about two years the telephone support will go completely to outsourcing, and two years later the call-center will not be needed.
Of course, all this service autobooking.com is available for the phone?
Oh, sure. There is a mobile version of the site; it has been working for a long time. But there are applications for iOS and for Android, they are ready, we are about to show them, they will be available. In my opinion, the mobile version of the site is now more advanced technology, but we also made applications to make people comfortable and again – there will be a choice.
Why did you choose the franchise model for the development of the project?
There are two reasons. I want to do it quickly, scaled, and that’s why I am ready to share a large part of my income so that I can start working in many countries right away. And the second – after all, the relations within the country for car maintenance are visibly implicated in local mental features. There are traditions of car servicing. A local person understands them better. Even synonyms, terms in different languages are understood differently, and we need to be sure that the driver will be as accurately understood at the station, that we correctly translate his request.
In an IT franchising model is very rare. But everything is changing – tomorrow for a person who does not understand much of the situation, it should be just as convenient way to enter this business as «sanctified» and what we are proposing is that’s how it should work.
What does the buyer of the franchise rights get?
The franchise system is good – and we already see it – it allows you to exchange the experience of different countries and take the best quickly. Franchisee gets the opportunity to connect to the system. It is large; it is modeled to withstand a huge number of users. We have regular training and today everyone who works at autobooking.com receives the training of new teams which are connected to the project.
Do you take investments and why do you need them?
We have invested much into the project during last three years, earned by other our businesses. We have never worked with investors. For today it is clear that the speed that we want for the development of the project requires much more resources, and moving slowly is wrong.
We differ in this from young startups who need to understand whether the idea, this mechanism, the program or the product that they have created works and in what direction it must be improved. We were in another situation – we had money and a team to develop the idea and start its practical operation in several countries. We did it all ourselves. We don’t need money to understand – we have already understood and we are able to do many things. But for the rapid scaling of the project, we will not have enough money ourselves. It’s not a question of “let’s try,” we’ve already tried – now we need to move scaled and fast. I think that it will be easy for investors to evaluate the prospects of the model and how much has already been done.
The sale of franchisee’s rights is one way to accelerate. It’s good for starting. And attracting strategic investors, our potential partners- it is the second way and we are now working on it. Investments are needed to go to 40-50 countries, make autobooking.com the usual obvious service for millions of people, and create a network effect where, wherever you are, you have this opportunity to choose the nearest or specialized station on the Internet, make a booking online and service the car. This business deserves to become global and I really want to do it quickly.
Thanks to Autobooking.com team for being helpful in preparing this interview.