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A 53-year-old startup???

I just finished with my latest gig. Would you believe a 53-year-old startup? Seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it?

What did I learn? Even a third-generation company can seem like a startup. Same challenges, same problems, same leadership dynamics. And even though you can’t get much further from software hi-tech, this auto repair business wasn’t all that different.

I was working with some friends who own a large auto repair business. Together with his wife, the current owner, who inherited the business from his father, is preparing to pass the business along to his son. He “sorta” gets high-tech, but his son picks up techie stuff really fast.

And if you think auto repair isn’t high-tech, you’re mistaken. In fact, this was one of the most sophisticated businesses I’ve ever worked with.

You’re probably thinking about the computerized gizmos repair facilities need to work on cars now. That’s only a small part of the picture. Behind the scenes, we ran shop management software (ProfitBoost), which tracked every job, every customer, every minute the techs worked on cars. And it is based on a true cost accounting model, which means that we knew beforehand the profitability of every job we did. This also allowed us to focus on the more profitable business, and to avoid high-risk, low-profit jobs, even when they were more fun.

But that’s still the tip of the iceberg. The shop management software was connected to QuickBooks and DemandForce, which is similar to Yelp – but without its baggage. Every day, all the invoices and payments went into QuickBooks – so it was always up-to-date. And for every job we completed, an email went out to the customer, thanking them for their patronage and asking them to rate their experience. We averaged almost one review a day after I implemented this program – and these reviews were “certified,” which improved their Google juice. (By certified, I mean that DemandForce could verify that the review came from an actual customer and an actual repair job.)

Oh, and when maintenance work came due, DemandForce automatically sent reminders to the customer.

Wow! I wish I could have done all that for some of the supposed high-tech companies I ran or worked for…

We were running a true CRM, using some of the best and most practical social media techniques, and our repair ticket tracking was amazing. And this was an auto repair facility run by mechanics, not some hoity-toity high-tech absurdly-funded startup.

But in a sense, it was a startup, because we implemented almost all of this in the few months I was there, and they were all off-the-shelf solutions. That’s exactly what startups do.

If you’re wondering about the car picture in this post: well this car is only 48 years old, so I’m cheating a bit. I drove one of these when I was in high school. It was a supercharged Studebaker Avanti. It still looks current today. What a timeless design by the Raymond Loewy studios.

Posted in Management thoughts, Startups.

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