At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community.
This week, we spoke with James Hind, CEO and co-founder of Carwow, a platform for buying new cars from franchise dealers.
Hind shares his views on how to delegate tasks to employees and the significance of finding the right mentor.
Tech vertical: online car buying
Staff count: 100
Q: When was the company founded, how many employees does it have and where is it based?
Carwow was founded in 2013 in London. We’ve just passed the 100 employee mark.
Q: Where did the idea come from?
I was flicking through Rotten Tomatoes one night deciding which film I should watch next and I spotted the opportunity to create a similar platform for cars; something which would aggregate reviews and help consumers decide which vehicle to buy. So, carwow actually started life as carbuzz back in 2010. We re-branded and launched carwow when we realised that it wasn’t enough to just help people with their decision-making process and that the ease-of-purchase was actually a much bigger problem to solve.
Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?
I studied Finance at the University of Nottingham and after graduating I had a two month stint interning at a fund management firm in London. This was at the time of the 2008 financial crisis, so it put me off a finance-based career for life. I then worked as a ski instructor in the French Alps for a short time, before returning to the UK and deciding that I was in a great position to launch my own business.
Fresh from uni, I had no commitments and nothing to lose, so that’s when I knew I wanted to become my own boss. My business story could’ve ended up being a very different one; I almost decided to import bubble tea from Taiwan and turn that into a business. Even though this has since made it to our shores and is becoming more popular, I’m glad that carwow is what we’ve ended up with!
Q: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
We started carwow in my parent’s attic!
Q: How is Carwow going? Can you share stats on number of users/revenue?
Business is booming. We have just hit the milestone of £1bn worth of cars sold for our network of dealers and we have saved our users over £100m in the process.
Q: How is the company funded?
In the beginning, we were bootstrapped and just used savings to fund the build of the website. Since then, we’ve raised more than £18.5m worth of investment for carwow: a £250k angel round in May 2013 with Zoopla’s Alex Chesterman and Simon Murdoch, a £1.3m seed round in February 2014 led by Balderton Capital, with Samos and Episode 1 also participating, and a £4.6m Series A round in December 2014, with the same investors. Most recently, in January 2016, we raised £12.5m in our Series B funding round, this time led by Accel, backers of Facebook, Dropbox and Spotify.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
Learning to delegate was tough at the beginning, but as my team has grown I have found this easier and easier. We are lucky to have excellent people. However, this leads me onto my next point, which is that finding the talented individuals that we have on-board has been tough. Recruitment is something we focus a lot of time and attention on to ensure we bring the right people, who share our values and vision, onboard.
Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?
Without a doubt, watching the business grow. Watching the user numbers and sales increase has been really exciting and going from 7 members of staff to over 100 in the last two years has been fantastic. Being surrounded by people who really understand what I’m trying to achieve with carwow and share that vision is definitely worth all the hard work.
Q: Have you had a mentor? If so, who and what did they do for you?
All of our investors have acted as mentors and their input has really been invaluable. Having people there who have been in the same boat as me and have the kind of entrepreneurial insight that really helps has been so useful.
Raising investment is about so much more than the money; the advice, guidance and mentorship is just as valuable as the cash injection.
Q: Who do you see as your main competitors and how do you differ?
We don’t have any competitors. There are a number of car brokers available online, but the way in which customers use carwow differs, as is the way in which the deals and information are presented to users. The site is completely free for users, with no ‘finder’s fee’ which is often charged by brokers.
Q: What are your plans for the next 12 months?
In the next 12 months, we’ll be focusing on how we reach, build appeal and understanding of our proposition among target audience segments through our marketing mix. Ultimately, our aim is to help more people discover a better way to buy a new car.
Q: What five pieces of advice would you give to those starting their own tech company?
Seek investment – the funds and guidance from like-minded individuals will help your business to flourish. Don’t rush recruitment – make sure that you employ individuals with the right talent and shared vision. Make sure your product and service works, this is an obvious piece of advice, but very important. Learn to delegate and have a business plan.