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 Richard Laughton, CEO of easyCar Club, a peer-to-peer car rental platform. He shares his views on the sharing economy, the freedoms provided by working for an early stage businesses and the power of delegation.
Tech vertical: TransportTech, Sharing Economy
Funding: £1.1m plus self-funding
Staff count: 15
Notable partnerships: Admiral
Q: Where did the idea come from?
EasyCar, our wider brokerage company, was founded in 2000 but easyCar Club, our peer-to-peer arm, was launched in 2014 after a successful London trial during 2013. The idea for easyCar to get involved in the sharing economy originally came out of discussions between Stelios and Brent Hoberman (founder of Lastminute.com) who realised that the brand values of the easyGroup (innovative, value-focused, customer champions) had a strong fit with the sharing economy. Peer-to-peer car rental had already been launched in several countries but easyCar was the first player in the world with established operations to get involved.
Q: What were you doing before?
I initially started trading options at BZW (Barclays’ Investment Bank) but found that my job was too focused on market specifics. I didn’t want to do that for my whole career, so I moved into management consultancy with McKinsey to get a broader view.
Then, after a brief stint doing in-house venturing at a UK media owner, I went down the entrepreneurial path, launching a peer-to-peer wine trading business at the height of the web 1.0 boom. It was a bit early for that particular idea, but I caught the entrepreneurial bug and have been involved in launching and building a range of businesses from finance to big data to advisory ever since. I was approached to join easyCar about three years ago.
Q: How is it going?
Nearly 75,000 people have signed up and, in terms of active members, more than 5,000 cars can be rented on the platform. The volume of rentals is contributing healthily to the business margin, but we’re still investing in growing the user base.
Q: How is the company funded?
The business was founded 16 years ago by Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Four years ago the company took in £1.1m in funding from PROfounders capital to launch the P2P business and has been self-funding through our wider profitable brokerage operations ever since.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
It’s exciting to be part of the sharing economy as the sector grows rapidly and gains mainstream recognition. But it’s also challenging to reconcile the demands of building a new, disruptive business line with maintaining a focus on the driver of profit. The demands of the two sides of the business sometimes conflict so there is a trade-off between growth and profitability.
Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about working for this startup?
One of the most enjoyable things about early stage businesses is the huge enthusiasm in the team to get things rolling quickly and the willingness of everyone to roll their sleeves up get involved in a whole range of things that wouldn’t be in their job description if they were at a larger company.
Q: What do you think of the sharing economy space? Is it getting over-saturated? Is there more to come?
I certainly don’t think the space is over-saturated, because we have so much more we can share with each other. In the future, I envision us sharing much more, partly driven by the increased intelligence that will be embedded in objects – the Internet of Things. There’s plenty more to come and I think sharing will only become more vital, as strains on resources and the environment push more people towards making the most of the assets we already have in our communities. There are billions of people in the world reaching middle class income levels, but not enough resources to enable us all to possess items that are rarely used.
Q: Who do you see as your main competitors and how do you differ?
There are several other P2P rental companies in the UK, but we’re by far the biggest and most established, and we’re also the most social. Through initiatives like video interviews at the signup stage, we build great relationships with our members. Other competitors are car clubs like Zipcar and Enterprise Car Club, and of course the established rental firms. We beat the former on price and the latter on convenience, which is a message we hear frequently in customer feedback.
Q: What partnerships do you have in place?
We have a partnership with Admiral to cover the insurance of renters on our platform. The Admiral cover comes in as soon as the rental starts, and once the rental is over, the existing, underlying policies of the owner and renter come back into force. This partnership is great and provides comprehensive insurance.
We’re also launching a partnership with Wheels4Sure.com, a company which helps make new cars available to people who have a proven income but struggle to access mainstream credit for a variety of reasons. We will be helping people to rent out their leased cars, to make extra money when they are not in use and help cover the cost of the lease.
Q: What are your plans for the next 12 months?
We expect to see continued growth with micro-entrepreneurs who are using the service to make additional income through renting out their cars. We have one owner who used his easyCar Club income from one vehicle to purchase two more cars, and he now rents out all three. He has made £4,000 in six months.
We are looking to continue to grow across the UK and to expand internationally in the next 12 to 18 months.
Q: What advice would you give to those starting their own tech company?
You can’t do everything. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, especially in tech, have a tendency to forget this. As a business leader you need know when to delegate and use other people’s expertise. It’s important that you are comfortable hiring people with more knowledge than you, though that doesn’t mean you should stop challenging them. It is not your job to do everything, you just need to make sure that everything is being done to a high standard.