Enthusiasm for a trip to the auto mechanic probably falls somewhere between a dentist appointment and retrieving the dry cleaning. And it’s not just the hassle of figuring out how to pick up and drop off your car without being stranded at the mechanic’s, but it’s also the cost and second-guessing of which services and products your car actually needs.
AutoMech wants to remove that through a concierge car service. AutoMech will schedule a car servicing at one of their carefully screened mechanics or auto detailers, provide cost estimates and then take the car to and from the servicing. The startup also helps customers navigate recommended services, even requesting photos when appropriate to document the need to replace worn-out parts.
“We are your helping hand in the process,” said Dhruv Chadha, CEO and founder of AutoMech.
After six years working at Microsoft as an engineer and product manager, most recently in the Windows and Devices group, Chadha, 31, wanted something more. The goal he set: “Let’s see if I can build something that I want to build.”
He loved cars, so he began talking to family members about their auto pain points. He started collecting data and doing customer surveys exploring a better solution for car maintenance. Then he applied and was accepted into the New Venture Challenge, an immersive accelerator program, at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
In April, Chadha launched AutoMech. Being an entrepreneur has required sacrifices that he might not have imagined. Chadha sold his beloved Nissan GT-R to fund the company. He’s handed out promotional fliers on street corners and is driving customers’ cars himself, saving money and building a better understanding of the business.
The company has five employees and is serving customers in Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland, Wash. Chadha is looking to approve additional auto shops and detailers and expand service to downtown Seattle. To recruit customers, Chadha has hosted events at corporate offices and met with apartment-building managers to discuss his business as one of the amenities that they could offer. The auto shops are providing their services at a discount to AutoMech, so the overall cost to the customer should be about $20-$40 more than if they’d taken in the car themselves.
We caught up with Chadha for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “AutoMech is making car care easy. We are changing how cars are serviced.”
Inspiration hit us when: “The day I quit my job. I have always wanted to merge my passions for cars and technology, but I always focused on car enthusiasts. I wanted to have an impact on a larger audience and thought about what car owners deal with. I looked at my family and friends, who I help out all the time, to see what their needs were and if they would be interested in this sort of service.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We are bootstrapping right now. We have some angel investors (family and friends). I sold my dream car — a Nissan GT-R — which showed my network that I was serious about what I am building. We are using the funds to acquire our initial set of customers before we raise money.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Customer obsession and empathy. We are on the side of the customer and here to help them understand each part of the repair and also help them understand what can be deferred.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Moving to Seattle and finding the right team!”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Being impulsive in bringing on talent and not being selective. We are getting much better at it now. When you need a lot of help, you sometimes will take all you can get.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos — we are just as scrappy and doing everything ourselves like he did. I drive the customers’ cars to the services myself since that’s what it needs. Our goal is to help car owners with everything from A to Z with car ownership.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Go-karting”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Passion and willingness to learn. Startups are not as cut and dry as working at a large company. You sometimes have to wear different hats and should be willing to go out of your comfort zone.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Commit. Write a business plan and have a roadmap even though you will most likely diverge and make changes. But you have to go all in, otherwise you will not push yourself as hard as you really can.”