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Out of beta mode, Joydrive is trying to spread the word about its online auto sales. (Joydrive Photo)

The auto-sales startup Joydrive kicked into high gear this weekend with two ads running during Sunday’s Super Bowl game.

“Our traffic exploded,” said CEO and founder Hunter Gorham. “Last night was outstanding and it continues to be. The feedback and response has been almost overwhelming. It was real, real positive.”

Joydrive, with dual headquarters in Seattle and Raleigh, North Carolina, sells new and used cars online through partnerships with established auto dealers. The company, which launched in 2016, has until now been in beta mode during which time they sold 250 cars. Joydrive has fewer than a dozen employees.

Dealerships working with Joydrive bear the cost of the service. The auto prices are non-negotiable and vehicles are sold for the lowest price that the dealer is offering online, eliminating the haggling that many customers dread.

Shoppers make a $500 refundable deposit and have five days or up to 250 miles of driving to decide whether to keep the vehicle.

The Super Bowl ads ran in the Seattle-Tacoma area, which is where sales are currently focused. There are near-term plans to forge partnerships with dealers elsewhere in the Northwest, as well as Texas, Florida, California and North and South Carolina. Car buyers from anywhere in the country can make a purchase, but Joydrive charges for vehicle deliveries that exceed 100 miles. The delivery cost is provided to customers up front.

People in Washington logged 200 hours on the Joydrive website last night, which served 20,000 page views. Into this morning, the site’s traffic was four-times higher than normal and people were spending longer on the site, Gorham said. Joydrive also has a digital ad campaign and might continue with TV spots.

What’s unclear is how many people will ultimately make purchases. Shoppers typically spend 14 hours online before buying a car, Gorham said. “It’s not razor blades or deodorant. It’s a big purchase.”

Joyrdrive is not the only Seattle area startup attacking the automobile space, with Tred emerging from the TechStars Seattle accelerator in 2012. Tred has altered its model over the years, and now serves as a marketplace for car buyers and sellers to connect. The company’s original plan was to partner with dealerships and allow customers to conduct test drives from their homes.

Before Joydrive, Gorham, 40, spent 14 years working at Ally Financial, the largest U.S. automotive finance company. He founded the startup in part to help people like his mom navigate a process that has historically lacked transparency and felt fraught for consumers.

“I couldn’t send my own mom in to buy a car unless I went and protected and guarded her every step of the way,” he said. Joydrive hopes to change that.

“Once customers see it, they are pleased and happy with this experience,” Gorham said. “We just want to build that awareness.”

Hunter Gorham, CEO and founder of Joydrive. (Joydrive Photo)

We caught up with Gorham for our Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Joydrive lets you buy a new or used car without visiting a dealership. You buy from Joydrive’s top-rated dealers, paperwork is handled online, and the dealers deliver to your door.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Every other digital competitor — Beepi, Carvana, Vroom, Tred — cuts out the dealer. This means no new vehicles, massive cost and time to scale, limited vehicle choice and likely longer delivery times. I saw first-hand the incredible consumer response to Beepi, but also their challenges and eventual collapse. I realized that embracing the right dealers, instead of fighting them, was a better model to provide consumers an easy, digital car-buying experience. Joydrive unlocks new vehicles, more choice and faster delivery to customers.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Strategic investors. Joydrive funding is strong and we are well-capitalized for future growth.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Embracing the right dealers. The only way to buy a new car is to do it from a licensed franchise dealership. Our competitors only offer used cars. By working with dealers, we can offer new cars — we are the first to do so. Working with dealers also allows us to offer delivery in as fast as one day. No other competitor can offer that.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Quiet beta mode. Staying quiet in beta mode for over a year allowed us time to pressure-test our website and operations. We have delivered hundreds of cars from Montana to California, and have learned from every transaction, every trade-in and every delivery. We are now excited to launch publicly after having learned what consumers want and how they want it.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Underestimating the positive response from dealers. We expected a longer ramp-up time to establish a true marketplace. It’s been incredible to see how many, and how badly, dealers want to be a part of a solution like Joydrive.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos. Less for what he has accomplished but more for how he has accomplished it. We regularly challenge ourselves through his Type 1 vs. Type 2 decision making framework.” (Bezos defines Type 1 decisions as high-stakes choices that shape an overall strategy, as opposed to lower-impact, reversible Type 2 decisions).

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Food and snacks! We love to eat and spend most of our free time talking about our favorite meals and sauces.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Passion. Talent is no replacement for passion in the mission of Joydrive.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Resolve and thick skin. It is not easy to spend over a year on something and have everyone tell you it won’t work. Stay committed and believe in your idea and in yourself.”

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