They say you can’t change everything in one night, but one night can change everything. When the Co-Founders of AutoVerify returned from the National Automobile Dealers Association Conference in February 2020 after building a base of meaningful clients, they couldn’t have imagined how their business and journeys as entrepreneurs were about to change. As the pandemic hit and the borders closed, David Brebner and James Hayes were brought back to the drawing board to strategize their way forward. “We quickly realized that our tools allowed a dealership to communicate with customers digitally – which was exactly what our dealers needed in an age of lockdowns and social distancing,” says Brebner. So, the audacious idea of focusing on growth in 2020 seemed like the only appropriate move for the future of AutoVerify. Growth during such unprecedented times brings doubts and uncertainty, but for Brebner and Hayes, this bold move came to fruition with four acquisitions over 13 months and aimed to enhance the sales process for dealerships and purchasing process for the consumers.
A division of Mobials Inc, AutoVerify provides a software platform with digital retailing, digital merchandising and information-based value exchange tools that help dealers facilitate simpler and more efficient purchasing processes for the remote car buyers of today. With a tool for each step in the purchasing process, AutoVerify enables dealers to generate high-converting leads and decrease costs through their all-in-one platform. This one-stop-shop makes it easy and convenient for dealers to work with a single partner and provide a seamless customer experience rather than pay multiple vendors for one-off products.
Developing this all-encompassing software was no easy feat. When Brebner and Hayes decided that their focus for 2020 would be growth, they also realized that a major obstacle to their vision was losing out on their dealership customers as they focus on cutting costs during the pandemic. Taking the bold yet risky route of cannibalizing their revenue, the AutoVerify founders offered free access to their current and future customers for six months so that dealerships could keep stacking their customer pipelines while their physical doors were shut. While the founders saw the revenue fall by 80% at the beginning of March 2020, in the long-term the strategy was successful as the company’s revenue increased by 35-40% in October of that year.
Their risky move paid off, but not for long. “By early 2021, we realized we were less ahead because digital adoption forced all vendors to accelerate their development of digital retailing tools. So, the market got difficult as our competitors started offering services and products that competed directly with ours. We were still growing, but we realized that this increased competition would soon become a problem,” shares Brebner. While rethinking their way forward, the founders also recognized that most of these competing vendors were offering platforms rather than supporting tools which could be added-on to a dealership website. Providing only tools at that point in time, Brebner and Hayes were back to their drawing board – this time with the objective of rethinking their product. “Platforms usually have multiple tools that integrate into business operating systems and connect with customer relationship and dealer management software. So, their switching costs are high, which is not the case with tools that are add-ons to the websites. At that point in time, AutoVerify tools were easily switchable, so the costs of shifting from tools to an integrated platform was low. So, in early 2021, we decided to evolve our digital retailing tools into a platform,” says Brebner.
The age of acquisitions
Searching for the most efficient way to put this strategy into action, Brebner and Hayes decided to buy, build and partner with products that would evolve and better integrate with their tools to address the journeys of both consumers and dealerships. The first focus was high in the customer funnel where a dealer begins their inventory buying journey, so AutoVerify set its sights on AIM Experts as their first acquisition. AIM Experts was a company focused on inventory management and syndication. Brebner shares how this acquisition happened and the smoothness with which it was executed, “It was a great first acquisition for us. AIM Experts were amazing competitors who had started coming into the digital retailing space, but they also offered platforms. With a great team and some high-quality software, we saw some pieces and expertise that we didn’t have and so it worked out well for us.”
During their first-time experience of acquiring a company, Brebner and Hayes also identified other gaps in the industry which led to the acquisition of ShopDesk and iDealerPlus. “Our collaboration with ShopDesk was a relieving one as it was great to have one single platform that helped consumers determine the pricing terms and lead them into the contracting process. We were also trying to look at building the bridge between digital retailing tools and desking through financing and so, we went ahead with our acquisition of iDealerPlus,” shares Brebner. A unique software that matches a consumer to a vehicle in the dealer’s inventory, iDealerPlus helped remove friction between the dealer and the consumer early in the sales process by aligning vehicle selection, affordability according to the credit score and more. It was brought under the AutoVerify umbrella and rebranded as AV Optimize.
Recognizing and observing the technological developments happening in this space across the border, Brebner and Hayes speculated the rise in the use of enhanced imagery and spin technology. This led to their acquisition of Car Media, the Canadian leader in merchandising automobiles through their unique vehicle imaging and plans to develop technology that enables customers to get a full 360˚ view of the vehicle from home. AutoVerify also established partnerships with iA Dealer Services, Lubrico Warranty, Auto Shield Canada and Global Warranty to help dealers sell more finance and insurance products by introducing them to digital customers earlier in the buying journey.
History often echoes stories of successes and wins. Afterall, those are the stories that are the most inspiring and leave behind a legacy. Brebner and Hayes always wanted to create that exact story for themselves. “When we took this decision at the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to be one of those companies that committed during change, and that commitment led to growth,” says Brebner, but commitment is usually driven by strong moral and value systems. At AutoVerify, everyone strives to ‘Be Better’ every single day, and this motive was doubled-down, especially during Covid-19. Brebner shares, “We always say that if we take care of our employees, our employees will take care of our clients and customers, and our customers will take care of the profits and so, we start by taking care of our employees first and everything else works.” With zero layoffs during the pandemic, open and transparent communication channels and constant mentoring and coaching of people joining the AutoVerify team, the Co-founders secured high employee retention rates for their ventures. Deploying a similar strategy when it came to evaluating companies for acquisitions, Brebner shares the criteria they consider, “While evaluating any business, the main aspects we consider are the quality of their product and similarities between our work cultures. It is important for us that companies have great teams with high quality product or software and strong processes for testing, feedback, and product iteration, as these reflect their efforts at being better.”
What’s next for AutoVerify, you ask?
Brebner shares that the Co-founders will now be completely focusing on executing these acquisitions to develop a great product and a happy team, “We need to ensure that all the products are seamlessly integrated, the team is executing with brilliance and that we’re all working as one. It’s all about ensuring our employees have a great time working together as one team, the products are awesome, and our customers are being taken care of. Who knows what happens after that?”