As one of the most expensive cities in the world to own automobiles, Singapore is no stranger to the high cost of vehicle ownership. Vehicle ownership is not as straightforward as simply purchasing a vehicle from a dealer. There are many intricacies and nuances that vehicle owners should be aware of such as when it is the best time to sell their vehicle. The team at Motorist is looking to simplify vehicle ownership with the Motorist’s super-app.
In this month of Startup Conversations, we caught up with Co-Founder and CEO of Motorist, Damian Sia. Damian is a serial entrepreneur that has founded 3 other companies before Motorist. He shared with us his learnings from bootstrapping Motorist in the early years while competing against well-funded competitors and how he is setting Motorist apart from its competitors.
Starting with your background. Having founded three other companies before Motorist, what are the key learnings from your previous ventures that have helped you in starting Motorist, and what is the founding moment of Motorist for you?
Damian: Finding the right core team and forming a business that solves big problems are key learnings from my previous three ventures. Thanks to the experiences, the learning curve was not as steep. It helped me supercharge the initial setup of the company by wearing multiple hats such as, developing the website, handling the finances, and most importantly, avoiding similar mistakes that I had made in the past.
The founding of Motorist was not an ‘aha’ moment but rather an idea pivoted from my previous businesses. Coupled with my negative experience in selling my car resulted in the inception of Motorist.
Being in an industry with very well-funded competitors, how do you compete against or set Motorist apart from other major players in the used-car market?
Damian: To compete in an industry with very well-funded competitors, we had to look for opportunities to set us apart from our competitors. Thus, we expanded beyond the sole focus of vehicle transactions towards encompassing the entirety of vehicle management, leading to the creation of the Motorist App.
To date, we have built up an ecosystem based on the cycle of vehicle ownership: buy, sell, maintain and drive. We created a secure platform that stores vehicle information and reminds the users of their vehicle status. By utilizing smart reminders and notifications, we can adjust to the user’s needs at any given time; whether it is time to pay their road tax or renew their existing COE. These features will also increase the stickiness of our app, allowing us to build a defensible business model over time.
Besides having a good product, it is also essential to learn to pick your fight. While our competitors suffered losses in overseas markets like Indonesia, we focused our efforts on the local market. With two to three times more transactions than our closest competitor, I can confidently say that we are the leader in consumer-to-business transactions in Singapore. Nevertheless, we are never complacent, and we continually strive to improve ourselves to remain competitive. I think this is the mindset that has brought us so far.
Today, Motorist has processed $639M in-vehicle transactions with close to 65 employees and 115,000 users on the Motorist app.
Was it an intentional decision to bootstrap most of Motorist’s early journey to where it is today?
Damian: Yes, it was an intentional decision. When I exited my previous company, I had the seed money to start Motorist. The company has been profitable from the start and grew rapidly, and the profits have funded most of our growth.
Now that we have acheived relatively good tractions and product-market fit, we are intending to scale up faster in Singapore and regionally to compete against our competitors that have raised significant funding.
How do you think bootstrapping Motorist’s early years has benefited you as a founder?
Damian: It has taught me how to be more resourceful, decisive, and prudent. Being a bootstrapped company meant that we had to be careful about our financial decisions and make the most out of limited resources. In the initial phases of a startup, we had to seize every opportunity quickly to help the business grow. Over time, I became more decisive while still weighing the cost and benefits carefully.
The execution of Motorist to date has been phenomenal, how would you advise new founders starting out on their venture?
- Finding the Product-Market Fit is the key
- Having the right core team
- Solving a big enough problem
There are three things to take note of – problem, product, and people. Relevant problems create demand, so make sure that your business is solving a significant and relevant problem.
Once there is market demand, your product-market fit will no longer be an issue. Lastly, having the right people to form your core team will boost your business. No one runs a business alone; hence having the right people you can work with and value add to the company is essential, especially in the initial stages where there will probably only be a few of you.
Scaling from 0 to now close to 65 employees in 3 markets, what were some of the major challenges you have faced building Motorist, and how did you overcome them?
Damian: In the initial phase of our business, our greatest challenge was changing people’s mindset and perception of how cars are sold in Singapore, especially car dealers who primarily run brick-and-mortar businesses.
Since we’re an online platform, they saw us as competition, when really, we could help them increase their used car inventory. Similarly, we could also help consumers with the sales process. After much perseverance, we eventually gain the trust of car owners after explaining our technology and how we could simplify the sales process for them.
COVID-19 was one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced. We were almost a victim of COVID-19 as our revenue dropped 80% overnight. With over 60 employees, we aimed to pull through the pandemic without affecting their livelihood.
In order to tide through 2020, we created new revenue streams such as media sales and monetizing inventory such as banners and databases, which was the crux for us to stay profitable.
Fortunately, after the Circuit Breaker, we bounced back quickly, which is something we are proud of.
With the latest funding round, what is the main focus for the Motorist team?
Damian: Our primary focus will be on scaling the Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam markets. In Singapore, we plan to complete the vehicle ownership lifecycle by reaching our goal of increasing app users and registered vehicles.
In addition, we will be exploring data-driven machine learning to see how it can fit into our business and enhance user experience. One example is personalization. When a user registers a vehicle on our app, we will immediately know their vehicle details from LTA, so there is plenty of room to personalize the content of our app for the user.
For starters, we are planning to do this with our Workshop Directory feature. Depending on factors such as the user’s vehicle model, the purpose of looking for a workshop, and what the workshops specialize in, we will be able to provide the best workshop match for the user.
How was the experience like to pitch and raise funds through AngelCentral as a Syndicated company?
Damian: Pitching through AngelCentral was straightforward. The whole administration process was smooth and hassle-free. The fees are also reasonable, and with the credits that we got, it offsets the costs with a surplus balance in our AWS and Stripe accounts. Overall, it was an affordable and good experience!
To end off, if you can only choose one vehicle for the rest of your life (disregarding depreciation and vehicle lifespan), which car would it be?
Damian: Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder Convertible.
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