This is how you create a great business. Discover a need, tell the truth, and the business will come. Here’s the story of one man who did just that, Randy Nonnenberg, creator of the automobile auction site, Bring a Trailer. Ben Cohen writes of Nonnenberg in The Wall Street Journal:
Bring a Trailer has become the place for enthusiasts like Mr. Felker to buy, sell and geek out over their dream cars. The platform auctions hundreds of cars every week, spanning thousands of makes and models from Ford to Ferrari and projects under $10,000 to beauties over $1 million.
The site’s popularity has less to do with the cars themselves and more with the way that Bring a Trailer tinkered with the underlying mechanics of a business—and it’s worth popping open the hood of the company to see how it works.
A hybrid of Craigslist, eBay, Reddit and Sotheby’s that facilitated $1.37 billion in sales last year was not quite what Randy Nonnenberg had in mind when he started a car blog with a college buddy as a hobby.
“It’s been a long road,” said Mr. Nonnenberg, BaT’s co-founder and president.
Mr. Nonnenberg, a 45-year-old car guy since before his feet could reach the pedal, grew up in the Bay Area riding his bike to the local 7-Eleven to read classifieds in the latest auto magazines. After graduating from Stanford University in 2000 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he worked in dealer-business development at BMW of North America by day and went treasure hunting at night, sifting through online car listings to discover hidden gems. He was so fanatical that Gentry Underwood, an entrepreneur and his college friend, suggested that he turn his private recommendations public. They founded a blog in 2007 as an excuse to hang out more.
The internet has always been a great place to find people who share your obsessions. Before long, readers were sending him their own finds, and Mr. Nonnenberg went from scouring listings online that deserved attention to curating his inbox. “That changed my whole world,” he said.
It changed again when members of the BaT community began asking him to list their cars exclusively and he could start charging $125 when they sold. For the first time, the site made money. Mr. Nonnenberg left BMW to focus on BaT in 2010, and the company took off when it entered the auction business in 2014.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that if you build the right products, the market will come,” he told me from BaT’s garagelike offices in San Francisco this week during the final minutes of the company’s 100,000th auction.
Action Line: If you build something the right way, for the right reasons, the right people will come. Click here to subscribe to my free monthly Survive & Thrive letter.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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