The Entrepreneur: Alastair Campbell, Carsnip

The founder of Company Check and a serial entrepreneur, Campbell's business features at our upcoming Nottingham Power of Digital event...

Founder: Alastair Campbell
Company: Carsnip
Description in one line: A revolutionary car search engine that will reduce the cost of motoring for everyone
Previous companies: Company Check (sold to CreditSafe in 2013), Simply Moleskine

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We pass buyers to dealers directly rather than keeping them on our site.
  • We don’t charge for listings – we earn revenue through Pay-Per-Click (PPC), just like Google.
  • We list all the UK cars and are intending to scale to over 20 countries.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Securing more than $1m in investment during our first round of funding and getting support from some hugely influential tech angels such as Adrian Aoun; head of special projects for Google, and Hank Vigil; senior vice president of strategy and partnership for Microsoft. Between them, our angels have previously backed the likes of Pinterest, Square and Wavii.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

The number of new dealers we’ve had sign up to work with us.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We started in the UK and we’re now able to index car dealer websites from all over the country, for free with no feeds or cost to dealers. We’re also indexing cars across over 19 countries including Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

Describe your growth funding path:

Our growth funding path to date has involved securing $1m of tech angel investment during our first round of funding. This was completed in three small angel rounds to reduce dilution and allow us to ensure we got our technology stack built.

Learn more about this round here.

Where would you like your business to be?

We’re confident in our business model and its scalability, so our growth ambitions reflect this. By 2019 we believe we can become the only true car search engine in the UK, with seven digit turnover and our international search established in several key countries.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Starting and building up a business is hard work. The concept or idea is not the difficult bit for me – I have plenty of these. Choosing one, identifying the opportunity and defining the market while winning the trust of investors, key hires and co-founders; that’s much much harder.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Setting up a retail website business which was dependent on one wholesaler who could control your margins completely  – it therefore had control of the exit price.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Red tape is what it is – either get on with it or pay someone to deal with it. Recruitment is more of a brake on growth due to unprecedented demand for the top developers.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Spending too much money. There are too many tech start-ups spending too much money too early. Above the line spend has it’s place but much much later in the cycle.

How will your market look in three years?

Classified auto adverts will be disrupted and completely free – this is just a matter of time.

It will be interesting to watch how the incumbents react to these challenges as they maintain a high costs base in offices, hardware, people and processes. This inefficiency needs challenged as its costing every single car buyer money.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Do it. Work the numbers, be positive, work every day, forget holidays. You won’t have a work/life balance.

It’s merged into just ‘life’ and you will be happier for it. People with work/life separation don’t understand this.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

My hobby is skydiving. It's not cheap.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

I learned on the job.

What would make you a better leader?

I’m an agreeable guy. We all want people to do well and feel appreciated but I’ve learned to cut some of the ‘agreeableness’ in the name of expediency. There’s further to go that way for me.

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

That asking experienced people for help can get amazing results. I do this now for other people starting up. This save’s new start-up's time and money and passes on the learning.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

Business: Slack Personal: Strava (a running and cycling app)

Business book:

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Succesful Strategies for Products That Win by Steve Blank

Carsnip's operations director, Chloe Webber, will be sharing advice on how you can transform your business with the #PowerofDigital at our event with Virgin Media Business in Nottingham on Thursday 8 February. 


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