This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
TyresOnTheDrive.com – which just won the Judges’ Award for Leadership at the Northern Tech Awards – is using a tech and mobile-first approach to disrupt the market for new tyres. The business, based in Holmes Chapel near Crewe, is taking its model nationwide and has ambitious plans for further disruption of traditional garage-based services.
We caught up with CEO Dominic Clark and Marketing Director Max Hopkinson to find out about their startup story, company culture, challenges and why collaboration is so important.
What’s your startup story?
Dominic: After university I was at Michelin for 12 years in various sales and marketing roles. I became increasingly aware that the tyre industry was out of step with the rest of retail, and increasingly frustrated that it wasn’t looking after its customers.
The industry was ripe for disruption: the model for selling tyres had stayed the same for 120 years, with the focus being the garage, not the customer. I launched TyresOnTheDrive.com in May 2011 with one simple goal: to save the world from weekends spent at the garage. Customers have been voting with their feet, embracing this winning formula ever since.
What challenges did you face starting out?
Dominic: Our biggest challenge starting out was the same one that every new company faces: access to finance. This was especially tough in 2011 given that we were two years into one of the worst financial recessions in recent history. It’s taught us to be quite tough as a business.
Access to backing from venture capitalists and different forms of funding has been enormously valuable to our business. We have used VC as a funding route, we received seed money in 2012 and I’m pleased to say that our investors have continued to support us as we’ve grown.
Finding talent has been another challenge, but luckily the North West is becoming increasingly well served, especially as increasing numbers of people are moving away from London back to their Northern roots. Manchester has a really healthy technical and digital talent pool, and we’re attracting an amazing group of people to work with us.
Max Hopkinson, Marketing Director at TyresOnTheDrive.com
What are the main challenges now for TyresOnTheDrive.com?
Dominic: We’re growing incredibly quickly – at well over 100 per cent year-on-year-growth – but as our business is service-led, this growth needs to be sustainable. Growing too quickly is a challenge, and one we discuss on a daily basis. It’s crucial that our operation maintains the service levels our customers need and expect while we grow. In reality, this means we will walk away from certain demand-generating opportunities (and have done) if our operation is not ready to deliver to our promises.
One of our proudest achievements is our number-one ranking on TrustPilot, based on over 20,000 reviews, so making sure our growth doesn’t threaten the service we provide is our top priority.
What are the key drivers for growth in your sector?
Dominic: In an industry that has remained pretty much the same for 120 years, one of the biggest growth drivers is actually awareness. It’s not just about disrupting the industry: it’s about showing our customers that a mobile tyre service is something that can save them both time and money. When they’ve used us once – and have seen that it’s a no brainer – there’s a huge opportunity for repeat business.
Max: There is a macro trend for people trying to solve problems with their mobile phones. We were built as a mobile-first business, and others are struggling to evolve their model for this kind of consumer. This helps us massively, and is a great tail-wind for us, making our marketing job much easier.
Why did you choose to start in Holmes Chapel?
Dominic: I live very close to Crewe, but spent 12 years travelling to Michelin’s head office in France, so I thought I’d be similarly selfish and put my office close to me.
It’s turned out really well though, as the wider North West is brilliant. There are a lot of other exciting businesses around here, such as AO.com, The Hut Group, boohoo.com and Missguided, so we feel we’re in pretty good company. You just have to look at the Northern Tech Awards, which prove that the number of leading digital companies in the North West is massive. We’ve been able to recruit people from a number of great digital businesses, like Max from Google, as well as from the Hut Group, AO.com and Net-a-Porter.
Do you collaborate with other digital companies locally and how does this help your business?
Dominic: Good, non-competing relationships are a vital part of today’s collaborative working environment, helping companies to avoid making the same mistakes as others that have ventured into new space before them. A lot of the problems we face are the same ones that others have encountered and solved already.
We’ve also been lucky because most people we’ve brought in have left their previous roles on good terms, meaning we can share a lot with these businesses. Everyone here meets regularly with other digital businesses and leaders to share experiences.
Our shareholders have helped us too because they’ve invested in other digital businesses in the North West and have introduced us. You can’t measure the value this brings to the business.
Max: Just this week I’ve met with a pal at Ribble Cycles to talk about recruitment, and have arranged meetings with Zuto and Bloom & Wild to discuss various marketing challenges.
Dominic: We are also able to collaborate with Ocado, as our chairman Robert Gorrie is on their board and was one of their first directors. For example, this week we took our training guys to the Ocado training centre in Birmingham to look at their technology.
You won the judges’ award for leadership – what does that mean for the development of your business?
Dominic: We were so thrilled to get the Judges’ Award for Leadership. It acknowledges not just the work of one person, but of the whole team here and the great culture and working environment we’ve all worked so hard to build. TyresOnTheDrive.com is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s been fantastic to be recognised for this.
Winning this award, and the limelight that comes with it, also raises our profile with potential investors, shareholders and partners.
Max: I agree with Dom’s point about culture: while it’s hard to define, it’s absolutely vital to fostering the kind of working environment we need to support and inspire people to do great work and make a difference. While Dom is the leader, it’s not just about one person: the culture he has created, and the energy produced because of it, is what drives our business.
We’re currently seeing massive growth and are having to recruit rapidly to keep up with it. Achievements like this award are massive for us as they help to attract the kind of driven, exciting people we’re looking for.
How important is it to get recognition from your peers? Are events like the Northern Tech Awards important for the digital sector?
Dominic: While there are lots of awards ceremonies out there, they are not all created equal. The Northern Tech Awards are really important for us because of the endorsement from GP Bullhound and the incredibly high calibre of both the judging panel and the peer set it places us alongside.
What’s the next step for the business?
Dominic: We’re at a really exciting stage in our business where we’re not just taking one next step, but four or five at once. We’ll finish 2016 with UK-wide coverage (in fact, we’re almost there now) and have some amazing partnerships to announce in the coming weeks.
We also have a five-year plan that takes us beyond just looking at tyres. Having established our winning formula, we strongly believe we can maintain your car where you are, so we’re broadening into other product lines next year with OnTheDrive.com.
After that, our plan takes us outside of the UK: the world’s our oyster.
To pull this off we’re going to have to recruit on a massive scale, adding significantly to the 170–180 people we already employ. While this recruitment will be in all areas, the focus will be on digital, where we currently have about 50 staff. We build all our own software here, and the numbers in our tech and development teams will grow exponentially.
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