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Show HN: Selling a web app, Auto Swatch
26 points by nicksergeant on Feb 3, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments
Unfortunately, I have a failed startup that needs to pay off some of its debts. Myself and a few others have over a combined 300 hours of work into this project. I'm hesitant to put this on Flippa or eBay or whatever; I just don't think that crowd will appreciate it. I'm looking for suggestions on where to try and sell it (other than HN).

The site is Auto Swatch: http://swatch.nick.sg (this is just a demo site for the purpose of selling it. Actual domain is http://autoswatch.com). Discussion of the launch on HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2466545

Obviously this is a depressing outcome. The project IMO still has a ton of potential, but I don't have the resources or time to make it successful. I've grown tired of the idea of investors, shlepping myself out just to get some PR, etc. The business side of things sucks. I hope someone can take over and go up against the big guys like Edmunds, Cars.com, etc. New-car research online still needs help.

The project also includes an entire dealership inventory management system that pushes to Cars.com, etc. Just this mini-project alone has a ton of work into it: http://cl.ly/311e1B132N3S3l3E2P08

Email's in profile, if interested.




Btw, there's a not-insignificant cost of keeping this project up. Finding high-quality photos of every new vehicle in every color offered by the MFGR was tough. I negotiated a contract with Evox (http://evox.com) and the buyer would need to setup their own contract with them (they're super helpful and there are no tricks involved).

The photos will run you around $195/mo for every asset Evox owns (not just what you see on Auto Swatch). They have 360 views, videos, etc etc.


Sorry to hear about your project this way.

Are you based in Singapore? Or was the domain just to match your last name?


Nope we're in NY, nick.sg is just my personal domain. The actual project domain is http://autoswatch.com. I just threw up a quick demo site at that domain.


I don't have much help probably. But my sympathies. I'm actually looking for a car now, and your search is gorgeous. I usually just go to carmax to use their search because it's user friendly, but your onto something better here.

"I have no idea who I would talk to about something like this (without connections there)."

Really though? Just email a few people in each place using LinkedIn with titles like "Business Development" or "Corporate Development". In 2 seconds this guy looks promising:

http://linkd.in/wOV6ze

You can probably guess their email addresses or use google to ferret out the pattern. Lead411.com is actually useful to save you time, but their customer support sucks when you decide you want to cancel that account.

If you search for them in LinkedIn and their name turns up "Private", use google to find bits of their linkedin profile. Coming to linkedin from a google search gives up all the "private" data.

Be bold. I've emailed complete strangers everywhere and have gotten meetings. I have a habit of emailing whoever I want. Mark Cuban. Marc Benioff. Howard Schultz. And I get meetings.

The most important part of reaching out to folks is to follow up. I can't believe how many times I've had to send two or three notes to the same person. Yes, you can become a nuisance. Try to do it nicely. There is a way to accomplish this without coming off as an automated spammer. I've heard from multiple people I've emailed 3 times, that they are glad I followed up with them, because they simply get too busy to remember to make an entry for me in a calendar. Even if you hear from someone and then they blow you off (e.g. don't make it to the conference call, etc.) Keep following up!


I've used Rapportive to confirm if my guess of someone's email is correct. If you have the rapportive plugin installed, open gmail, compose, then type in the email address in the To field. Then focus out and back in to that field (or just click), and Rapportive will try to find their profile info.


Some good points, nate. I'm going to spend some time putting the site back up in its proper place, then emailing some folks.

Thanks!


Another couple things:

- Make the subject and context of your email, "I could really use your advice". Ask these contacts for help and advice on what they would do in this situation. A guy at cars.com might know that they won't buy this site, but knows someone at XYZ that would be worth talking to.

- Use any and all networks/groups of folks you can think of at LinkedIn. E.g. Find people who went to your same school that work at cars.com. No matter if you have ever met them. Mention the alma mater. It helps.


More background: the entire UI was designed by the very talented Ali Ali: http://alialithinks.com

The back-end is Django. Should easily be Heroku-able if you offload the assets to S3.


Hey Nick - a quick Devil's Advocate thought for you. I have heard a lot of people lately say that they want to sell ______ (insert anything) and that is has a lot of potential. They are working on another project and need the money to move that project forward.

I challenge you, as I have challenged these people in the past, if it has "that much" potential than why not continue to do it yourself?

I am sure if you saw an opportunity to make a lot of money, you could get past the idea of working with investors, and media folks. Shit if you made enough money you could just hire someone to handle it.

Thoughts?

Jonathan


This project has an opportunity to make a lot of money. But it's going to take a lot of money. And a lot of time.

I simply don't have my heart in it, anymore. That's why I'm selling. I have other projects that I'd like to focus on, and this project has become basically stagnant for the past year. This is the type of project that can't become stagnant - halfway through the year people want data on the next year's vehicles, and that takes time.

The amount of money that Auto Swatch can generate depends on the amount of time you put into development, and money you put into marketing and advertising. I'm the only developer, and I'm burnt out, and I know nothing about marketing / advertising, and have no more cash to put into those details.

We tried a few different business models but were never able to make any of them work.


A couple of thoughts: First, you have a beautiful site the purpose of which appears to be to help people quickly and beautifully research cars. For someone buying the site, $200/mo shouldn't be a concern, iif they think they can make money off of it.

If that is the primary reason you are interested in selling though, I would start thinking: how could you re-position the site to be successful? Just to throw out some ideas, instead of researching cars, could it be for recruiters to research programmer candidates? Or could it be for scrap-bookers to research and purchase scrap booking materials. Or could it be for gardeners to research and purchase plants? Or could it be for homeowners to research and purchase snow blowers? Etc...

With the current site, you are trying to get revenue outside of where the transaction is made. While this is possible, it is ALWAYS easier to make money at the point the transaction is made.


Thanks, some good ideas. Right now, I have other projects, though. I don't really have any interest in reforming the site to serve a different purpose. These are certainly some opportunities for a buyer to explore, though.

I agree about the revenue-at-transaction thing. The problem with cars is, well, no one buys cars online (though that may be changing relatively soon).


Hi Nick,

Saw your site when it first launched and really loved the look and feel of it. Just curious about the numbers for the site - i.e. maintenance costs, monthly visitors, etc. How much would you value the site?

I'm sad to see that you're at the point of shutting it down but I hope it's provided you with a learning experience that drives you toward success.


Hard to put a value on it. If you paid someone to build the site the way it is, you'd be well over $30k with wireframes, design, dev, market research, etc.

We were around 100-200 uniques daily before we pulled the site a few weeks ago.

Maintenance costs are about $250/mo - photos + basic linode server.


Thanks Nick!

I definitely agree that there's a lot of potential with the site - especially since your maintenance costs are only for server and photos. Once the data is in there, it doesn't really have to change much either right?


Not necessarily, there's some manual work required for updating to the next year's vehicles...


I think the big guys you mention in your post are your best bet for selling. Have you ever got feelers from them? It hurts you that you've taken the site down while you're trying to sell btw. You'll probably take a hit on your asking price for that. Check out: http://www.inc.com/guides/leadership_strat/24005.html


Also, those big guys are so tough to do business with. They've got many-a-corporate-layer. I have no idea who I would talk to about something like this (without connections there).


Search Linkedin to find emails or just cold call. I would suggest getting a strategy together to do this, just like you had a strategy for the business.

For example: Identify possible buyers: The large players, Edmunds, AutoTrader, etc; Large dealerships - they might want this for their own inventory, it seems like it could be easily adapted for a dealership. Concentrate on finding dealerships in large metro areas. They sell millions of dollars worth of cars. Places like the tri-state area, virginia/dc/maryland, LA, Seattle, Texas, etc. Get a list, find some emails, put it together. Car companies: email them all. They might want to buy your software to showcase their stuff. Its very clean, and they can adapt it. Email the ones out of America too. China, India, Europe;

Identify the people in the organization who will buy. Spend a day researching them, put as many emails down as you can find. Be clear about what you're selling, and how it might be useful to that organization. Get a spiel together for emailing car companies, dealerships, etc. Show how it can be adapted to their needs. Every email you get, its like raising your price. Go after this selling thing like you went after building your website. With gusto.

Hold an auction on a certain date, and ask that bids be submitted.

Don't worry about the lawyers for now, they'll get involved when a buyer is actually interested. Until then they stay out the picture. So lawyer involvement is a good sign you've piqued some interest.


I only took the current site down because I'm negotiating an exit from our contract with Evox, to save us some cash while shutting things down.


I just took a look at this site out of interest. And the site's the kind of place where I would love to browse cars to buy. Been trying to find a used car online for sometime. By far this is most amazing UI to browse cars.

Like nick says, this does have a lot of potential to people who have time to invest.

Nice job! (to everyone who were involved with it)


Thanks!


Also, search is disabled on the demo site. Just spooled up this quick instance without firing up Xapian and all that.


Why do you think it failed?


Two reasons:

1) The auto market is huge, and the players are huge. Competing with Edmunds, Cars.com, Auto Trader, is extremely difficult. Word of mouth only gets you so far. You need a marketing budget, and you can't stop building. Auto Swatch was only ever a side project for us, and that spells failure.

2) Our sub-project within Auto Swatch, the dealership management software, was impossible to sell to dealers, even though we were cheaper than their system (usually http://carsforsale.com). They didn't want to spend any more time online than they have to, and they actually resented the fact that they needed to get their inventories onto Cars.com, Auto Trader, or the internet in general. Dealerships make money when people walk into the building, not when people shop around online for the best price. So when we said to dealers "we have a better online inventory manager for you, and we're cheaper", they said "we don't care if it's better, and it's already cheap enough with our current provider".


I think you're giving up too easy, IMO double down add new features and fight for it. You must have had some faith in the project at some point otherwise you would not have committed to the $200 a month in the first place. Burn the Ships.

In 1519, Captain Hernán Cortés and his army set out on one of the greatest conquests in the history of the world. Cortés was going to accomplish his goals no matter the consequences, despite being up against incredible odds. When he arrived near Veracruz with 500 soldiers, a dozen horses and a few cannons, the first thing he did was burn his ships so there could be no retreat. He told his men “You can either fight or you can die”. Returning to Spain was not an option anymore. By burning his ships, he not only cut off his only means of retreat, but also made his soldiers fight harder. They were all fully committed to the cause.

(I love this story)

Seriously don't give up now, failure is only the beginning of future success.


From the outside looking in, it's easy to say we're giving up too easily.

We've been on this project for over a year. We've tried multiple business models, strategies, etc. We know where we went wrong, and we know what it needs to make it successful. But we don't have the time, energy, or money to do it.


Carwoo should buy you.


We've had an informal relationship with Carwoo on Twitter. I @'d them this morning, we'll see if they're interested: https://twitter.com/nicksergeant/status/165451476800507905

We've always been a huge fan of CarWoo and thought it'd be a neat partnership with them.




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