Conversation with Pavana Jain, Chairman, CEO & Co-Founder, SHIFTMobility Inc
Bringing Blockchain to the Auto Industry
December 5, 2018
1. What is your business?
SHIFTMobility brings the latest technology to the automotive industry–buyers, repair shops, manufacturers, and parts and tire distributors. We aim to understand the heartbeat of vehicles and communicate their specific needs to the automotive ecosystem.
We use a Blockchain platform to secure, distribute, and validate transactions across all our constituents. In turn, these recordings ensure the security and integrity of customer and vehicle information. These highly secure transaction records, from vehicle purchase to repair and parts, increase trust and promote transparency throughout the ecosystem.
Our record-keeping is free to the consumer. We use a digital reward system for car owners called AutOn tokens. For every mile shared by a vehicle owner they receive an AutOn token in their digital wallet to use for repairs, parts purchases or anything else.
We monetize our services by charging the businesses that access these blockchain records. We also offer these businesses an innovative Point of Sale (POS) product that automates much of the billing, quoting, and parts sourcing. Our POS solution can tell you how many hours a repair will take to complete, the price of the parts necessary for said repair, and can be endlessly customized to adjust for margins and price points.
SHIFTMobility currently has 160,000 active users leveraging our blockchain technology and 110 million parts catalogued in our system. Our expansive network includes leading distributors like Autozone, eBay, as well as local businesses. We began by focusing on building our network and data, started generating revenue in 2016, and are now in seeing significant growth.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
I used to work at Oracle, and so my perspective is to solve problems through technology. My partner and I witnessed the evolution of smartphones and firmly believed that modern vehicles would follow a similar trajectory by transforming into smart devices. In 2014 we decided to invest in several repair shops with the aim of advancing vehicle repair technology.
We quickly realized that two of the major hurdles facing repair shops, including ours, was locating the correct parts information and streamlining the time it took to quote a job–averaging 30 minutes. We started to brainstorm about how we could shorten both the quote time and the time it took to deliver a repaired car.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
The aim of our initial investment in repair shops was to develop an auto repair franchise. However, after experiencing issues with communication, trust, time, and information, we pivoted towards exploring technological solutions. We found that it was a high-margin business and that no one was attempting to solve what we thought was the biggest problem–providing reliable information and cultivating trust.
The market opportunity was huge, barriers to entry were high, and there was incredible room for innovation.
4. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
Not from the technology side, we understood that space well. We were the only ones in the automotive industry to have products on the blockchain. Our real pain point was being in Silicon Valley and pitching to the automotive industry.
It was relatively straightforward to connect with decision makers, but difficult to convince people to move off niche legacy systems so they can stay relevant in the face of industry transformation. The main issue centered on demonstrating how we could change the way business was done without disrupting the existing relationships. However,
It turned out that our potential clients’ concern was also our concern – for them to be successful and relevant in the next 5 to 10 years, they must move to the Cloud, blockchain, connectivity, and embrace mobility. Their relationships are multi-faceted: One day they could be talking to insurance companies and the next to emergency road services.
5. Who did you speak to for support as you were working on the idea/launch?
Our journey started with a local distributor who we encountered through the shops we owned. We started with the question, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple application where you could send me the needed parts?” So, we took that to 200 shops in the San Francisco Bay Area. From those conversations, we realized that the pain point was not limited to just ordering parts, but also repair shops had problems creating quotes, invoices, receipts, and repairs.
6. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
The incredible, committed people on my team. Without a great team, you cannot succeed. Second would be the ability to build an ethical team culture.
7. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?
I’ve been surprised that deals take so little time to close. At Oracle, sales cycles could take 18 months up to 4 or 5 years. Here, deals close fast, there’s negligible churn. For the big auto repair chains who have 900 shops, it’s a big decision, and those sales cycle can be longer.
8. Is your business impacted or helped by government regulations?
No, that is one of the primary reasons we were surprised. It’s such a green field of opportunity, but general repair and insurance is not highly regulated. The emission and collision space is regulated, however.
9. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
The worst was when we wanted to move to a different office location and someone advised us that the easiest way to cancel the lease was not to show up. Just to take off and get out of there. But it doesn’t work that way.
And the best piece of advice came from our advisor on our vision roadmap.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
We plan for 2019 to be our breakout year. Our investors want to see us IPO because of the size of the market and our profitability. In the U.S. alone, auto repair is a $270 billion market, and worldwide it’s over $1 trillion.
Date of conversation: October 22, 2018