— We have created a marketplace in vehicle repair and servicing. As you no doubt know, this is one of the last service markets which have only recently been aggregated and put into figures. Our platform also has the advantage that we offer the opportunity to make your own diagnosis of cars, using the On Board Diagnostics II gadget. Furthermore, our platform recognizes both general and specific-to-maker problems for various car models. When a fault is diagnosed by the special device, the system relays it to partner servicing stations in Moscow.
— Have you put a lot of money into this startup?
— At first, my partner Pavel Romanovsky and I invested our own funds. This came to about $500,000.
— What was this money spent on?
— It was spent on producing the platform itself and the initial advertising. We wanted to show potential investors, and to convince ourselves, that the product really was in demand in the market. We also realized that the more of our own money we put in, the bigger our share in the company would be.
— Were your calculations correct?
— Yes, they were. The hypothesis proved to be true. We offer car owners something that is really necessary and important to them: they are looking for the best prices for the repair and servicing of their car, and they need to be able to compare what is on offer and choose the best option. It’s not only the price, the service station’s location is also important, and so of course is its rating, which correlates directly with the problem of trust. Our app fully meets all these requirements. And today, T-Tronic already has about 100 service stations in Moscow, and several thousand users.
— How do you attract them?
— Our company attracts clients by advertising contextually, on the social media, below the line and by loyalty programmes in cooperation with the “Rosneft” chain of petrol stations.
— Did everything really go so smoothly from the beginning? No problems?
— Are there ever no problems? They arise, of course. The main one is solving all the questions in good time. For example, problems came to light at the stage of interacting with some service stations. Their final estimate did not always correspond to what they had declared to T-Tronic. So we also have to influence our partners and develop a culture of being honest with the user.
— Would you say this dishonesty in business is a purely Russian phenomenon?
— No, of course not. A detailed analysis of the work of car service stations in many other countries showed that regrettably, this situation occurs almost everywhere. But the good thing about our project is that it can have a positive influence on this situation. That’s the way the platform is, and those are its terms for use by the service stations. For that very reason, we intend to start up our aggregator abroad very soon, in the USA and Israel, and then in other countries too.
— So soon?
— The point is that from the beginning, we did not create T-Tronic exclusively for the Russian market. It has been a global project right from the initial idea. It’s just that we decided to start it, test it and sort out the problems in Russia first.
— You’ve already put quite a bit of money into this business. And the forthcoming scaling-up will mean a lot more. Who are your investors?
— They are business angels and venture foundations which specialize in companies at the initial stage. Today we have four investors, two in Russia and two more abroad.
— Do foreigners believe more in the prospects of this startup?
— It isn’t that they believe in it more, it’s simply that there were many investors from other countries among my acquaintances. And though we sought investments mainly from people I knew personally, about 40 people refused at the first stage. But this is a good statistic, you know: it is calculated that only two per cent of investors eventually enter a deal. And ten per cent of those we asked believed in T-Tronic.
— How many people does your company employ now?
— At present there are about ten people working in the company: experts in developing technology, in products, in the market, and others in the call centre and in the department working with the service stations. We are deliberately keeping the numbers down.
— When do you expect the project to pay for itself?
— Next year. So far, the company is still in the investment period, and it will take a long time to reach its planned self-sufficiency. Our main line of development right now is to win a share of the market.
— What do you plan to do next?
— Develop and improve the product further, enter the global markets, and seek new strategic partners in the B2B segment.
After that there will be further rounds of investment, because we shall need more financial resources, among other things for the technical development of an independent on-board diagnostic system (since the range of vehicles varies from one country to another), and marketing.