BOSTON — In the digital age, consumers and businesses alike turn to the Internet to connect and interact—and find answers. Chatrooms and forums are often where people go to find answers to their questions, but how does one keep track of everything?
When it comes to automotive queries, Maxime Rassi, CEO of Garagesocial Inc., wanted to provide a sounding board for the automotive aftermarket community. He told Tire Business he has been a member of many online auto member forums and sites, where he had more than 10 accounts—a number that simply became unmanageable.
“My issue right there was too many communities, too many accounts,” Mr. Rassi said. “And it didn't make sense for me because the communities I was engaged in, they all dealt in the same industry,...yet all these communities were disconnected from each other.”
Seeing a need to combine all these different communities, the idea for GarageSocial.com was born: a platform that can bring together all the communities onto one site. Mr. Rassi said he was the main developer on the project and was “able to get the first prototype going more or less on my own.” He had the original prototype done in about two months, just to get an idea about how it could work.
“And then when I realized this had potential, I decided to quit my job and work on this full time,” he said. Mr. Rassi initially funded the project, but he soon formed partnerships with investment firms Race Epic and Atomic Capital. Mr. Rassi said one of the problems he observed on other sites is that forums are used to connect people, with comments posted on threads.
But these threads can be confusing to follow. “The reason it became so fragmented is that it can't manage complexity too well,” he said of the threads. Eventually, there was so much information that it got lost. This led to each car make and model having its own “community,” but because these tools are not tailored for complexity, the result was a really fragmented space. “On GarageSocial, we really design tools specifically for what they are meant for,” Mr. Rassi said.
To conduct a vehicle search, for instance, he said GarageSocial provides the tools to show a vehicle, not just a thread post to talk about it. His company is designing tools to do whatever the audience wants to do, whether that is showing vehicles, discovering photos, ecommerce, etc. Another of GarageSocial's avenues is with car collectors “because that's really what it's meant for right now.”
Mr. Rassi said GarageSocial has a tool that allows a visitor to play with whatever products they have. Though it's focused on vehicles right now, “the platform could really work for anything,” such as collection of paintings, etc., he said.
“We are trying to get all the collectors on there because, to this day, there's been no real way to show your collection of cars,” Mr. Rassi said. “Some collectors have their own website,...but most of the other collectors, they have no website at all. They collect them and they are off the grid.” He said GarageSocial is a way to get on the grid.
Users can sign onto the platform as either an individual or a company. For a company, products added onto its profile are searchable by other users. Mr. Rassi said any profile has the ability to have more than just vehicles on it, including other types of products. “If it's a tire company, they would really only have tires,” he said.
“So they are describing the products on their page and then these products are linkable by other users on their vehicles.” Mr. Rassi said the company has had several businesses look into GarageSocial and said they loved it because they wanted to know what kinds of people are buying products. Previously, all they knew about was people who bought directly from them. Now they can track consumer behavior even if something was purchased from a retailer, etc.
He said the site is allowing businesses to get all this information back. “We can get them statistics on the average age of the user using the product, which location (they're in) in the U.S. or in the world,” Mr. Rassi added. “So we're bringing all this analytics back to them and they have no other way to get this.”
If a mechanic were to sign on, for instance, he or she would just type a part into the search engine and see what users are already using and be able to ask questions. Mr. Rassi said overall, people go online for four reasons: entertainment, commerce, news and networking. “What we are trying to do is really combine these four segments because we feel they should be on one site,” he said.
Launch at SXSW
Mr. Rassi and his team were present at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show (SEMA) last November, where he said he got great feedback. Attendees started to reference the program as “the Facebook for cars,” he said. GarageSocial was officially launched during the South by Southwest (SXSW) film, interactive and music festival and conferences, held last March in Austin, Texas.
“We had the chance to speak with BMW Ventures and the feedback was extremely promising,” Mr. Rassi said about the launch.
“Several key players from the online auto industry were also in attendance and have shown strong interest in developing a relationship. Essentially we have a unique and unmatched system to present vehicles online.
Our system allows (users) to clearly organize and present all the information about a vehicle. We are actively looking for partners to adopt our system.”
He said there are two likely scenarios for the future of GarageSocial, which includes being fully integrated into other sites through partnerships with those sites. Otherwise, without any partnerships, the user would still be able to use the other sites but reference a vehicle on GarageSocial through a unique URL.
“We are right in the midst of a new revolution in the online auto industry,” he added. “We are grasping the opportunity to standardize and beautify the way vehicles are presented online.
We understand the consumer and the manufacturers and are creating unique tools that allow vehicle presentation in the most beautiful and complete way. Our system will become the de facto and preferred way to learn about a vehicle, whether it's a brand new one you're looking to buy or discovering your neighbor's customized Mustang.”
GarageSocial's main competitor is eBay Garage, but Mr. Rassi said he feels “our product is much more advanced and sophisticated and more feature complete.”
The bottom line, he added, is that GarageSocial is “a social network for car enthusiasts.” It's also a platform to organize and show vehicles online. The site is meant for anyone, including collectors, enthusiasts, mechanics, etc., Mr. Rassi said, “and our next evolution of the platform is developing commerce.” Companies and users will exist on the same platform.
For instance, say a tire manufacturer creates a profile on GarageSocial and describes the different products it produces and sells, he said. Users can also make a profile on their accounts to add their own vehicles, specifying any parts that have been installed.
Mr. Rassi said someone could either sign on to the site to be entertained by the pictures, akin to Pinterest, but all the pictures will link back to real products to purchase. “You can actually, from this one website, buy for your vehicle,” he said.
The website will include a “buy button,” Mr. Rassi said, and when a user clicks it, GarageSocial will already have the user's account information and will be able to take care of everything on the back end, connecting the user to a local garage to set up the service visit.
The main difference between GarageSocial and eBay Garage, he said, is that GarageSocial's is a networking platform that leads to commerce. Commerce does not necessarily lead to networking.
Mr. Rassi explained that while eBay is trying first to get a social media presence, GarageSocial starts with networking and then adds the commerce feature. Additionally, GarageSocial aims to expand outside the U.S. where, according to Mr. Rassi, the automotive industry is huge, especially in China and Europe, although Europe is declining.
This includes expanding into different languages. Mr. Rassi said GarageSocial would like to have the site translated into a few languages by year-end.
Mobile devices, social
The biggest focus for the site right now, Mr. Rassi said, is its mobile presence. He noted that it was “kind of a big shock and a big revelation” that about half the users are accessing the site from mobile devices. The site initially was designed for a desktop or tablet.
Mr. Rassi said it also works on an iPhone, but the company is focusing on getting the site more mobile-friendly. “It's quite shocking...you hear on the news 'the move to mobile,'” he said. “We knew about this, but we didn't realize how real it was.” Mr. Rassi added that the company has applied for a patent for streamlining user comments.
“We have applied for a patent to analyze all of the information in the comments and give you kind of a summary of the mood of the messages.” He said, for example, a YouTube video can have more than 10,000 comments. Instead of a user having to scroll through all the comments, the analyzer would look for positive and negative words, etc.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com; 330-865-6143.