How this digital designer turned car-sharing startup founder went from launch to exit in just three years

GoCar founder TJ Tan. Source: Supplied.

GoCar founder TJ Tan. Source: Supplied.

Entrepreneur and designer TJ Tan founded Malaysian car-sharing startup GoCar Mobility in 2015, and after seeing more than 822% year-on-year revenue growth just two years later, he has now successfully exited the business.

Mayflower Car Rental, part of the Tan Chong Motor group, acquired 55% of GoCar in March 2016, just shy of the startup’s first birthday. Just a few months ago, Tan sold the rest of the business to the group, although he did not disclose the terms of the deal.

The Malaysia-based corporation also owns the franchise rights to Nissan vehicles in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Australian-Malaysian entrepreneur TJ Tan, who graduated the Sydney-based Startmate accelerator in 2012 with his previous startup Moojive, is a digital designer by trade.

He tells StartupSmart, however, that he noticed the global trend towards car-sharing, and growing interest in the transportation space in Malaysia, and saw an opportunity to “take a slice of that pie”.

He move to Kuala Lumpur and founded GoCar Mobility, a car-sharing platform allowing members to rent cars by the hour or day, in April 2015.

Initially, Tan bootstrapped a prototype platform with one car located in a condo block, using an app for bookings and a lock-box system for the keys.

“The logic was to put the first car in, and place it in a high-density area,” he says.

In this area in Kuala Lumpur, that first car was accessible to over 1000 residents.

Tan started to prove the business model “inch by inch”, developing a solution for customers to unlock cars using the app, and convincing car rental companies to place some of their vehicles on the GoCar platform.

“They always have cars that are not doing anything,” Tan says.

One of these companies was Mayflower, which acquired the majority stake in the company, taking 55% of the business for 450,000 Malaysian ringgit (RM) ($150,000), as well as the benefit of in-house accounting and HR services, and use of the rental company’s cars.

Over 2016, the platform saw 822% revenue growth, and a second internal raise within the Tan Chong Motor group gave GoCar a RM 1 million ($333,000) boost.

In 2017, CarGo saw revenue growth of over 360%.

With Mayflower able to provide “all the cars you could ever want” Tan was able to focus on building the technology platform, deploying the cars and focusing on growth.

“Being a platform, you have a two-sided problem,” Tan says.

Having a larger company focusing on the supply of the vehicles left him free to “stay focused on growing the market and growing the user base”.

When Mayflower acquired the rest of the business, it had more than 20,000 users, Tan says, and that figure was always “jumping really quickly”.

Ultimately, Tan opted to part ways with GoCar because of “different visions”, he says. He wanted to get more investors involved, but as the majority owner, the Mayflower group wanted to keep the company under the group umbrella.

“It was not an easy decision, but overall I grew the company to a pretty good place,” Tan says.

There are “no hard feelings”, but stepping back from his startup is “a bit strange”.

“It’s a part of me,” he says, “but I’m okay with everything that happened.”

Particularly given the quick turnaround from founding through the growth stages to acquisition, Tan says he now knows he is able to “go from a prototype stage to get some early ins … to a point where I could have raised from investors or taken a deal”, he says.

Through GoCar, Tan says he has learnt about the many aspects of running a business beyond his comfort zone of product design.

Keeping up with the financials, planning the roadmaps, making projections and managing P&L is your “bread and butter”, he says.

Also, managing people was a “whole new aspect” of running a startup that “I’d never thought I would have to deal with”.

Back in Sydney, Tan is now working as a product designer again, but he says he’s not done with the entrepreneurial life  he is merely “getting back into the groove of things, and seeing what’s happening in the market”.

“I’m doing a lot of reflection at this point,” he says. “If something new comes along I will need to empathise with whatever I work with.”

In any business, founders have to know the problem they’re solving, and “it has to be in your heart”, he says.

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