Updated: May 18
When did you start your business?
Why did you start this business? Why chose this business?
We started the business when the Silicon Valley bubble burst and everyone was losing their jobs. My job was to build the sales team up, build the revenue up so that the company can sell or go public. After doing that for a number of years and seeing the industry contracting, I turned to my wife and said, “Listen, I'm making these companies hundreds of millions of dollars. You know what? I could make us a million dollars.” My wife is very conservative in everything that she does, so she said, “No, go get a job!” And I tried to get a job (but she said that I didn’t try very hard). But while I was trying to get a job, I had this idea of starting a specialty car company that focused on weddings and special events.
The thought was that we would buy a white, beautiful vintage Rolls-Royce and it would be the lead car that the bride and groom would be in after they are pronounced man and wife. They would kiss and they would walk down the aisle, and they would get in this beautiful Rolls Royce where they would take pictures and these pictures would last them forever because the car is ageless.
Nobody was doing that back in 2001 and 2002. We bought the first Rolls Royce and we started the business from our home. We went to our first wedding show in Burlingame and we had so many orders with this vintage Rolls Royce that we went out and bought the second Rolls-Royce. The business just started growing from there. People were loving the idea of these vintage cars as opposed to your traditional stretch limousine. When we were at the fourth Rolls-Royce, The Westin hotel asked us to bring our business into their hotel, so we did. Now we had a captive audience of customers - every wedding that happened at the Western or the Sheraton used our vehicles, and our business grew to the point where we had 13 Rolls Royces.
That's how it happened - it was an idea; it was a hunch; It was me believing that if I had something that I could wrap my arms around it, then I could sell, and then I'd be able to build the business and grow the business.
Reflecting back, what did you do well?
I'm a good salesperson, I have great marketing materials and I'm a people person. If I get in front of a decision-maker, I felt confident that I could convince them that we could deliver a high-level quality service for the most important day. That's some of the things that I really did well - good marketing, good salesmanship.
We hired good chauffeurs. They all wore chauffeur caps, white gloves and the double-breasted jackets I bought from London. I was selling the idea and excitement.
We also leveraged our relationship with the hotels and opened the service up to all of the corporate customers that those two hotels were catering to. And then that opened up the door for other hotels in Palo Alto. After the Westin and the Sheraton had us, then the Garden Court, Dinah’s and others all wanted us. We had these beautiful vehicles that everyone wanted to introduce to their brides and grooms.
What was your biggest challenge when you were starting up the company and how did you overcome it?
We didn't realize what our biggest challenge was until we got to a point where we started transitioning from being a vintage car company to being a company that offered vintage cars and regular cars.
The hotel introduced us to two really large corporate customers to be their transportation provider, but I said vintage car services were really what I wanted to do. However, once they opened up their books and showed me how much business there was the next day, I went out and bought regular town cars!
Here is the biggest problem: the two big corporate clients, Tibco and Yahoo were absolutely ready and prepared to do business with us. However, they needed us to invest in a software system. At the time, we didn't have a relationship with the bank. We went to the bank, the bank said no because there was no track record. So what did we do? We sold our home in Palo Alto, and we invested all of that money into the company. It was a huge leap of faith, and as you know, we came out on the other end of it alright. But it was hell when we were going through it.
We were able to secure those two contracts, that stabilized the company and we had enormous growth. Fast forward to today, we're around a twelve-million-dollar company. It was a good decision, a scary move, but it was a very good decision. In the hindsight though, I don't think I would do it again. I would establish relationships with the banks very early on so that we could have those relationships when we need the money.
Wow, that's a really scary story, but I mean, it's good that it comes out at the end. You must be considering it day and night and losing sleep over it…
No, not losing sleep at all, we prayed about it and we felt comfortable with our decision. We had a good business plan, a good foundation of both retail customers and corporate customers. Now all I needed to do was do what I do best - go out and sell and sell, to get more yahoo and Tibco of the world. Today, we do business with Goldman Sachs in New York. JP Morgan Chase, Johnson and Johnson, AT&T, Merck, the list goes on and on.
So how many global offices do you have right now?
We have two offices, one is here in San Jose and the other is in Los Angeles. How we do business all across the country and all across the world is through affiliates. We establish partnerships all over the country. With good business plan, good marketing plan and some help with good salespeople, we were able to grow the business.
How do you get the affiliates to standardize on your standards?
It’s easy, because when you are bringing a quarter of a million to half a million dollars to a person in New York or to a person in Chicago or to a person in Colorado on a silver platter with some requirements. People followed our standards. These are our standards:
We will always be fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.
We will drive safely.
We will give you excellent service
We will bill you properly.
When we do those four things consistently, we are be better than over 95% of the limousine companies out there. Our affiliates have to agree to follow those standards, then our customer is going to be happy, and we're growing the business together.
In a typical business cycle, there are 4 different phases: startup, growth, maturity and exit. Where do you think your company is in this cycle?
We are still in the growth phase after 18 years because of what happened very uniquely here in Silicon Valley - the advent of all of the employees shuttle. We are doing shuttle business with Google, Apple, Facebook and VMware etc. In 2014, we grew 47% percent. Once we got that one big employee shuttle customer, just like with Tibco and Yahoo, others started to invite us, so we are going through a growth spurt now.
What's the biggest challenge that you see in this growth phase?
Cash flow! Being able to manage cash flow and dealing with all of these new corporate customers that are demanding that they pay us in 30, 45 or 60 days. That’s a huge issue and huge challenge for us. Now that we're a little bit more mature, a little bit smarter and we do have relationships with banks that we are able to get the lines of credit to support our growth.
The other thing that you noticed is that we're moving. We are moving to a 45,000 sq ft facility to be able to handle the growth of the new contracts that we are bringing on this year. So cashflows is definitely the number one challenge. You can grow all day long, but if you can't fund your growth, then you go out of business.
If you were to give one advice to our audience today, what would it be?
It would be to make sure that you create a business plan and that you revisit that business plan two to three times a year. And that you reinvent the company when the company needs to be reinvented so that you're staying ahead of the curve as opposed to being run over by the curve.
A lot of entrepreneurs that I come in contact with start a business, then they put together the business plan and then they operate the business plan. My suggestion is, write the business plan upfront, make sure that you get good sound advice. Then establish a relationship with a bank and work the business plan. My wife and I go away in November, December timeframe and we work on the plan for next year or two. Then on a quarterly basis, we review the business plan. If we need to make any tweaks, we make the tweaks.
When Uber and Lyft came into our industry and completely disrupted the transportation space for traditional limousine services, thank God we did that business plan review. That allowed us to open our minds to think about what other markets should we be going into? We went into the bus rideand that allowed us to have the biggest growth that we've ever experienced in the 18 years.
We recognized the disruption and got ahead of the curve, as supposed to wait for the curve to run us over. Now we are safeguarded to some degree because of the Uber and Lyft drivers are not going to get their Class B licenses with passenger endorsement, air brake certification and all the things that are needed to operate the shuttles and the big buses. Click here for full Podcast!