* Bo Ferger — serial entrepreneur who has helped set up successful ventures like ACH Federal and Quickcue
* Tim Kelly — Chattanooga-based automobile dealer who owns Kelly Subaru and Kelly Mitsubishi, joined Carclips in 2003.
* Joe Alegre — managing partner at Cloud Nine Solution who founded ZipFlip in 2002 as Carclips.
* Rob Reagan — Owner of Iron Horse, a software company that develops enterprise-level code
* Douglas Ford — Former director of marketing for Quickcue
This year, an estimated 11 million people will scrawl a phone number on a “for sale” sign and tape it to the back window of an unloved automobile, with hopes to make more from the sale than they would from selling their car to an auto dealer.
For many, that first moment of rebellion against the status quo is the best part of the sale process. From that point, things get unpredictable.
Strange people begin calling in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s someone interested in buying a car, or maybe it’s a lonely neighbor. Maybe someone shows up for a test drive or they don’t. A check could clear, or perhaps it bounces.
“We’ve even seen counterfeit cashiers checks,” said Tim Kelly, owner of Chattanooga-based Kelly Subaru and Kelly Mitsubishi, and a partner at ZipFlip.
The private market for used cars is one of the last wild frontiers in the world of private sales. It’s a marketplace that has yet to fall under the civilizing effect of an eBay, an Airbnb or an Uber.
Those three innovations took what were essentially disorganized private markets — online auctions, short-term room rentals and personal taxi services, respectively — and brought them under an online umbrella that offers security and convenience.
Now, a group led by a Kelly, a financial entrepreneur and a computer whiz say they’re poised to tame the private market for used cars with a new app called ZipFlip, formerly known as Carclips.
“I like to call us the Airbnb for vehicles,” said CEO Bo Ferger, who recently helped launch and eventually sell Chattanooga-based Quickcue for $11.5 million. Quickcue was a wait list management system for restaurants that was purchased late last year.
It starts with getting rid of those red “for sale” signs and trading them out for a customized ZipFlip window sticker that people can print out at home. More than just an online listing, ZipFlip brings technology into the physical world, officials say.
Users can select their exact model and the program automatically spits out a customized window sticker that lists everything from horsepower to gas mileage.
Don’t know how to price the car? ZipFlip recommends a range of prices based on the car’s model year, mileage and a handful of other factors.
Buyers just have to scan the sticker code with their cellphone and they’ll be directed to an online hub where they can bid on the car, set up a test drive or ask a question. All this is done without giving out the actual phone number or email of either the seller or the buyer.
“We’re going to walk them through entire process from what price they should be listing it for to what pictures they should be posting,” said Joe Alegre, founder of ZipFlip. “That can be done through a mobile device or on the web itself.”
When it comes to selling the car, the buyer’s money goes into an escrow account until all parties are comfortable with the transaction. That protects both parties, as will a large company insurance policy designed to protect all users from fraud.
“Once they meet and the buyer and seller know everything is in order, they can hit a button on their phone saying, ‘Yes, I’ve handed over keys, we’ll send the money over,”’ Alegre said.
Much of this functionality is already ready to go, the partners say. At this point, designers are fine-tuning the user interface and developers are making sure everything flows smoothly on the back end.
“The interface was one of the reasons why we did so well at Quickcue,” Ferger said. “We have to make sure that same kind of magic exists here. Somebody has to go, man that was dagum easy.”
Nothing’s available to the public yet, at least until company officials raise the millions of dollars they will need to begin launching in select markets around the U.S.
The partners have self-funded much of the development thus far, but to get a product like ZipFlip to work, people have to use it. That requires lots of advertising.
“One of the cool things that will happen almost immediately is people will start putting our stickers on their car, which is going to build our brand,” Ferger said.
That could happen within six months if fundraising goes smoothly, officials said. Following a good showing in Santa Monica, Calif., at an event named Hackomotive, the company scored plenty of national publicity that should help grease the rails.
The publicity also opened them up to copycats, although those pretenders will be starting from scratch and ZipFlip already has a good lead, not to mention a business patent.
“We could have done a beta with a simpler version of the product, but the pace at which business moves today, we want to hit the ground running,” Kelly said. “The key is to be firstest with the mostest.”
Contact Ellis Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6315.
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...