LONDON — Andrew Jervis has the auto trade in his blood.
His grandfather was a military mechanic during the second world war, and went on to create a successful mechanics and leasing company.
His father, after leaving school at 15 to become a mechanic, now owns the biggest Kia franchise dealership in the UK.
And his brother is a mechanic today.
The 32-year-old former Isle of Man resident has put a twenty-first century spin on the family trade. He’s cofounder and CEO of ClickMechanic — an online marketplace for car mechanics.
It’s an “exciting” time for the company, he told Business Insider. Last year, it closed a $1 million funding round (£810,000), briefly reached net profitability, and is starting to expand into the garages for the first time.
The origins of ClickMechanic
Jervis cofounded ClickMechanic in 2012 with Felix Kenton after finishing a research masters at the University of Manchester looking at problems in the automotive repair space. Today, it’s based in West London, in the friendly but slightly ramshackle Ugli Campus workspace in White City, West London — far from London’s trendy startup heart of Shoreditch and “Silicon Roundabout.”
ClickMechanic is, simply, an online marketplace for mechanics. If you need a mechanic, you go to the site, provide information about your vehicle and the details of what it needs done, and it gives you a quote for the costs. If you’re happy, it will match you up with a mechanic in the area, who will come along and work on your vehicle wherever it is.
Unlike other rival services that let mechanics and garages bid on potential jobs, ClickMechanic sets the fees itself — and takes 20% for its trouble.
“We’re delivering [mechanics] bookings that they just have to accept ,” Jervis said. “All the mechanic is doing is fixing cars and getting paid for it. They’re not having to do marketing, they’re not having to do accounting, they’re not having to do customer service, they’re not having to bid on work. So there’s a lot of value we offer to each transaction, which I think the vast majority of mechanics realise.”
Available throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the startup has 1,000 mechanics on its platform, with thousands of completed bookings every month, Jervis said. The site gets a quarter of a million visits a month, with hundreds of thousands of registered users.
It’s a huge market opportunity, Jervis says: £21.1 billion is spent on service and repair every year, according to industry trade association SMNT.
ClickMechanic is on a hiring spree, and expanding its reach
ClickMechanic has raised external funding before — in a 2015 £320,000 seed round from angel investors, including former Just Eat CEO Klaus Nyengaard.
The funding round formally announced today, for $1 million, brings in institutional investors for the first time: Early stage investment firm Forward Partners and seed-fund-slash-startup-accelerator 500 Startups. At the time of the investment, the startup was running at a “monthly net profitable position,” the CEO says, though it has since made additional hires and investment.
Jervis is hesitant to call the (oversubscribed) round a Series A: “No, it’s not, it’s too small … with this investment, the idea is to deploy the cash, deploy most of it, then raise a proper Series A.” (He declined to discuss the valuation, but said it was “significantly more than it was for the last round.”)
The cash injection is being spent in a range of areas as the business grows.
ClickMechanic is hiring heavily, “in all different areas. In operations, in tech, marketing, business development, so right across the board,” Jervis says. The current headcount is around 20, but the aim is to be 40-strong by the end of 2017.
The chief exec also aims to diversify the company’s sources of customers: “We’re in discussions with some of the big digital players in the automotive space about working with them.”
And — most significantly for the startup’s customers — it is expanding into garages for the first time.
Historically, ClickMechanic has only worked with mobile mechanics — mechanics that will come to your vehicle and work on it there, wherever it is. After a pilot in the summer of 2016, it is now partnering with independent garages who will pick up customers’ vehicles and take them away to their facilities to work on them — broadening the kind of work available on the platform.
“The customer doesn’t have to drive to the garage, they don’t have to sit around. The user experience is very similar in so far as the mechanic comes to you, the only difference is they’re recovering the vehicle to a workshop to perform the work and then returning it.”
Nic Brisbourne, managing partner at Forward Partners (which is investing £400,000 into ClickMechanic), said in an email: “I’d heard a little about ClickMechanic through industry contacts but we first met Andrew and Felix at a networking event in early 2016. I was immediately impressed with their overall vision for the business and the mission they were on to improve the experiences of UK customers in an industry ripe for disruption. “
The family trade
There’s an interesting parallel between Andrew Jervis’ business and that of his grandfather, 60-odd years ago.
“My Granddad, in the Second World War, he was a mechanic, and he used to fix all the military vehicles,” Jervis told me.
“He went in as a really young lad, I think he was 18 or something, and learnt this trade for five years. And when he came out of the army his dad wanted him to get involved in the family haulage business, and he was like ‘I kinda want to carry on fixing cars. This is quite fun.’
“And he set up a tiny little workshop that could just fit one car in. He got fixing cars — and it just so happened that it coincided with the growth of vehicles on UK roads, kinda growing almost exponentially. The carpool in the UK was growing massively through the fourties, fifties, sixties, seventies. So his little mechanics business got a few more mechanics. Then he started buying cars, fixing, and selling them. Then he started importing cars. Then it grew into a lease company. Then he ultimately sold that in the seventies.”
Half a century later, Jervis is capitalising on a similar seismic change to the growth of personal car ownership: The internet, and the online marketplaces it has enabled.
“Growing up a lot of my school holidays were spent in parts departments or just round that world, but I decided not to become a mechanic,” Jervis says. He went to university, did business studies, got a job at a bank at the Isle of Man, and went on to set up an initial business connected to the automotive industry.
He then decided he wanted to get off the island, took the masters at the University of Manchester — including an “85,000 word thesis on the automotive repair space problems [and] solutions” — before moving to London. He joined the Entrepreneur First accelerator, met his cofounder, and ClickMechanic was born.
‘We can offer something slightly different’
The company is also beginning to think about expansion overseas. It’d likely be major Western European country with high car penetration like France, Germany, or Spain (“but we haven’t nailed anything down”), at the end of 2017 or the start of 2018.
But for all the optimism, hiring, and expansion plans, it’s not all plain sailing. One problem Jervis identifies is the difficulty of hiring in London. There’s not enough top-tier technical talent, he says — and when it exists, it’s in serious demand.
“We’ve seen a lot of candidates who’ve been ok, but maybe not the exceptional people we want. But when we find the exceptional people we want, we often find they will have five or six offers, and you’ll be competing with a Deliveroo or Carwow. And it’s like ‘ok, well we can offer something slightly different,’ but those are the kind of sexy unicorns or startups who are in the press on a weekly basis and huge coffers of money, and they spend big.”
But what about Brexit? It’s a subject of constant concern for the UK technology industry — just like everyone else — and threatens to make hiring in the tech sector even harder. “It’s probably brought a little bit of uncertainty around the funding ecosystem, access to talent with migration, I think even consumer uncertainty a little bit. Those sorts of events, and Trump and so on, just make people a little bit uneasy. So I don’t know what sort of material effect it has had if it hadn’t happened, but I’m sure it’s had some sort of effect.”
He then adds: “But ultimately, if we grow a succesful company, it’s down to us … whether it’s a great economic climate to operate in or not.”