This week’s small business star is Viraj Ratnalikar who, along with his co-founder, created the company Car Quids. As with all great ideas, this one came to them when having lunch in a pub.

Car Quids allows car owners to earn money from displaying advertising on their vehicle. The company has been featured on the BBC, has received investment from one of Europe’s leading investors, Seedcamp, and has been crowned the most exciting start-up in the UK.

Here, Viraj tells us his story.

It all started with a shrewd observation

My co-founder and I were enjoying a pub lunch looking at passing taxis in London (most of which carry advertisements), when the thought occurred to us that the space on regular cars could also be valuable to brands and advertisers. That was where it all started.

Our first task was to work out if car owners were interested in carrying advertising, which, incidentally, they were. Then we had to find advertisers who wanted to advertise on cars. We found the perfect brand in easyCar who had recently launched their peer-to-peer car rental service and became the first advertiser to book a campaign with us.

The campaign was a success, leading us to realise that this was an untapped form of outdoor advertising that worked well for brands. At this point we were convinced that we were onto something.

Finding a mutual desire and tapping into it from both sides

On the day we had the idea for Car Quids we created a simple website allowing car owners to sign up for the service. The concept spread very quickly and we soon had thousands signed up. Brands and advertisers are always looking for innovative ways to get in front of their potential customers. Once we had a large enough fleet of members’ cars, we found our first advertisers were willing to book campaigns.

Striving to offer something unique and worthwhile

Car Quids aims to make it super easy to buy outdoor advertising. We’ve learned that a lot of small businesses struggle to get the time of day with established outdoor advertising providers, and often there aren’t many suitable sites in the areas where small businesses and their customers are located. We want to change this, and are already on the way with a fleet of over 5,000 cars covering 150 towns and cities in the UK.  In particular, our advantages lie in:

Technology: before booking a campaign, any brand can estimate how many views their advertising campaign will receive. We calculate this based on which city the campaign runs in and how many branded cars are booked. The underlying data is provided by the Department for Transport.
Transparency: Outdoor advertising is often a punt and it’s hard to calculate ROI, which is becoming increasingly important to marketers. We analyse where cars have driven (they’re equipped with GPS) and can tell our advertisers exactly where/when their adverts have been seen. We’re also upfront and very clear with our pricing which is surprisingly rare.

Jumping on board with the Sharing Economy

You might have heard of the ‘Sharing Economy’. These days, we’re all more open to sharing our assets with others to offset high costs. Airbnb does it for homes, and companies like us do it for cars. Motoring costs have risen tremendously in the past five to 10 years, and if advertising on your car for a few months can pay the insurance/tax/servicing for the year, it’s a compelling proposition. The world of advertising and brands is also very exciting – some of our car owners say they do it just because it’s fun and a good story to share; several have told us, “I feel like an F1 driver with brand sponsors!”

Who said it had to be online or offline?

Buying advertising online is very easy and many businesses now have social marketing strategies. We want to make outdoor advertising as straightforward to plan and buy as it is online – so our technology tools help advertisers work out their ROI, giving them estimates for how many will see the advertising, what percentage of the population they will reach and so on. Once the cars are out on the road, GPS analytics mean we know where their brand has been seen. We can even tie this up with social media activity for their brand in the local area.

Online advertising has taken market share from many forms of advertising – particularly TV, radio and newspapers. However, outdoor advertising has not shrunk despite the shift to online. This is because outdoor advertising can’t be turned off, yet it remains non-intrusive, unlike TV advertising. Coupling digital with outdoor advertising has been shown to be really effective for brands and our aim is to lead the way on this front.

Think Big, Act Small

In terms of advertising, we’re like most companies in that we use a variety of marketing channels. We’ve used everything from online advertising, to flyers and, of course, Car Quids car advertising to let car owners and advertisers know about us.

We’re a small team and find ourselves personally invested in making sure everyone has a great experience with us – both car owners and advertisers. Our advertisers and car owners all have my personal mobile number for example, and when a campaign is live we provide updates on how the campaign is performing to the person who booked the campaign, so they can share it with the rest of the company. I really think that one of your advantages as a small business versus bigger competitors are the personal touches that you can add to deliver a better service than anyone else.

Always take that initial leap of faith

In the initial stages of Car Quids there was a lot of cold calling and emailing, but we’re now getting so many enquiries coming through that replying to these takes up most of our time. Getting bookings is becoming easier too, as we have more case studies and results to share and our technology platform has been developed so is now ready to use. When it comes to looking back on risks, I think not taking the leap of faith to launch what was just an idea into a real business would have been the biggest risk! Now we’re in a position in which we can look to a future where, when marketers think of booking an advertising campaign that leads to real results and sparks conversations, Car Quids is the first thing they think of.

To find out more about Car Quids, visit http://www.carquids.com

For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.

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