Last week news broke of Carvana’s acquisition of local Atlanta company Car360. We sat down with Car360 Co-founder, Rebecca Francois, and Car360 President and CEO, John Hanger, to learn more about their road to success. This story is truly one for the history books.
Bruno and Rebecca Francois are spouses and business partners who first began working together at Bruno’s brother’s company. Rebecca says that they were especially thankful for this experience because they learned how their work styles and skills complemented each other. Bruno, the tech guy with the creative mind, was always dreaming up new ideas. Rebecca, on the other hand, had the wit, grit, and natural sales abilities to discover new opportunities for the business.
Over the years, Bruno had many “eureka moments” and promising ideas. Hoping to ride the coattails of the selfie’s rising popularity, Bruno created an app that – with its 360-degree photo taking abilities – would enhance the selfie-taking experience. This consumer app became known as Cycloramic.
The first major breakthrough for Bruno and Rebecca came when they landed on a spot on Shark Tank, and Mark Cuban decided to invest in the company. The money and the exposure helped propel the company forward, and Cycloramic became a top-selling app in the app store for quite some time. However, the couple quickly learned how difficult it is to maintain app popularity and, most importantly, revenue. They saw an opportunity to leverage the technology in a new way, and Car360 was born.
Bruno was ready to present the technology in its new light, and the Venture Atlanta stage was the perfect place to do it. Presenters at Venture Atlanta have the opportunity to go through pitch practice and have their presentations critiqued by innovation leaders and investors. It’s worth mentioning that one of the judges who helped critique Bruno’s presentation went on to become an investor in the company. That’s not all that Venture Atlanta 2016 had in store for Car360, though.
Introducing John Hanger. A Venture Atlanta regular, John had been involved in starting and growing five software companies and had even presented at Venture Atlanta previously. In 2016, however, he was attending as an angel investor after just departing the company that acquired his previous company, Contact At Once!. He listened to Bruno’s presentation and, having spent the last decade selling software solutions to the automotive retail industry, saw potential. Learning more from Bruno, he came to realize that Car360 had great technology but was in trouble – they needed cash and leadership. John decided to invest in a bridge round, with Mark Cuban agreeing to match his investment. Three months later, with John on board as CEO, the company was able to raise a $3.55m A-round. Again, Car360 was catapulted forward.
While Bruno raised capital, Rebecca looked for new sales opportunities. She was familiar with Carvana and had been vehemently trying to prospect them. As determined salespeople do, she tried a number of different email combinations for Carvana CEO, Ernie Garcia. To her surprise, she ended up connecting with Ernie’s father – also named Ernie Garcia. He read the email and thought Car360 would be a great match for Carvana, so he put a bug in his son’s ear. This helped put Car360’s on Ernie’s radar, but weeks passed, and nothing came to fruition.
This brings us to Venture Atlanta 2017. As luck would have it, both Mark and Ernie were keynote speakers at the conference. Finally, Rebecca had a chance to meet with Ernie face to face. She convinced him to listen to her sales pitch and connected him with Bruno. After a 5 minute demo, Ernie fell in love the product – so much so that he didn’t just want to buy from Car360 but rather he wanted to acquire Car360. The rest is history.
Words of Wisdom from the Car360 Team
If you had to share an interesting takeaway from this experience, what would it be?
John: “You can’t build a company with the intention to sell it. Focus on building a strong, stand-alone company. If a suitor comes along who can take your company to the next level – it’s because of the hard work that you put in in the first place.”
Rebecca: “Bruno and I started working together for my brother-in-law. When we left to start what would become Car360, we were leaving a comfortable job and a secure position at a family business in exchange for the unknown. The journey has been both really difficult and really exciting. I can definitely say, however, that the highs have outweighed the lows.”
What does Venture Atlanta mean to you and the rest of the tech community?
John: “Attending Venture Atlanta is a no-brainer. It’s a chance to get your company in front of hundreds of investors. But beyond that – it’s a chance to get your company in front of people in the tech community who can help you. It’s a great place to make connections that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to make. This is true if you’re an entrepreneur or if you’re an investor. It’s also a great learning opportunity for those going through the process of raising money for the first time. You get to experience delivering your pitch, receiving feedback, polishing it, and then getting that final validation.”
Rebecca: “Venture Atlanta has a strong presence in the tech community. It’s the topic of many conversations at the Atlanta Tech Village. Everyone wants to go to Venture Atlanta, and everyone knows how much it can propel your company. We were very lucky to have been selected to present.”