13 Oct Mike Wyrzykowski on disruption, finding talent to solve a puzzle and launching overseas
Interview by Kevin Griffiths
Words by Madeleine Gasparinatos
On a balmy May evening in Sydney, we meet with Mike Wyrzykowski. He has flown in from Texas that morning, had a handful of meetings and has now just returned from a quick ferry ride to Manly Beach. Mike is the CEO of DealerVu, a company he founded in 2002, and he’s just about to launch BlackPurl in partnership with Salesforce.com. BlackPurl aims to deliver a suite of simple to use, yet staggeringly powerful applications aimed to reinvent software available in the vehicle retail industry.
So how did he get there?
In 1997, Mike went into a Harley dealership in Ontario, Canada. Back then the brand had a very rigid customer fit, and Mike didn’t fit the bill according to the retail assistant. He was denied a Harley. “They didn’t have one to sell me,” Mike recalls. Surprisingly he wasn’t wholly discouraged from the experience. Mike saw holes in the business model and thought “wouldn’t it be neat if they [the motorcycle industry] looked at things a bit differently? Wouldn’t it be neat to buy this business and turn it into something a little larger scale, and a bit more customer-centric?”
In 1999, that very opportunity came up. Mike and a close business associate bought the dealership.
With a background in the video game industry, Mike had moved to Vancouver to manage online video game distribution. He was working with people who knew a lot more about tech than he did. With the Harley business a new venture, he yearned to create stability, but then news broke that his software provider was going under. Mike took stock. He had a constant interest in different businesses and industries, and with one foot in the tech industry and the other in the motorcycle industry, he realised that something could be done.
From an operations perspective, Mike’s startup DealerVu ticks all the boxes. It allows dealerships to have access to up-to-the-minute reports and insights on their business and allows dealers to make intelligent business decisions based on current information.
More than 10 years on and DealerVu, a premium-price, niche market provider in the Dealer Management Software (DMS) industry, are “a quite successful small business” as Mike puts it. Tailored to meet the needs of both the small independent dealers to a very complex 80 location motorcycle and accessories distributor, DealerVu boasts a dealership network that spans from Newfoundland, Canada to Melbourne, Australia with everything in between. The company is unique in the DMS world with a laser-focus on solid data that is, in turn, anonymized and sold up the supply chain to manufacturers and distributors.
Fast-forward to present-day Sydney and Mike’s in town for business. He first came to Australia when one of Canada’s largest Harley dealers were opening in Brisbane and demanded to use DealerVu. As DealerVu progressed, Mike had grown a loyal team, with many employees wanting to play a broader role in the industry. There was a desire to scale DealerVu globally, but the DMS model has serious limitations.
Focusing on online
With DealerVu still ticking on successfully, Mike’s focus shifted to something online-based. In 2014 the ideas started forming for BlackPurl. BlackPurl will soon launch from Australia.
“Australia is an interesting thing for us”, he replies when MLG Executive Search Partner Kevin Griffiths asks how the Australian connection happened. There was a formative meeting for BlackPurl held at Jack Cowin’s office (fast-food billionaire, owner of Hungry Jack’s) that was well attended by people from the automotive industry: a luxury car purveyor, an auto dealer from WA, and the SVP of Salesforce.com’s AsiaPac sales team. Out of this discussion came the realisation that there was a desire for a new software in the Australia market, “but they didn’t want DMS, they wanted something new yet not one person could articulate what that was”, Mike recalls. Very gradually over the next year, a concept and a partnership with Salesforce emerged, aiming to develop a series of sophisticated enterprise software and phone-based apps.
BlackPurl offers a true market successor to the DMS business model. The idea proved highly scalable and allowed Mike to focus on the 1,000,000+ customers across the world that could employ this new business concept. A series of bundled applications will serve the entire vehicle retail ecosystem from vehicle and equipment rental, service and repair, to tyre and undercar. The partnership with Salesforce gives BlackPurl unprecedented cloud computing power, and a tool set that is unique in the space. With momentum building, BlackPurl has real potential to become the application of choice in the industry.
First stop, Australia
While BlackPurl is global in nature, the decision to launch in Australia was a well-thought-out decision, “it’s a trickier market, but at the same time it has a lot faster uptake by virtue of the culture. Lead-times to get proficient in the software is 50% quicker [in Australia] than Canada or USA”. For BlackPurl, Australia provides a market to get it right and set their processes in place, and then they’ll push out globally. “Many people say North America is good [to launch], but we’re not sure if we’re even going to go straight to the US first – APAC might be better”. For Mike, Australia is the ideal global launching pad: develop it here and take it out to the rest of the world.
For Kevin Griffiths, Growth Partner at MitchelLake Executive, BlackPurl is a compelling but fairly rare example of an international venture using Australia as a test market for initiating a global launch. Many international companies have used Australia to trial products and features, but it is typically less often that they launch in Australia as their first step market towards Global expansion. Pandora Radio and ASOS are other relevant examples in that context.
Mike backs his decision, “I live in North America and am very familiar with the market. It’s also available to us anytime. I think it’s easy to think that America is at the centre of the world, but when you look at the world map Australia is on the doorstep to 40% of the population. They are sophisticated markets that are growing dramatically”. BlackPurl is being brave, launching outside of their comfort zone, “if we do it well, it’ll be a smart move. The question is, how well can we execute it?” Mike muses.
Logistically, how do you launch when you live on the other side of the world?
In a roundabout way, Mike was introduced to Kevin through NSW Trade & Investment. At the time he was chatting to another talent recruitment firm and were committed to working with them. “I made myself unavailable for Kevin when the opportunity first arrived to meet him”, Mike admits. Once the introduction was made between Mike and Kevin, MitchelLake kept popping up everywhere on Mike’s radar. By this stage a familiarity had developed around MLG and Mike began to see them as “the go-to people for what we were looking for”.
Mike didn’t really know what he was looking for at the time, but by his own admission, Kevin did. Through a series of discussions, it was initially decided that a country manager who had established roots in Australia was required. This pivoted over time and BlackPurl evolved towards profiles that had a more data-driven approach, with a strong product commercialisation background with a particular focus on scalable self-service platforms. Within about 30 minutes of Mike and Kevin chatting, BlackPurl’s entire profile was amended. When candidates were engaged, “the conversations were incredible.” Mike continues, “people came from a world we didn’t know – we’d just read about. The calibre of talent that showed up…” With each conversation, BlackPurl’s perspective changed, and Mike admits, “That’s big in our world”. Through a strategic relationship, a more intelligent approach to talent revealed itself.
Experienced advisors have always been on Mike’s side, “we’ve had the good fortune that in multiple areas we’ve had good advice. A great relationship is worth their weight in gold”. While, initially, the talent process was ‘like navigating in milk’, it worked, “It was a learning experience, that allowed us to better understand, and we will now go into things with a wider angle of consideration,” Mike offers.
Looking forward: growth, talent and removing boundaries
So, what’s the next 12 months got in store?
“Ultimately it’s to get the product right in a very minimal sense. It’s largely there right now,” Mike explains. “North America is actually on the pilot list, as it is important for it to work in a variety of locations. ”They’re also focusing on the delivery systems and experience of local users, to make it as good as it can be.
Then, Mike outlines, it’s a matter of “how do we become the most efficient in the world at distribution?”
BlackPurl’s measures of success are attainable and they’re consciously setting small goals, “I want to go to bed one night and wake up with 100 new locations on board through subscriptions in the app store. That’d be a pretty good sign”. Mike notes that to a certain degree, they’re still navigating in milk; “we’ll have unconventional measuring sticks – nothing like the DMS world – an entirely different set of guideposts” to count success.
The way BlackPurl has been assembled isn’t conventional. “Someone today said it’s really about working on fun projects with great people”, Mike says. His advice is to finding people that you click with, “Whether this is culture or whatever you choose to call it. [Make sure that you] truly click with them. Don’t settle for 80% and then get them on board, because you’ll end up asking them to leave, or worse”. Being flexible and having awareness is also key, “even if you think you know a lot of people, and have a great network, [dealing with MitchelLake and our other advisors] has opened our eyes to what’s possible. It’s about finding the great people and being open to getting out of your comfort zone”.
Finding the right people may indicate a lot of face-to-face time, but Mike is proof that this isn’t necessary, “we’re not under one roof and we’ve been lucky that we can establish relationships over the phone. Some of our best people we’ve met in person 2 years later [after hiring them]. There’s something to that, I can’t put words around, but it works for us”.
BlackPurl is exploiting their ability to be boundary-less, “If we were all in the one office, it wouldn’t work. Locate talent where they are and get them to make it work”.
BlackPurl passed Salesforce’s security review in early in early August and is being “quietly” piloted in Australia and North America. Salesforce has a significant vision for their role in this space and BlackPurl is a very complimentary component of that strategy.
BlackPurl has been funded by DealerVu to the tune of $3M over the last couple of years and just putting together the next round of $5M with no venture capital at this early stage. The target market is $12-$15bn annually, with the immediate addressable market around $7bn. BlackPurl’s focus on the underserved or totally ignored segments of the market with the intention of staying out of Franchise Automotive.
As a serial entrepreneur, what advice would Mike give to organisations at their early stage?
“Find the right people to help solve the puzzle. In our case, we had to reach way out into the mobile device and wireless industry for a mix of engineering and business. This skillset is foreign to the DMS industry today and we’d be nowhere on this without MLG and specifically, Kevin.
His last piece of advice is so beautifully simple but infrequently articulated: “Stay in business”. Simple, right? “Others might overcomplicate it, but cash conservation is really important to leave enough room for the 3, 4 or 5 attempts to get your offering right.”
If you’re thinking of launching or scaling your business in Australia and want to connect with Kevin Griffiths at MitchelLake to explore further, he and the team will be happy to share their insights from the launches and scale ups that MitchelLake have completed with; Dropbox, SurveyMonkey, TeamViewer, ImpactRadius, Facebook, eBay, Square, Stripe, Etsy, Pandora and Yammer to name a few…
Image thanks to Mike Wyrzykowski
MitchelLake Executive focuses on supporting high growth tech clients to launch and scale, locally, regionally and globally. We’re proud to provide an APAC launch platform solution that involves assisting international companies launch in Australia. We recently sat down with Canadian-born, Texas-based, Mike Wyrzykowski, founder of DealerVu and BlackPurl, to discuss their decision to launch a new business, BlackPurl, in Australia for which MitchelLake Executive placed Keith O’Brien in the COO role.
Kevin Griffiths leads MitchelLake Executive for the ANZ Practice. Based in Sydney, he is focused on supporting startups, NewCo’s, scale-ups, and established tech companies with C-suite and board requirements, in addition to working with Australian SME’s and enterprises undergoing digital/technology transformations.
Since joining MLE in 2012, Kevin has led over 100 searches. His time has been divided into three key areas – CEO searches for scale-ups or tech companies going through transformation; CTO/CPO searches for tech companies with a global requirement to bring talent to Australia with technology and/or product leadership at scale; and consulting to and leading searches with clients looking to innovate, who are seeking advice from the MLE practice on the question of build, buy, or partner.
Prior to joining MLE, Kevin was a Partner at BMS where he built and led the Midlands commercial practice in the UK, before moving to Australia to help scale the business in Sydney and Melbourne.