Alborz Fallah, Founder of CarAdvice
How Alborz Fallah Grew His Passion Project Into the Largest Car Review Site in Australia
What happens when you follow your passion and refuse to give up? Well, you just might end up creating the largest car review site in Australia. That’s what happened to Alborz Fallah, founder of Car Advice, now a multi-million dollar business.
It all started 10 years ago when Fallah was working as an IT guy. He had started and ended 16 businesses and was on the prowl for the one that would work long term.
“I hate working for someone else, so I had to make something work, eventually,” he says.
Combining his digital prowess with his true passion, Fallah started blogging about cars. In the first week, he wrote 10 articles and gained 10 hits. But week two brought with it 2,500 hits. “I was like, ‘Holy crap, that’s amazing.’” Fallah says. It was that early sign of success that made Fallah realize that this endeavor was going to be different from the other 16.
Thanks to some shrewd SEO practices, in no time at all the site was drawing traffic away from car manufacturers’ sites, appearing as the number one result when users searched specific car names.
In the beginning, he was so concerned with his audience’s experience that he refused to put any advertising on the site. That had to change when the hosting bills became so large that he needed the ad revenue just to cover the cost of keeping the site online.
Within three months of adding AdSense, revenue from the site was exceeding what Fallah made at his full-time job. This gave him the confidence to jump ship when his boss complained that every time he walked by Fallah’s computer there were pictures of cars on the screen. “Which was true, I love cars!”
In six months, Fallah found a business partner who had a reputation for being really good with people, and the two set out to build Car Advice (www.caradvice.com.au) into a leading voice on the automotive industry.
Building a Brand
That proved to be a lofty goal, especially if you can’t drive the hottest cars. The first step to having a really amazing car review site, it turns out, is actually being able to test them out, and it took Car Advice years of brand building to gain access. At one point, the company was three days away from not being able to pay their people, and for a long time the staff was paid much more than the founders.
What Fallah and his team needed was access to the manufacturer’s “fleet cars,” a set of automobiles designated for the media to drive and review. However, those were reserved for the big, print magazines of the day.
Convincing manufacturers that digital content mattered proved to be an uphill battle in the early days. Fallah remembers a conversation he had with an executive at BMW. After demonstrating that users searching for BMW’s cars would see the Car Advice site before the BMW site the executive responded, “Yes, I know that if I Google BMW X5 your site comes up first, but your audience is the one that steals our cars, not buys them.” Auto manufacturers were simply that far behind the digital content curve.
To build some clout, Fallah and his business partner decided to set their sights on reviewing the fastest, most expensive car available. They emailed Bugatti and requested access to the Veyron, a $2.7 million supercar that wasn’t even available in Australia at the time. Much to their surprise, they received an email with the dates the vehicle would be available for a test drive in France.
Thanks to his savvy business partner, Fallah got his entire trip sponsored and flew to France without any out-of-pocket expenses. While he was there, they shot some amazing video of the vehicle and even of the Bugatti factory, something that had never been done before. The team also test drove Lamborghinis and the Aston Martin DBS.
When they got back to Australia and posted all of their amazing content, the game completely changed. Suddenly they had the leverage they needed to gain access to all of the fleet cars they wanted. The videos went viral and the tour of the Bugatti factory was picked up by the Discovery Channel, appearing in a few of their programs.
It was this move that proved Car Advice could do what their competitors could not. As an independent company, Car Advice didn’t need to get approval from any board or stock owners for these trips; nor did they need to justify the expenditures associated with producing the content. The traditional print publications would sit back and wait for manufacturers to send them invites instead of dishing out the cash; Car Advice actively went after opportunities to drive supercars and the most popular vehicles in Australia.
Putting the Audience First
The guiding theme of Car Advice is a focus on the audience. “Connect the right buyer to the right car,” Fallah says. This means that Car Advice will happily write a negative review of a car, even if publishing that review means that the manufacturer may pull advertising from the site.
“Our game is all about the audience. We know that if we win the audience, the commercial incentives come on their own.” He’s right. The site went from bringing in around $200,000 a year to $2 million and then to $4 million. This year, revenue is expected to hit $10 million and they are already projecting $15 million for next year.
Building a community and an audience has been crucial to the success of Car Advice. “We have a strict, car-lovers only policy when it comes to hiring.” If every team member, right down to the accountant, isn’t excited about what they are doing, they can’t do their best work. In addition to killer SEO, the site gains much of its views from the recommendations of car enthusiasts who read their site every day, just because they love cars and appreciate the content Car Advice provides.
The Road Ahead
Amidst some whispers of an Australian Securities Exchange listing in their future, Car Advice is also looking at opportunities to expand overseas. In fact, much of the content on the Car Advice site is stolen and translated for Asian markets, to be read by car buyers who can’t trust the reviews written locally, thanks to a corrupt system that allows manufacturers to buy positive reviews.
The company is also taking their reviews to open waters with their Boat Advice site (www.boatadvice.com.au), which follows the same strict guidelines of putting the audience first, avoiding complacency and maintaining a startup mentality.
- Tips on finding the right audience and niche for your product
- All you’ll ever need to know on how to successfully build your brand through trust and customer satisfaction
- What it means to have a good reputation in your industry
- Where to go when you’re looking for resources to grow your company
- The best way to foster your brand’s community
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Alborz Fallah
Nathan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the “Foundr” podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I’m your host, coming to you live from hometown called Melbourne, Australia. On the grind again, guys. I don’t know why I do it to myself. It’s 1:21 a.m. And, yeah, it’s just staying afloat. We’re gonna look going on. Just got a big trip to the states coming and I’m really, really pumped about that. So, yeah, just trying to get through a little backlog of stuff that we’ve got going on. Growth problems, hey. But all good quality problems to have. Now, let’s talk about today’s guest. His name is Alborz Fallah, and he’s the co-founder of a company called caradvice.com. And these guys, what they do is they review cars. And what’s really crazy is this is like his 18th company. He’s failed that many times, and this is the one that made it. Talk about sheer determination and consistency. And he talks about how he built this business model, and all sorts of crazy things.
You’re gonna love this episode. It’s really, really fascinating how a car review website is a multi-million dollar company now taking on the world and actually looking to list on the stock exchange, and all sorts of amazing things that Alborz has going on. So, a lot of gold here, really interesting story. Probably not the kind of story that you’re used to hearing us publish about, so you guys are in for an absolute treat. And if you are enjoying these interviews, please do take the time to give us a review. It helps more than you can imagine. All right, now, let’s jump into the show.
So the first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Alborz: Mate, I really tried hard to get into the industry that I’m in, which is, I guess, automotive content, automotive journalism in a sense, and absolutely nobody would hire me. I applied to every known publication, and I just got rejection letter after rejection letter. So I thought, “You know, screw you guys. You’re all print based anyway and that format is dying.” We’re talking 10 years ago here. And I decided to do it myself. I was, at the time, and I guess in a way I still am, very digitally aware and I was, you know, in that phase doing a lot of few different websites, few different blogs. And I thought car was…I thought a blog on cars would be right up my alley because I’m hugely passionate about cars, and I was sort of surprised that no one was doing it in Australia to that extent at the time. And, yeah, that’s when it started, in 2006.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. So, can you tell us a little bit more about CarAdvice?
Alborz: Yeah, absolutely, mate. As I said, we started 10 years ago, almost exactly 10 years ago today. And it started as just me. Today we have 37 full-time staff, big office in Sydney, another office in Melbourne, and about to open one in Brisbane. We’ve also got a little office in Perth. So, what we do is basically we’re the largest new car site in Australia. If you’re researching a new car, there’s a very, very good chance you would have come across us. You might not even have realized it. But we basically write content about new cars. We’re an independent site, review every car that’s on sale in Australia and we put them against each other. Essentially, our aim is to, you know, make sure we can connect the right buyer to the right car. And we’ve been doing it for 10 years. And, yeah, we’ve gone pretty good at it.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. And can you give us an idea, throw some numbers around traction that you’ve had in the past 10 years? Like from 10 years ago to where you are now?
Alborz: Yeah, sure. I mean, the measurement has changed a bit. I think I started on StatCounter, which was a thing back then. I’m not sure if it’s a thing today. I haven’t looked at it for quite some time. But look, I’ll give you an interesting insight into our first week of traffic. I remember when I started it. You know, I wrote like three articles in day one, and maybe by the end of the first week we had maybe 10 articles max. And, you know, day one we had like 20 hits. Week two, he had 2.5 thousand hits, and that was on StatCounter. And I was like, “Holy crap, that’s amazing.” And one of the things I did do at that time was write about cars that were quite popular. You know, at the time, it was things like the Falcon, or the Toyota Corolla.
And people searching for it. The SEO, or the search engine optimization, of our competitors and of the car manufacturers themselves was so bad back then that a startup blog like us could easily come and take so much traffic away without basically any backlinks or anything because there was no local content about those cars online at the time. So it was basically… I gotta say, like, the competition now is so fierce that if you gave me $10 million to reach that car-wise, I could probably do it but I’d struggle. But back then, man, yeah, it was just right place, right time, and we really sort of jumped on it.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, wow. And can you give us…are you allowed to share traffic numbers or any numbers with us at the moment?
Alborz: Yeah, absolutely. At the moment, we do an analytics of nearly close to two mill, as in absolute uniques. So, per month, which is pretty high. We don’t report our overseas traffic because, you know, in the business that we’re in, no one cares. You know, we only sell our Australian audience for advertising, so we don’t…I hadn’t actually looked at our strategy but I reckon to be at least another 40% on top of that. The measurement that we use for the industry is Nielson Unique Audience. I think last month we were close to 600,000, which is basically they try and weed out people that are using their iPad and their iPhone and their computer. So it’s trying to work out if that’s the same person and narrow it down. So, you know, I think it was 570 or 600. I can’t remember. Around that figure. Which is pretty high considering, you know, only a million new cars get sold in Australia every year. So, we have a saying internally that we’re pretty sure we hit about 95% of people that are researching online and looking to buy a new car. And that’s why we are the number one new car site and the second largest car site after Carsales in general.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. And how did this all come about? How did you grow it into this beast, man? Tell us some key leverage points and strategies that you took to get where you are today.
Alborz: Yeah, look, I guess I’m not very business minded in a manner that some other people are. At the time that I started CarAdvice, I had this sort of vision in my head that, you know, I wanted to pursue what I loved doing. I didn’t wanna…you know, I was working in an IT job which I really didn’t like. But it was good because it gave me a lot of free time, so I didn’t have to do much. But I really didn’t wanna be stuck in that…you know, working for somebody else. It wasn’t me. So I started CarAdvice and I started another website reviewing restaurants and I started another tech sort of blog. And the restaurant one went for quite some time and for a few years. I think somebody else is running it now. But the tech one died immediately because I just…working in IT, I didn’t wanna help people with their computer problems. That was quickly dead.
But, you know, as I said, CarAdvice started…within the first few months, we were getting a lot of traffic. I had this original vision, and this is why I’m saying that I’m not very business savvy, at least I wasn’t back then, where I would refuse to put ads on the site because I wanted it to be really clean. You know? I wanted it to look nice. I wanted people to come in and just read it and not have to put up with AdSense. And that went on for a while until the hosting bill started getting really expensive because the traffic was getting really expensive. And then I said, “All right. Shit, I might have to need to put some ads on this just to pay for it.” And we put AdSense on and there was so much demand for our content from the manufacturers because, you know, obviously someone in their marketing department had looked at people are googling their cars and finding, you know, some 20 year old kid writing shit about their cars and they have no control over it. So at least they can do is put some ads around it and maybe that’ll help.
So the CPM started skyrocketing, people competing for keywords back then on our site. And they were specifically targeting CarAdvice. And I remember in the second month or the third month that we had AdSense running, I started making more money from that than I was getting paid for my full-time job, and I thought, “Shit, all right. This might have some,” and I quit. Basically, I quit after my boss complained that every time he walked past my computer, it was just pictures of cars, which was true. You know, that was my job. I quit and I pursued it very heavily. I found a business partner about six months in who was sort of the opposite of me. He wasn’t very tech savvy but was great with people, really good with people. You know, had a good reputation in the industry.
And yeah, you know, we just…we got along. It was really hard at first. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. We had traffic but back then, you know, we were the upstarts. We had no reputation. So the problem we have in our industry is getting cars, right? So they’re not gonna hand over a Lamborghini to someone they’ve never heard of before just because we have a website. So, you’ve gotta earn your stripes, and that took a while. You know, it took us multiple years to be able to even get cars like Mercs and Audis. And, yeah, that was a lot of brand building, a lot of proving ourselves.
And then, you know, halfway…three years into it, we hit the GFC, and one of the industries that was most affected by the GFC was automotive because a lot of car companies were going bust or did go bust, you know, filed for bankruptcy. And we were, I think, I don’t know, at one stage I believe we were about three days away from being insolvent because we couldn’t pay the people we had at the time. So, you know, it all seems like a farfetched story now but, man, I tell you, there were some days, dark days in the first few years that it just… You know, we worked, basically, for nothing for so long. We had staff that were getting paid way more than us because we needed staff. So there was a lot of slave labor, there was a lot of labor of love.
Post GFC, you know, the magazine started to die. The manufacturers started realizing that online is actually where their marketing and budget should be spent. We sort of stopped being a blog and started being a real site, I suppose. We do actually still use WordPress as a core platform. Heavily modified, but we actually use the core of WordPress for our publishing platform. So, you know, in terms of people thinking that we’ve spent billions in tech, it’s just not true. We’ve got a team of four developers now full-time. But most of what we do is we build around the publishing platform that is WordPress.
But yeah, so, post GFC, we started kicking some goals. You know, we went from making a couple hundred grand a year to two mill all of a sudden, then to four. You know, this year we should hopefully close out well above 10. Next year we’re aiming at 15. So, that’s where we’re going. It’s been a wild journey. It’s been, as I said, almost 10 years, but it feels like it was yesterday. So, I’m just a lot unhealthier now because all I do is sit in cars and in front of my computer.
Nathan: So, I’m really curious around…you said it was really difficult at the start to build a brand and build that trust. What did you have to do to build that brand, to build that trust? Is there anything that you can…any tactics?
Alborz: Yeah, absolutely. So, look, we…our biggest problem in those days was getting people to give us cars because, you know, we can’t review new cars unless we can get access to them. And, you know, you can’t go out there and buy anything. And you can’t keep going to dealers, try and drive one because, you know, they start thinking, “This guy’s been here 50 times this year, driving different cars. He can’t make up his mind.” Obviously, what the manufacturers do is they have a fleet of what they call press cars, which is cars that they specifically have for the media to drive and to, you know, write about. So, we were trying to get access to them. And at the time that we started, those cars were primarily for publications like “Wheels,” “Motor,” and sort of those magazines that, you know, I guess are now past their heydays.
So, what we had to do was basically prove why they should give us cars. And despite our best intentions of showing them our traffic figures and showing that…even telling them, you know, “Go into Google and google your own car, and see that we show up first,” they still didn’t care because…I remember one of the best croaks I ever had was from someone at BMW who said to me that, “Yes, I know that if someone googles ‘BMW X5,’ you guys show up first. But you’re already in for the ones that steal our cars, not buy them.” I shit you not, that was the verbatim quote. And I was like, “You guys…” Because he said, you know, people that buy don’t use the internet for research. And I was like, “Wow, you are so far behind, understanding how this is working that…yeah.” But, you know, that person’s not there anymore.
So, yeah, that’s what we had to face. What we did, it was my business partner’s idea, was we thought, “All right, well, if we’re having a problem getting Audis and Mercs, what do we have to do to prove to companies like them that they should give us their car?” So we thought, “All right, what we should do is go and drive the fastest and most expensive car in the world. If we can get access to that, then we could use that as basically leverage to get anything else.” So, we emailed Bugatti at the time in France, and they had the Veyron, which is, I think, up until very recently, was still the fastest car in the world. It’s a $2.7 million car. And we asked him nicely if we could come and drive their car. We said, you know, “Hi, we’re, you know, this basically upstart car website in Australia where you can’t even sell the Veyron because they don’t make it in right-hand drive, but do you mind if we come to France and drive your car? We need it for three days.”
And this is when it had just come out. And to our complete shock and horror and surprise, the guy wrote back saying, “Yeah, sure. Here are the availability dates. Let us know when you can make it.” When my business partner said to me, “Oh man, I’ve got the car booked,” I said, “Oh yeah,” thinking “Yeah, right, we can’t even get a C-Class, and you got a Veyron booked.” But he was right. And we got our trip sponsored by, back then, Etihad Airlines.
Nathan: How did you tee that up?
Alborz: Well, as I said earlier, mate, I was very fortunate to find a business partner that was very good at talking. And, you know, not talking shit but talking well and selling the dream, selling the hopes. And we had a sponsor who paid for everything else. And we had a few other sponsors, energy drink sponsors and things like that. And we had the whole trip sponsored. We went over there and we made some really great videos. We drove the Veyron and we drove a couple of Lamborghini and we drove the Aston Martin DBS which was, at the time, just had come out as James Bond’s car. And the videos went viral on YouTube. The Veyron video, the Bugatti video got picked up by the Discovery Channel, so we got into a couple of shows on Discovery with that.
It was literally one of our very first videos we ever did. So if you look at it now, it’s quite embarrassing what we were wearing because we had no concept of what to do almost. You know, we just basically looked at a lot of other car videos and sort of put our twist on it. And, you know, one of the things we did, we did a factory tour of the Bugatti factory, which no one had ever done before. We didn’t even know that at the time. And that was just…you know, that had just been crazy because people love to see how the world’s most expensive car is made. And, you know, we did that. We came back to Australia, and yeah, the game kind of changed for us because, you know, whenever someone would say, “Who the hell are you guys?” we would just sort of send them a link to our Bugatti article and say, “Yeah, we’re just a bit of an upstart, but we’ve done stuff like this, and give us your $100,000 car because we drove in a $2.7 million car. It’s not a big deal.” And they did.
You know, it wasn’t…again, as I said, I’m shortening the story here. It wasn’t like it was overnight, but it really helped us set the stage. We did that trip again the year after with different supercars. We did 13 other supercars and sort of just continued to build our reputation as the guys that were able to do things that the other publications wouldn’t do. So, where we really benefited over our competition, apart from the fact that we were very digitally savvy and they were the complete opposite, we really put our own effort into going to places like France to drive these sorts of cars. Because the other publications were basically waiting for the manufacturers to send them an invite to come and do that. They would never use their own money because, you know, they’d have to talk to their finance department, and their finance department was ran by some guy who would say, “Why the hell would we wanna go and drive a car like that when it’s not even sold in Australia? What are the commercial incentives?” you know, blah, blah, blah.
We knew that the commercial incentives were the audience. You know, our game is all about the audience. If you could win the audience, the commercial incentives would come on their own. So, that’s what we did. In those early days, I lost a visible amount of equity in the business, raising funds to go and do these sorts of things. You know, perhaps if I was to go back in time, I would probably try and lose less equity. But, you know, without those, I guess, credibility stamps in our book, we would never have been here. So it was a required…it was a necessary evil, and it worked really well. So, these days we go and drive all sorts of supercars and we don’t really have to pay for it. But we had to do those in the early days to get there.
Nathan: Gotcha. So you had to raise capital to fund a lot of your trips to do the high quality video production and do a lot of those…the content.
Alborz: We had some angel investors in the early days. You know, we had some big guys. You know, we had the CEO of realestate.com.au as our chairman for a while and also one of the investors in the early days, who’s still a relatively large shareholder. You know, good people to guide us through things. Some are not so good investors in our books. You know, you live, you learn. Angel investors are always a hit and miss, I say. You know, we weren’t that business savvy to sort of be able to value our business well, so I think we kind of knew we got ripped off a bit too in those early… It’s really hard, you know. I don’t know…like, people ask me, you know, would you have done it differently? I’d like to say yes. I’d like to say yes, that, sure, I wouldn’t have lost, you know, 10% here and 5% there in equity to raise, you know, money for things that…some of them probably worked, some of them didn’t.
But, ultimately, you know, if we hadn’t done all those things, even if we hadn’t failed at a few of those things, we might not be here today. So, I’d rather be, you know, a shareholder in a business that’s worth a lot more money than it would have been otherwise, you know, even if I had 100% of it. So that’s sort of the very, very shortened version of CarAdvice. But yeah, today we’re known to the whole industry. We’re the guys that people call when their new car comes out because they know we have the audience and they know we have the credibility. And unlike the majority of the publications, we’re completely independent. We have no parent company. We’re not owned by Fairfax. We’re not owned by news. We’re not owned by Bauer which owns all the magazines. We’re just us. We’re owned by private shareholders.
Our is always our audience first. So we will happily write a very negative review of a car even if it’s got huge commercial implications. Because we’ve learned very early on that it doesn’t matter if someone withdraws half a million dollars in ads, which has happened, because of a negative review. Because if you lose your audience, you lose everything.
Nathan: So who does the reviews? Is it still you and your business partner? Or do you have an independent? Like, how does that work and how do you make sure it’s just an honest review, right?
Alborz: Yeah, absolutely. As I said, we’ve got 37, I believe now, maybe it’s 36 or 38, full-time staff as of today. We have an editorial team, plus a video team – I think they’re about 15 people – and then we also got a commercial team. And they are church and state, separated. The only times that there’s a crossover between commercial and editorial is if some of the guys from commercial come and say, “Hey, guys, we’ve got an enormous budget from manufacturer X, and we haven’t even looked at their cars for like two years. Can you please go and look at their cars at least so that we can get some reviews?” And that doesn’t mean that the reviews have to be positive. It just means that we need to go and at least look at their cars. And we do do that because it’s fair. And, you know, if someone’s spending half a million dollars, then you need to be able to make that happen.
So, you know, for example, if Hyundai said, “Here’s our budget for the quarter,” and we haven’t driven the i30 or the Accent for two years, we would go and drive it and we’d just rate it regardless. So that’s pretty much the only crossover between commercial and editorial. Otherwise, we’re completely separate teams. And that’s how it should be. That’s the only way it could really work. You know, because if anyone ever thinks that you’re taking money to write a positive review, then you just can’t. You just can’t. Even the perception of that could kill you. So, we make sure that there’s no chance of that, even perception, perspective. So we even keep our teams completely separate just to make sure.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Because it must be really difficult if you’re driving a nice car and you would have an expectation, right? But it’s kind of like reciprocity. You know, they’re doing a nice thing for you, kind of want to do a nice thing back. Did you used to feel like that? Is that difficult?
Alborz: Look, we’ve had one or two instances in our existence whereby, you know, we’ve had a big client and we’ve written a review and given the car a pretty poor rating because the car was shit. And they’ve tried to lean on us heavily, saying, “Wow, you know, this is not gonna work if blah, blah, blah.” And we’ve said to them, “This is how we work. We don’t operate in the manner of you guys give us money for advertising and we write good things about your car. We can’t do that.” To be fair, that is across the industry. Other guys don’t do that either, as far as I’m aware. But, you know, advertisers like to try and muscle their way in. But we’re lucky, we’re fortunate because we have the audience. So, even if some of them want to be bullies, ultimately, they all come back because they need us.
Nathan: Yeah, gotcha.
Alborz: So, we kind of…you just gotta stay strong in that regard. You can’t let them push you around. And that’s what we’ve done to date, and that’s what we’ll do for as long as I’m there and as long as the other guys are there, which will be for quite some time. It’s the only way you can work. Because if you let that go, then what’s the point? If you start writing infomercials, it’s pointless. It’s not what people want to read. What the cycle is, is people start by thinking, “I need an SUV.” So I’ll give an example of how that works. A mom of three goes to her husband, “Look, we need a new car. This car is old. You know, we might have a new kid coming or one of our kids is growing up and needs more stuff to put in the back.” So they start looking for cars. They’ll start by saying, “I need an SUV,” and they’ll start looking for, like, you know, “Top 5 SUVs” or start asking friends and then googling the cars they recommend.
And all through this, they keep finding articles online. And a lot of this is ours, you know, comparisons between SUVs, reviews on single SUVs. And they usually go to the manufacturer website first because, you know, you always do. And then they go, “Okay, I know that the manufacturer thinks it’s great, but that’s irrelevant because of course they’re gonna think it’s great. I wanna know what somebody else says about it.” And then they find people like us. And we have to make sure that the experience that the reader has when they come to a site like ours and reading an article on, say, like a Mazda CX-5, that they are fully aware that this is a completely independent, unbiased and non-commercially incentivized article. And, you know, considering the amount of comments we get and the amount of feedback we get, I think we do that quite well, and that is sort of our bread and butter of our existence.
Nathan: I see. And how do you foster this community? Because you keep saying that you’ve got the audience and people keep going back. How do you foster? Do you do any initiatives for the community?
Alborz: Look, we’ve been fortunate enough in our early days and, you know, I guess even today, that our search engine optimization is extremely strong. We do tend to come up for the top 50 guys in Australia within the one, two, or three results when someone is looking for them. That’s where we get the bulk of our traffic. We’re also, you know, pretty heavy on social. We do spend a lot of money on Facebook, promoting our content. But we also have a very strong link to a huge number of car forums. So, you know, we do…what we try and do is…for most people that are not car people, they sort of look at a car three months every five years when they want to buy a new car. So, you know, they spend three months every five years researching, buying, doing all that stuff. And then they go on. Then they don’t give a shit. They’re finished for another five years.
So those people, they’re not gonna come back every day reading CarAdvice, because they don’t need to. They’ve already bought the car. They’re not interested in cars. But then there’s a whole bunch of other people that are sort of the influencers, the enthusiasts of the car community, the people that those other people ask for when they need advice. So they go, you know, “Hey, Brad, I need an SUV. What do you recommend?” And those guys are the guys that read our site all the time, every day because they’re car people. And they would say, “Yeah, I think this, and this, and this. Hey, go check this comparison out on CarAdvice, and it’ll validate what I’m telling you,” basically, because that’s where they got the information from in the first place.
So, we do get a lot of people coming to us and finding us because the people they ask advice for tend to recommend us. So, that has been a huge thing for us. And that’s one of the reasons why we do do a lot of enthusiast content on our site, because those people are very vital to our business. They’re the influencers of their little subset community, and we need to target them because they help us get the car buyers to us. So it’s a lot of strategies. I’m simplifying it, but you sort of get what I mean, I hope.
Nathan: Yeah, gotcha. You’re using ambassadors within certain hubs.
Alborz: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Nathan: Yeah, to create content for you. You’re giving them that exclusivity.
Alborz: Yeah. We also, obviously, encourage people to write reviews of their own car. So, we have a huge database of that. And a lot of people, you know, even if they might read our review of it, they go, “Yeah, that’s all well and good, but I’m just gonna read what this guy that actually owns the car says.” And they do. And, you know, some of them are a really bad review of the cars, but even if they’re completely opposite to what we write, we leave them there because that’s what this owner experience is like. And, you know, I guess, in a sense, it’s like TripAdvisor. You know, we don’t delete someone’s review of a car that we think is great even though they think it’s awful, because that’s what they think. So, someone buying it might want to read that and go, “Yeah, okay, maybe what this guy is saying is true in regards to, you know, not having hooks for shopping bags in the back of the boot. I could possibly never buy a car without that sort of thing.” You know what I mean? You don’t know how people think.
Nathan: I see. Switching up topics, I hope we’re allowed to talk about this, but I was told that you guys are looking to list. Are we able to talk about that?
Alborz: Yeah, sort of.
Nathan: If we’re not, that’s cool. We can edit that out.
Alborz: We could probably…I’m happy for you to keep this in. There has been a report in the media that we’re close to a listing. That’s pretty much all I can say. I guess I am a director of the business, so it’s…I don’t really feel like going to jail by saying any more or less.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s cool.
Alborz: So that’s about the extent of my…but yes, as I said, there’s been a report that we’re heading towards an ASX listing.
Nathan: Yeah. And how do you work that out? How does that come about? I’m really curious.
Alborz: Well, I mean, as I said, we’re 10 years old this year, this month in fact, and I guess, in many ways, we need to find the next step in regards to what we wanna do. We’ve got a very large audience here in Australia. You know, whether we wanna take our format to emerging markets in places like, you know, Asia, India, where the need for almost…we have to say, but particularly in China, we have a reasonably large audience from China and a lot of our content gets stolen and translated because people like to read what the foreigners have written about the car, because they don’t believe the local media.
And having gone to China myself for motor shows a few times, I can see why they don’t believe the local media because there’s money in the kits they hand out from manufacturers. I’m not even making that up. There’s literally money in the little show bags that they hand out at motor shows.
So, there is potential for us to go overseas. There’s potential for us to go into other verticals. We do BoatAdvice, which is going quite nicely.
Nathan: Oh, BoatAdvice. That’s a totally separate site now.
Alborz: It is a totally separate site now, yes. Obviously, there’s other avenues like bikes, trucks, things like that. So there’s plenty of potential for us to expand our business, grow our business both here domestically and internationally. So that’s one of the reasons why a potential ASX listing is looking like something worth doing.
Nathan: Gotcha. So, when people do this, it’s usually to raise capital in a way, right?
Alborz: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s, you know, obviously potential for some of the early investors that want to see realization of liquidity in the shares as well at the same time. But yeah, raising capital, you know, looking to grow. We’re a very profitable business regardless. You know, we don’t just have high revenues. We actually are quite a profitable business. We don’t run at a loss. We try and keep our profit revenue around 10%, in a sense that we reinvest everything else back into growth. Anything else we make, we just try and keep it above 10%. Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes it goes up to 15% and you’re gonna, you know, find something to invest in. Because, you know, you don’t want to become complacent in this business. You know, we’re very strong digitally but, you know, being a digital person myself, I’m aware how quickly things change.
So we’re always looking at new things that are possible. We’re always investing. When the iPad came out – I’ll give you a good example – there was all this potential for iPad magazines, and you would know that really well, more than anyone else, I suspect. We invested heavily into that. It wasn’t for us at the end, but we invested heavily into that because it’s something we had to do in case it became huge, in case it worked. But ultimately, we realized that more people come…because, you know, we have a full responsive site, so it works great on the iPad. So, we found more people come to us by Google on their iPad than they would reading the iPad mag that we spent time and money and resources making.
But that’s an example of things that we tried that probably didn’t work but we had to try them because we didn’t wanna be complacent. And we tried them early and we tried them hard. So, we do that across all emerging stuff because that’s the sort of business we are. We try and keep the startup mentality as long as we can. It’s hard with 37 employees, I’ve gotta be honest, to feel like a startup, because you’re not. You’ve got a lot more people. But, you know, the culture is like that. You know, we have a massive ping pong table in the office and we have driving simulators that people can use at any time to race each other.
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Alborz: We just try and keep the culture of something that…a place that you want to go to. We have a policy that anyone that works for us needs to love cars. It doesn’t matter if they’re an accountant or someone that sells ads or data. We have a car lovers only policy. Because, you know, it’s the culture you need to have. You need to be excited. We get, you know, more than 1,000 or 1,500 different cars through the garages every year. So, people need to be excited by the concept of new cars and telling people what cars are good and what cars are not good. So if you’re not, then you can’t work for us, basically.
Nathan: Yeah, no, that’s fair enough. I’m curious also, you’re not the CEO.
Alborz: No, no, no. Never have been. I would be the worst CEO in the world, I reckon. I’m not the CEO, no. We have a really, really smart guy as our CEO. His name is Andrew Beecher. He was the head of marketing for Carsales for a while. Also did Trading Post. He’s before it went to shit, as he says. But yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I’m not a business person. I don’t pretend to be. I don’t want to be. I’m very good at starting things. I’m very good at believing in things and watching them grow and never giving up on them. That’s my specialty in life. CarAdvice is the 17th business I’ve started.
Alborz: Seventeenth, yeah. You gotta fail a few times.
Nathan: Wow, man. We gotta touch on that, bro. Please tell me what…out of all those 17 businesses, 16 of them failed or…
Alborz: Look, two of them didn’t fail, I just didn’t…I guess I didn’t have the ability to find the necessary resources to make them grow. You know, I had…I’ll give you the two they were. We had a computer store, an internet cafe with a web marketing business attached to it. And it had a lot of potential. That was back in the day when, you know, people were just…businesses were just getting online. The problem was, we were like 19. It was me and a friend of mine that started it. We were 19. And we would go to meetings and these 45 year old executives would look at us and go, “Who the fuck are these guys?” basically. And we would still get a lot of business because we knew what we were doing. We were very good at SEO. We learned a lot then. Back then it was a bit different to what it is today.
You know, the few clients that we had, we did a really good job for them. But ultimately, you know, what we really needed was a mature business partner or somebody that could help us grow that business. So, you know, that ran for a couple years and we were making some decent money, and then we sort of went our own ways. Another business I started was a website called myweblog.com, back before blogging even existed. That was back before the word blog was even a thing. And at its peak, I had 48,000 active users writing blogs at least once a week.
Alborz: I think I was 17, 18 at the time. And my parents were complaining that the hosting bill on their credit card was getting outrageously expensive. So, instead of, I don’t know, funding it or finding some commercial incentive to keep it running, I just turned it off one day.
Nathan: As you do.
Alborz: As you would when you’re an idiot teenager, when you’re and thinking, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to turn it off then.” But honest to God, that…before blogger was even a thing. I think about it these days, if I had grown that and, you know, I guess made it work and kept it growing, I would have easily sold that to one of the big guys for a reasonable amount of money, because it had a big audience. I wrote that entire platform myself, you know? Everything was written. The entire blogging platform, I wrote myself. So, it was an interesting thing, yeah. But yeah, there was also another 14 businesses that I started that failed very, very miserably. So, yeah, you know.
Nathan: Man, that’s crazy. So, one last question before we wrap up, Alborz. Out of all those businesses, what kept you going? I’ve never heard anyone that’s failed that many businesses.
Alborz: That many times, yeah, well. Look, I don’t know. My wife isn’t really stubborn. Maybe that’s it. I don’t like to give up on things. You know what I hate more than anything else in life? Is I hate working for somebody else. So I had to make something work eventually and I figured something would work eventually, and I just kept going. The good thing is, because all these businesses were very digital heavy. They weren’t…apart from the computer store where we actually had a physical presence, which is a really dumb idea by the way. Everything else was, you know, all digital, all type businesses where we could make some work and be able to get a lot of leverage and a lot of scale on it. That helped because the cost…the barrier to entry was quite low. You know, you could start up a business in a month or two and try it out for six months and see if it worked. And if it didn’t, you just said, “Oh fuck it. That didn’t work. Let’s move on.” That’s what we did.
That’s what was so good about CarAdvice, is it showed so much potential so early. And I just thought, “Okay, well, this is interesting.” There’s obviously a huge audience here that’s requiring local content that no one is currently putting online. And that wasn’t to say that there wasn’t local content. It’s just that it was all in print. And, you know, people researching a car, as you would well know logically now, someone’s going, “I need to buy a CX-5. I better go down to and see what magazine has a review of them.” They’re not gonna do that. They’re gonna google. So, that’s what happens. And, you know, I guess car companies back then didn’t realize and the print publications…it’s very hard for a print publication to become digital. It’s very hard. If the core business is print, the culture is print, it’s very hard. There are very few examples, in any industry, where a print publication has been able to successfully go online. There are a few. I’m not saying there isn’t. But it’s very hard. Unless they’re completely separate teams and separate buildings almost.
So we really, I guess, took advantage of that. And we weren’t very good in the early days. God, I read my own…my reviews from 10 years ago and they were awful. I get embarrassed. I wanna go back and change them. Make them English, you know? But I guess you gotta start somewhere, right? I went to uni for five years but I’ve got no degrees in journalism or in writing, so it was sort of a self-taught art, you know?
Nathan: Yeah, no, that’s awesome, man. Well, look, dude, thank you so much for your time. Where’s the best place our audience can find you if they wanna know more?
Alborz: Well, man, I mean, I’m pretty active on Facebook, and everything’s up and it’s public. I don’t use Twitter because I think it’s a dying platform. But anyway, I might be wrong there. You can tell me. But it’s just facebook.com/ my name, which is Alborz Fallah. I’m sure you can find me and add me as a friend. I accept everybody. My wife says I shouldn’t, but I do.
Nathan: Well, that’s very. If people wanna know more about cars?
Alborz: Obviously, check out caradvice.com.au. If you’ve got a question about cars, drop us an email. We endeavor to respond to all emails within 24 hours, and we tend to. And we get like hundreds and hundreds a day. Yeah, absolutely, man. Yeah, got a question about cars and you need some advice? Then, yeah, CarAdvice is the place to go.
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