The Story So Far - Part 2
Hello again from Dennis! I posted “The Story So Far” in January 2022; a lot has happened since then, so I thought it was a good time to catch you up on my entrepreneurial journey and how Wheel Easy has been growing so far.
Learning As We Go
As many of you know, Wheel Easy started as a New Venture Project in my final year at Ivey Business School. As I rounded out my time at Western and Ivey, I found incredible value in going through my final classes with the context my fledgling business in the background; I could apply concepts learned in Revenue Management to my service offerings and pricing decisions, think about sustainability elements of the business in Corporations and Society, and got the chance to develop a marketing plan with my group in Strategic Marketing.
I also had the chance to enter several business plan and pitch competitions. In the Ivey Business Plan Competition, we placed 3rd overall, and in the Stu Clark New Venture Championships, we placed 2nd in business plan and 2nd in elevator pitch (watch it here!) - we were the only business to place in both, and I was the only solo founder to place in either. These opportunities gave me the incredible opportunity to tune my pitch and plan, helping me understand every aspect of Wheel Easy intimately. We also collected some award money which helped immensely in launching after graduation.
Classes ending in April lined up perfectly to get ready for spring tire swap season. With a working website in place, some early SEO efforts out there, and some hilarious social media posts started, we met dozens of new customers, continued to learn what they needed from us, and invested in tools and equipment to make jobs more efficient.
Besides operations, there was a lot more going on in the background. I had many meetings with advisors, panelists, and judges from the competitions, getting many new ideas and perspectives, including the concept of building value in a network of mobile automotive service customers and service providers. We had discussed this in the early stages of the project, and clearly had some benefit for our stakeholders.
We also created partnerships in the community. With a focus for us in helping make automotive service more accessible to people through education, we worked with Real Adulting 101 to create a five-part Car Care course with videos aimed at helping new vehicle owners learn how to check their oil, change a flat tire, and how to interact with shop technicians and service advisors. We partnered with socially-driven organizations like Wilma Technologies (a women-driving-women ride-sharing company) and Meals on Wheels London (a meal delivery service for seniors and others in need in the community) to help service those who need their cars to help others.
On the very future-looking front, I was connected to David Kim, co-founder of Appsterpiece, a development company through TechAlliance. With David, we conceptualized a custom built platform that could help mobile service providers serve their customers more efficiently than existing tools. We started down this interesting path in summer 2022 (more on that later!)
I also learned about the LeapIN Business Accelerator at Fanshawe College through a chance occurrence - I found a random copy of Interrobang, the Fanshawe College newspaper, within which I found an article about Leap Junction and LeapIN. As a Fanshawe graduate of Motive Power, I qualified for the summer entrepreneurship program - I applied, and was accepted to the 16-week program.
LeapIN was a fantastic experience in learning more about entrepreneurship in a structured setting. Again, the benefits of having defined context behind the exercises were apparent. Running sales experiments, building a strong brand, and understanding marketing objectives and analytics were all workshops that helped me further understand what I thought I knew. The networking opportunities were a massive boon as well; relationships with the team at Leap, the other cohort members, successful entrepreneurs like Swaraj Paul and Kelvin van Rijn, and mentors like Liz Gray, Michael Weinberger, and Julie Forrester were and have continued to be of great benefit when I have questions about specific areas or could utilize further connections.
The LeapIN program also granted me further opportunities - I spoke to several automotive service and sales management classes, got the chance to list my business on the Fanshawe Alumni Perks app, and in August, I was part of the Employer Works panel. At this event, I met Steve - from the Phillipines and studying Motive Power (like I did many years ago), Steve approached me and asked about working with Wheel Easy. I loved his initiative and drive, and I’m glad I gave him a chance - we hired Steve, and he worked part-time in Fall 2022 and helped our operations efficiency (and my back!) immensely. There was literally nothing better than seeing Steve make the same kind of connections with my customers that I had been making.
I’d be remiss to not mention my family through all this as well - my wife Sarah and my young daughter Zoe have given me all kinds of support throughout all the growing pains of the business so far. Additionally, in June, we welcomed our second baby - Dexter Tye Ho was born (with midwives, at home!!) happy and healthy.
Thanks for listening to all my excited babbling and angry complaining and everything in between throughout the journey so far. These guys have learned more about tires than most will ever know.
Only days later was the convocation ceremony to celebrate graduating the HBA program at Ivey. Reflecting on my time at Western and Ivey, I was glad I made the decisions I did.
Finding Our Way
Overall, Fall 2022 was a massive success. We did 5x sales over Spring 2022, and we added a Coats tire machine and balancer, which allowed us to install tires that weren’t on rims, sell tires and tire packages, and complete inside-tire repairs.
In October, we collaborated with Motif Labs in Alymer for our first Tire Change Event - I travelled to the Motif manufacturing plant in Alymer and changed tires for people while they worked! In this experiment, we had lots of customers who appreciated the convenience, and it helped us accomplish our goal of increased visibility, as more referrals came from these people too. I learned a lot and have things that we can try to do better next time.
Interested in a Tire Change Event for your company? Reach out!
Moving through Fall 2022, Steve and I started offering more services. Oil changes, battery testing and replacements, and brake inspections and repairs. This was based primarily on our customer base showing interest in these services, as well as trying to find a way to continue to find work during the non-tire swap season.
In January 2023, we entered the Western Accelerator at Western University. While the LeapIn Accelerator was a great opportunity to re-establish the basics and network with Fanshawe faculty and students, the Western Accelerator has supercharged our ideas with access to high-level industry experts and mentors like Ilham Punjani, Eric Morse, and Jenessa Olson - people who have been through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship many times, through success and failure, and have so many perspectives and new ways of thinking. Workshop speakers have included Ivey professors Dr. Janice Byrne, Colin MacDougall, Dr. Larry Plummer, and Dr. Dan Clark, C-Suite executives like Brian Foster, Sean Grasby, Bruce Lamb, Shari Walczak, Patrick Spence, Chanda Carr, and many more heavy-hitters to come.
I also found the cohort businesses to have a great focus on technology - three companies (Staccato, Seashore.ai, and Nock.ai) are utilizing artificial intelligence and ChatGPT to achieve their objectives with their customers. There are two companies (Passen, Doubl) that focus on using digital body measurement tools to help match you to your perfect clothing fit, and other multi-sided platforms like SipSomeCoffee and Colours Matchmaking.
I have learned so much from everyone in the program so far, and looking forward to the remainder of the program as well.
Throughout 2022, we also spent time working with David on developing a custom booking flow. As we used Wix as a web hosting platform with booking capabilities, we started to realize that there were shortcomings with the way their system was set up. Through investigations of potential alternatives and discussions with David, we finalized our designs for our own booking flow, set up to make operations easier for mobile technicians specifically.
The interesting outcome of this line of thinking was the potential of this tool being useful for other mobile service providers. I had already made connections with other service providers, like Korey of All-City Dents, Nathan of NJackson Detailing, and Vilmars of Pop-a-Lock London, among others. Hearing some of the challenges they faced in bookings and operations, we considered these pain points as we developed the flow for what we were building. This has also led to many discussions about how to integrate these parallel services into the Wheel Easy experience as well - another thing that many customers commented would be a great benefit to them (at-home tire swap and detailing - what could be better?!)
As we have launched the beta of our platform in April 2023, we are looking for feedback on the flow and what we could improve on. Reach out if you'd like access to our new platform!
As we enter the exciting Spring 2023, having been incorporated for one year now and having over a year of operations behind us, the world feels like our oyster! We are projecting a strong sales season, and have lots of learning, experimenting, and fine-tuning to work on with our new platform. We are adding vehicles and technicians to the organization, looking to build capacity to serve YOU better. And then as we experience our new tools (and adjust them as we go), we have decisions to make with regards to our business model and potential to make changes.
This past year has been a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience, and as I’ve said several times, applying the lessons I’ve learned in the past to real-world situations has forced me to practice informed decision-making in real-time. I’m very glad I took a somewhat unorthodox route to where I am - through trade school and working in the shop, back to business school, and into my own venture right out of school.
I owe a massive debt to the people who have gotten me and Wheel Easy to where we are today.
Ian Haase, my most steadfast advisor - thanks for all the guidance on so many different dimensions.
David Kim, himself a forward-thinking entrepreneur - thank you for educating me in this intimidating tech world.
Khloe and Steve, hard-working overachievers, who have repeatedly shown how much you care about me and OUR venture.
Matt Parkin, a serial entrepreneur and endless supporter of my ideas and efforts (where have you found the energy to do all you do??)
My classmates, who agreed to use Wheel Easy as the subject of our school projects, much to my personal and professional benefit (Jesh, Lauren, Aaron, Naomi, Lianna, Briana, Sophia, Cam, Miguel, Allison, Natasha, Ash, and Valeria - I won’t forget what you’ve done for me).
My family, who have celebrated highs and lows with me - Sarah, Zoe, Dex, mom and dad.
And all of you who are reading; whether you have been a Wheel Easy customer or not, you have shown incredible support to what I’ve been trying to do and I consider myself blessed for the opportunity to help you and share my mission with you.
We are moving forward at what feels like a break-neck pace. Interesting changes to the automotive industry have continued to buoy my spirits and efforts going forward.
You will be seeing us around, count on it! And we’ll come to you for a change!