Car enthusiast John Gattuso first formed the idea for FIXD in a classroom during his senior year at Georgia Tech. A few short months later, not only did Gatusso graduate, but he continued to launch his idea into a full-blown startup which was recently selected to participate in Coca-Cola’s The Bridge:Atlanta program and a finalist of TAG’s Biz Launch 2016.
After bringing on his roommate, Julian Knight, and next door neighbor Fred Grimm (also both Tech grads), the team got their wheels spinning on simplifying car repairs for customers while also helping dealerships and independent shops secure returning customers. We recently sat down with Gattuso to hear about the FIXD wheelhouse and why they’ve pivoted a new direction with dealerships.
What is FIXD?
FIXD is a tool to increase customer retention in service centers. We are really focusing on dealerships and independent repair shops right now. We found that there’s a huge retention problem in both of these. After three years, they only keep about 30% of people coming back to repair their cars. We thought, hey we’ve got this device that tells us when a driver has a problem, so why not give them a really easy way to get their car repaired. Through talking to service managers and shop owners, we found out that they wanted 3 things: to be notified when someone has a problem, to allow someone can schedule a service through their phone, and to send drivers push notification that tell them, “Hey, you need to do this maintenance at this time”.
You pivoted after a major corporate deal fell through. Tell us why about your new direction?
We launched the consumer version in July of 2015, but we didn’t think selling directly to consumers was the easiest way to scale. We wanted to find a more active sales channel – someone who would help push it out for us. So we pivoted to our latest model in September 2015.
We originally thought auto parts retailers would be good for this because they have a lot of scale, so they can start getting stuff out there really quickly. We approached Pep Boys that has both service centers and parts. We got involved with a couple of their higher level people and we went up to Philadelphia to meet with their team, started developing the solution based on what they wanted to see and everything was going great. We were a week away from going up to sign a contract with them and they were purchased by Bridgestone. It took that deal off the table for the time being. They just couldn’t start any new projects while they were going through the merger.
So that was a bummer in November. We thought, okay we can’t just sit around and wait for them – what can we do to get something out in the field really quickly and start getting data on what this thing is, so if they do come back we can say, “Hey, we’ve proven this stuff is retaining this many customers, it’s driving this many additional repairs, and instead of doing a pilot you should just go full scale.” That’s what led to shifting to the dealership side and the independent side, because they can make decisions a lot faster, as it’s usually an owner/operator. There’s a spectrum of dealerships and shops where some people own one, then there are people who own eight to twelve, and then there are the big groups that own a few hundred. So we are focusing on those middle ones because we can get some scale, but still get quickly to the person that makes the decisions.
We’ve been pursuing dealers and independents since late November and we got our first contract signed in early January and the second one signed in early February.
Now you have partnerships with Jacksonville and Marietta dealerships. How’s that going so far?
We have two partners signed on – a dealership in Marietta and an independent shop in Jacksonville, Florida. We launched with the dealership in Marietta and will be going down to Jacksonville to launch with the independent shop next week.
The launch in Marietta went well. We spent a lot of time with them understanding how to best distribute FIXD to their customers. We are learning a ton about different aspects of the dealership and how to best position FIXD within the dealership. We are also in contact with the first wave of people who have received FIXD to understand where we need to focus our development bandwidth in the coming weeks. We are rolling all of these learnings into the Jacksonville launch, but I am sure we will learn some new things when we get down there.
What’s your founder story? How did you meet cofounders and know you wanted to target this space?
We started in a class at Georgia Tech. It was a customer discovery class and we were asked to find a problem with the world – the most vague and ambiguous question someone can ask. I have always been a car guy, so when we were brainstorming ideas I suggested helping normal people understand check engine lights. The group really liked it, so we started talking to people and found out that most people have no idea what that light means when it comes on their dash. There are three of us that are full-time right now. Fred, Julian, and myself. Julian and I graduated in May and Fred graduated in December so we are pretty fresh out of school.
How was it balancing school at Georgia Tech, while also building out FIXD?
It was stressful. I focused on FIXD a lot more than I did on school. Mostly because it was so much more fun than doing Heat Transfer or System Dynamics homework. A great thing about building FIXD while at GT was the access to great people. I think it would have been much more difficult to find co-founders willing to go all-in if we had not been in college when we started FIXD.
Why did you decide to stay in Atlanta and build FIXD here?
We love Atlanta. The cost of living is low, we are very well connected through Georgia Tech and ATDC, and there is a growing community of people who are passionate about building things.
How are you making your name known in the Atlanta startup community?
We are trying to meet as many people as possible and build a great product. We are an ATDC company, so we go to a lot of events in Tech Square, we competed in the TAG Biz Launch competition, we are currently in The Bridge:Atlanta, and we have been trying to get to know folks up at ATV as well.
Do you have any big goals for 2016?
We really want to nail the product. We are trying to be close to all the service providers who are signing up because we want them to be people that will let us come visit, let us come interact with their sales staff, talk to their customers and stuff like that. We really want to make sure the product is great and that it’s actually delivering on what we are saying it’s going to deliver on.
The whole success and failure of the company will depend on if it is producing the kind of retention numbers that we say it does and increase the amount of service that people are seeing in these dealerships. We are going to be very focused on proving those things are true.
Introduction and transcription by Assistant Editor Kristyn Back. Interview and images by Editor-in-Chief Kiki Roeder.