Meet the man behind Wagonex, a business that envisions a world where we no longer own cars.
Wagonex was established in 2016 when entrepreneur and car enthusiast Toby Kernon came to a conclusion that the car industry is far too focused on the product as opposed to the consumer.
Wagonex is a marketplace platform that enables car manufacturers and suppliers to structure, launch and manage their own membership subscriptions, as well as their audience for distributing their product. For the everyday consumer, Wagonex believes its model offers a hassle-free alternative to ownership.
The platform was featured in the top 50 disruptive businesses of 2017 by Real Business, and has already engaged with a number of car manufacturers and fleet suppliers in countries across the world.
We caught up with Toby to find out a bit more about his background, plans for the future and the Wagonex team.
SR: Firstly, tell us a little about yourself.
Toby: My background is broadly financial and I have spent the last five years deeply involved in the startup ecosystem. I previously ran my business for ten years, co-founded a social network, became an investment director, mentor, investor and now founder. I’m a self-confessed geek, car lover and Half Ironman Triathlete.
What gave you the idea for Wagonex and what excites you about the business?
I have taken out loans, three-year lease deals, three-year PCP contracts and ‘owned’ over 20 cars. Every experience was unpleasant in one way or another. The industry has focused almost entirely on product and not the customer experience. We are seeing the industry being asked difficult questions about the future of ownership, with recent figures published that car sales in May are down 10% from last year. My belief is that the customer should be the focus and cars will become a service.
We have seen the subscription model transform numerous industries and the car industry is already moving this way. Every manufacturer and fleet manager we have spoken to agrees with us and they are looking for digital solutions, of which there are few. Wagonex has been very well received as filling a gap in an enormous space at the right time.
The most exciting advances in our business are that we are at ‘head of terms’ and under NDA with a global car manufacturer to manage their subscription offering in the UK, with a view to roll out globally. We have also agreed to work with one of the largest leasing companies in the UK – which puts over 100,000 cars on the road every year – as their subscription partner. Either of these strategic partnerships elevates our business to the next level and beyond.
How did you go about building the Wagonex team? Is there something special you look for in people before hiring?
We began by collaborating with businesses that are experts in their field. Technology, marketing, accounting, legals etc. As a result, the business has achieved a great deal in a short space of time and we are now in the process of hiring staff and building the team.
The first thing I look for is personality and whether they are a good fit for the team. Startups are typically challenging environments and difficult personalities can exaggerate this. We have a hardworking ethos and believe that celebrating every milestone is important for motivation.
Qualifications are important in the more specialist roles, but generally the very last thing we look at. More important is a broad range of skills and experiences, and the ability to adapt to any circumstance.
Toby (right) at Wagonex's recent brainstorming and ‘User Hugging’ evening.
Could you talk a bit about the Wagonex office culture – what are the dynamics of your team? Do you get along on a personal level? How has this been vital to Wagonex's success so far?
We all get along very well and this is key. Each team member has their areas of expertise and are given autonomy to a great extent. The ability to delegate and rely on your team is critical as micro-managing rarely ends well.
Our CTO and Product Manager both take it in turns to regularly challenge every aspect of the business. The focus on measuring and learning, particularly from our customers, is of the utmost importance in building a great product. We run an open product roadmap board, allowing our clients and customers to let us know of any features they would like to add. This week sees our first ‘User Hugging’ session, where we have invited ten users in to share their thoughts in return for pizza and craft ale!
Being an entrepreneur is no easy life and requires you to tackle new challenges on a daily basis. What helps you day-to-day and motivates you to keep going?
During an intense period, I stood exhausted at a train station and tried to put entrepreneurialism into words and came up with this:
‘An astonishing level of financial, emotional and mental strain under severe exhaustion testing you to the edge of sanity, survived only by those with extraordinarily thick skin and an unwavering desire to beat the odds.’
I love solving problems and driving this business to taking on a life of its own has given me great satisfaction. We have a great team that has achieved a huge amount with relatively limited resources. This funding round with allow us to take Wagonex to the next level.
Have friends and family been an important part of your journey as an entrepreneur?
I have had considerable support from family and friends, my wife in particular, without which none of this would be possible. We have a young family and the accompanying commitments that are not overly compatible with running a startup. There is rarely a resting moment and I seem to thrive in this dynamic.
What car do you personally drive and why? In an ideal world, where money, car envy and potholes aren't an issue, what car would you go for?
I currently drive the first car that hit the road through the platform: a blue Volvo XC60 D4 SE LUX NAV. It’s a great car and perfect for a family.
The car I would most like to try is the Tesla Model X. Electric is the fuel of the future and Wagonex will work towards promoting this transformation. Not to mention it has X-Wing doors! my children (and I) are massive Star Wars fans – need I say more?
Do you have any major hobbies? How do these tie in to your professional life?
Before Wagonex I spent considerable time training for Triathlons. Twelve hours a week and beyond, half marathons, open-water swimming and I found a love of the Half Ironman distance. Unfortunately, this is one of the major sacrifices made to launch Wagonex and it has been worth every minute. I still run from time to time as it helps clear your head.
What would you say has been the most important factor in your success with Wagonex so far?
Spotting an opportunity and throwing myself into it with unwavering determination helps, but the most important factor is the team and advisory network we have built.
What is your vision for Wagonex's future?
Our vision is that cars on subscription or mobility as a service will replace ownership. Wagonex will be the go-to marketplace for cars on subscription, allowing any supplier of cars to manage their fleet through our platform and use our audience for the distribution.
Wagonex is currently raising on SyndicateRoom.