Startup University @ Collision: Lessons Learned from Co-Founding TradeRev

This week, Toronto hosted Collision Conference — a massive tech conference drawing more than 25,000 attendees and featuring hundreds of speakers across 17 tracks. Today, I had the privilege of delivering the opening keynote kicking off the Startup University stage. I shared three counter-intuitive lessons I learned from co-founding TradeRev — and that I wish someone had told me in 2009. Looking back, these lessons are also applicable to how any of us across TradeRev and the entire KAR family of companies approach the work we do, each and every day. Read the highlights below or watch the video at the end.

Lesson 1: Confidence

Assume you’ll be successful — but accept that you’ll never be finished.

Doubt will hold you back. If you don’t believe in yourself and your idea, no one else will. It’s up to you to stay positive and be your own champion. That means setting stretch goals, and then building a plan to get there.

But it’s also important to realize that your work doesn’t end as you reach each milestone and achieve each goal. When we started TradeRev, that holy grail goal for me was 1,000 cars sold in a month. Well, we passed that a long time ago — and just last month, we hit another important goal: 1,000 cars sold in a single day. But now I know: success is a journey, not an end. Celebrate each win, but then it’s time to buckle down for the next one.

Lesson 2: Culture

Money isn’t the most important thing — values and culture are.

When we started TradeRev, companies like Facebook and Amazon were just taking off. So it was easy to fall into the trap of only measuring success based on valuation and money. But I soon learned the importance of growing and scaling at the right pace — and that money can’t be your only focus. You also need to have the right people on your team, who can help you make the right decisions in the right way.

In 2014, TradeRev found the right partner in KAR — a partner who gave us more than money and challenged us to grow and scale in the right way, starting by defining our culture. The result? TradeRev’s #FHAB values: Fun, Honest, Accountable and Brave. Looking around our offices now, it’s hard to believe that FHAB wasn’t always part of who we are. But today, FHAB is what grounds every single TradeRev employee and helps ensure that together, we are successful.

Lesson 3: Focus

Don’t get distracted — focus on one problem.

We all have amazing ideas, but what separates success from failure isn’t just execution — it’s focus. When you start, you may find many applications for your product, and one of your most important jobs is to prioritize your focus. Sometimes the hardest decisions are the opportunities you have to backburner or even turn down.

When TradeRev first gained traction, we were approached by people in real estate, wine and even wholesale fish sales. Everyone thought TradeRev could be the next big thing for their industry, too, and we briefly let the pursuit of also building a generalized, real-time, mobile auction distract us from our primary customers and core competency of solving the wholesale automotive problem.

Lost focus has an opportunity cost. Maintain focus and stay the course — and your team will do great things.

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