INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
How Fair is Changing the Game in Auto
We talked to Brad Stewart of Fair on how the app is making the automotive experience more equitable, fun and fair.
First of all, how are you and your family doing during these COVID-19 times?
Brad Stewart: Well, we’re all healthy so far – and I’m incredibly thankful for that. At the same time, we recognize that a lot of families have experienced significant COVID-related challenges, even tragedy. So in every sense, we know we’re lucky that our changed reality has largely revolved around living a much simpler life than we did before. We’ve suspended a lot of the active planning that used to run through our lives and are trying to live more in the present while leaning into the understanding that there are a lot of things we can do as a family that don’t involve travel and being constantly on the move.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Fair.
Brad Stewart: Sure. I joined Fair as CEO this spring after five years as chief executive at aviation startup XOJet. While the companies operate in very different spaces, both are focused on providing consumers with better mobility options despite the historically inaccessible entry points inherent in both industries.
I was also lucky enough to join both companies at key inflection points, when alignment on the underlying idea had been achieved, and our focus needed to shift to a strategy for sustainable growth. Beyond that, though, I think what really drew me to Fair was the opportunity to truly change how people do something.
We have a chance to scale our platform to the point it can be a catalyst for a fundamental shift in the automotive experience, which I find very exciting. I have a deep interest in diagnosing broken systems and putting together a team that can transform them. It was a dynamic I was introduced to in my 20s during my initial professional experiences in consulting, and which became a personal passion of mine when I went into the private equity world and got to be part of a number of successful turnarounds. And there’s no consumer experience that needs to be turned around more than how we get our cars.
How does Fair innovate?
Brad Stewart: Fair is out to transform the automotive experience by redefining every aspect of the relationship between people and cars: how we get them, how we pay for them, and how we drive them.
We’re currently the world’s leading used car transaction and financing marketplace because nobody else is offering a truly digital end-to-end experience in automotive. After all, even the slickest website for auto sales is going to eventually leave most people having to line up outside financing – a missing link that’s historically prevented a true “click it and get it” experience when it comes to getting a car digitally.
Fair is the first platform to address this by allowing a customer to perform all the steps of getting a car in one place: They can shop for it, sign for it, set up payments, and arrange for delivery or pickup completely digitally. The entire process is paperless and negotiation-free, with no financing required. And the best part is that the customer can choose how exactly long they want to drive their Fair car: either month-to-month or on a 2-year or 3-year lease for a lower monthly payment.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping/adjusting?
Brad Stewart: First of all, there’s been a real acceleration in digital-first consumer habits in the auto. Just a few months ago, it may have felt novel or even strange to tap a few buttons on your phone and have a car show up in your driveway. Now, it’s just how the world works. The pandemic has also served as a reminder that our cars remain a safe and endlessly convenient mobility option. You simply no longer hear the argument that cars will go away due to some combination of ridesharing and mass transit. So in both those regards, Fair is very well-positioned. We’re hitting all of our growth goals and have very high hopes for this company going forward – even as we continue to take the difficulties presented by COVID-19 day by day.
In terms of our operations, we’ve been able to persevere through the pandemic with no real setbacks. We went to a 100% remote work environment back in March, which continues to work well despite the serious circumstances. And while there are no doubt some people who are eager to get back into the office simply as a matter of getting back to life, we’re in no real rush to do so. Sure, it’s clunky and slightly dehumanizing to interact through a screen, but we’re all learning new skills and have been encouraged that we’ve been able to make this unexpected operational pivot.
Did you have to make any difficult choices? If so, what are the lessons learned?
Brad Stewart: No real difficult choices tied to COVID-19. Of course, when we closed our offices back in March, none of us really knew what to expect. After all, this is a critical year for our business, and we all had a lot of questions about how things were going to work. Were we going to be able to do the things we need to for this business to succeed? Were people even going to get cars amid all the economic uncertainty our country is experiencing? But I’m really thrilled with how our team has responded to the challenge of not being together every day. We’ve learned that with a common purpose, personal accountability and a lot of Zoom calls, anything is possible.
How are you positioning Fair for the future?
Brad Stewart: I want Fair to be a top-of-mind experience for anyone who wants a used car – period. Now, to do that, we have to offer a highly curated selection of cars that’s broader, deeper, and more thoughtfully presented than any other place. And that needs to be backed by a world-class digital shopping experience, AI-driven merchandising, and a product suite that fits the lifestyle of any conceivable auto customer.
In that regard, I think there’s a realistic scenario where we expand beyond used car leases and give customers multiple financial options for accessing the car they want. After all, for every college kid who needs a flexible way to drive for a year, there’s someone who wants to buy a car outright and drive it for 5 or 6 years. And if we can get that person to trade that car back into Fair when they’re done and put that car back on our app under more flexible financing terms. In that case, we could conceivably connect a consumer with a vehicle at every phase of its life cycle – from new to nearly new, from subscriptions to leases to loans.
In the meantime, of course, we have to keep building trust with our customers by driving efficiencies and pursuing innovations that benefit them. We have to ensure that our dealer partners continue to meet our transaction, delivery and conditioning standards. And we have to continue developing our tech-backed underwriting process, which will allow us to assess risk more accurately than our competitors and pass the real value on to the consumer.
In the end, it all comes down to consumer empowerment. We want to educate our customers about the vagaries of the car industry and create a beautiful and straightforward platform that makes Fair their first stop when they’re even thinking about getting a car.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game long-term?
Brad Stewart: The beautiful thing about Fair’s business model is that almost anyone you could point to as a possible competitor could also be our ideal partner. The best example of this would be auto dealers, who actually supply all the cars on our platform. After all, a Fair transaction represents a sale for them – and that’s equally true for even the most cutting-edge dealer models out there, from Carvana to Vroom to CarMax and beyond.
In fact, many of our deals actually come indirectly from dealers who present Fair as a financing option to a customer who may have walked into their showroom having no idea who we are. In this scenario, Fair is listed alongside all the financing options the customer has for buying the car outright. And if they have a need for flexibility – or just aren’t interested in being locked into a car loan for an average of six years – they can use Fair to lease the car for as long as they choose.
At the end of the day, the only competitor I’m focused on is the traditional way of getting a car.
Any final thoughts?
Just that I hope everyone stays healthy and looks out for one another. I think our society is interacting in a way that isn’t super constructive right now, and we need to embrace humility and rediscover our sense of unity. Yes, this moment definitely feels uniquely scary to many of us. But we’ve confronted big challenges as a society before, and I’m confident we’ll do the same here.
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