Tom Maton & Niall St John, Co-Founders of Driver Buddy tell us about car ownership.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tom Maton: Thanks for asking. We’ve been very fortunate that I’ve still been able to work, and my wife has been able to do the homeschooling with my 6-year-old boy whilst my daughter has been lucky enough to still be able to attend nursery.
Niall St John: It’s been a difficult time for everyone worldwide. We are fortunate in that we already worked from home, and our work and business have been largely unaffected by the pandemic, unlike many other families. The main struggle has been combining working from home and having two young children to manage at the same time.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Driver Buddy.
Tom Maton: I’ve been developing websites/intranets for over 20 years now, ranging from facilities management intranets to working with large international companies like Nike, Nivea, BMW, Audi, Mont Blanc, Just Eat, and some national companies such as EONNext, cinch. I’m currently still working as a contractor via my own company (Top Ginger) whilst working on Driver Buddy.
Niall St John: I fell in love with website design after finishing my degree in Computer Science at the University of Nottingham. I worked for various agencies in the midlands and in London before setting up my own website design company with my wife (a graphic, digital, and stationery designer). In the past 9 years, I’ve built many websites for clients all over the country, as well as having contracts with some of the world’s largest tech companies, including eBay.
Niall St John and Tom Maton: Together, we developed Driver Buddy as we both have a passion for all things automotive. Over the years, we have both had a range of vehicles that could both put a smile on your face or even make you cringe! However, one thing we’ve both noticed whilst owning the cars was the huge amounts of paperwork we’ve collected, which, when selling, just gets passed on from seller to seller. So our plan is to digitize this so you can simply transfer ownership, and when doing so, you also instantly transfer all the documents with it seamlessly. This has also allowed us to pivot to create Buddy Policing (stolen vehicle notifications). When a vehicle is stolen from one of our members, we send out instant notifications to everyone on our email list, socials, widgets, and API’s to make the vehicle too hot to handle by the thieves.
How does Driver Buddy innovate?
Tom Maton: Being a small lean startup in comparison to our competitors, we’ve been able to start from the ground up using the latest tech, which helps us with things like adding new functionality, productivity, and onboarding people. An example of this is the use of IAC (Infrastructure As Code), this allows us to easily spin up identical environments from production quickly for us to test out new ideas and get them out quicker than perhaps our competitors rather than debate them for hours, go through a ton of red tape and internal politics.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Niall St John: To date, we are completely self-funded. Everything we have built so far, from hosting and infrastructure to our Driver Buddy blog, we’ve 100% funded ourselves. We believe in the business and are confident that once we launch and build up a community of happy, satisfied users, we will be able to build on this to create a viable, profitable business which can scale.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Tom Maton: Being just the two of us, we have tried to do as much as we can without outsourcing. However, writing the web application and corporate website, as well as setting up the infrastructure, we realized that we needed a little bit of extra help. With this in mind, we brought in an experienced devops engineer who is building the new Driver Buddy infrastructure to replace the current corporate site and app using IAC so we can easily scale and deploy at ease. So the real lesson we learnt was that we can’t do everything ourselves and need to get the right people in for the job to really scale Driver Buddy.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Tom Maton: We’re fortunate enough to already be set up to work as a fully remote company. With myself based in Essex, Niall based in Newark, and other team members based in Bristol. We use a couple of communication tools; Slack for channel-specific communications and automated notifications about the network and Zoom for meetings, as well as some pair programming or knowledge sharing. Other tools in our armory are 1. Github, to keep all our code nice and safe 2. Trello, to create tickets for different aspects of the business 3. Zapier, we use this to help with a lot of tasks which can be automated, saving us time.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Niall St John: Our major competitor (probably the largest automotive group in the UK) is the AA and their automyze app. Being a smaller, leaner company, we don’t have any corporate red tape or policies (which we want to keep) to prevent us from innovating new ideas or implementing new technologies. It also has no sense of community, which we believe will be at the heart of the Driver Buddy network, one of them being the Buddy Policing, which notifies all users when a fellow Driver Buddy user has marked their vehicle as stolen.
Your final thoughts?
Tom Maton: Even though the past year was difficult for everyone and meant we had to delay the launch of our app, as well as postpone the reviews on our blog for a number of months due to our writers not having access to cars throughout various lockdowns, we’ve actually turned it around to our benefit by getting a Devops on board. This has allowed us to add in additional functionality and build our network of partners ready for our new launch date this quarter.