TLabs Reprise - AutoSlash 12 months onNewsBy Kevin May | February 20, 2012Share This article was originally published on AutoSlash is a US-based car rental search and deal platform, which first featured on Tnooz in June 2010 [TLabs Showcase - AutoSlash].So what happened in the intervening 12 months?Are you making money yet?Yes, our revenues are very healthy, but we’re pouring all of the money back in to the business to continue to expand like an early stage business should.We’ve been very fortunate to be able to bootstrap the business by following the lean startup model.This gives us the freedom to do what’s right for the long term success of the business, as opposed to having to focus on shortcuts to accelerate ROI.What has been the biggest problem - building the product/service or marketing it to consumers/travel industry?The biggest problem we face is helping consumers to understand that the price they originally book at is only a starting point.Many people come to our site and see the same rates they see on other sites and dismiss us as not providing any better deals. Unfortunately, they may be leaving money on the table, because AutoSlash works its magic *after* the customer books their rental.The rates shown on the site are un-discounted. The way AutoSlash works is that once you book, we work to apply coupons and discounts to lower your rate.Our system can very quickly determine the optimal discount codes to get you the lowest possible rate. Many of our customers receive a price reduction in the first 24 hours after booking.Then we'll re-price your rental multiple times a day. If rates drop or we find a better discount code, we'll automatically re-book you to take advantage of the savings. It's like price protection for your rental. We do this all for free.The major issue is that if the customer doesn’t take a couple of minutes to read the information on our site, they miss this nuance and probably end up overpaying somewhere else.Biggest assumption in the business plan that was wrong?Probably that all of the rental companies would be happy for the additional business and would work with us as partners.We have been fortunate to have some great partners in Hertz, Dollar/Thrifty, Fox, Advantage and numerous others. Some of the other major brands however have not warmed to the idea as described in this recent article in the New York Times.Our growth in recent months has been brisk. Consumers don’t seem to notice or mind the lack of the other majors since we have a great selection of partners to choose from.Our current partners are obviously benefiting from the increase in business. We would love to work with all the industry players though, so we hope that they will see the light and come around eventually.In the meantime, we’re continuing to grow along with our current partners.Is your current customer base as predicted?Yes, we expected it to be 90% leisure travellers and about 10% business. We have been surprised though at the number of businesses that have adopted us in recent months.We have a number of companies that have started booking all of their employee travel with us, and this was without any formal contact between us and the companies themselves.One day, bookings just started appearing from a certain business domain name from either a travel coordinator at the company or individual employees, and they never stopped.Clearly this is an untapped market, so we expect our business mix to be shift over time.Did you achieve your 12 month goals? If not, why not?We have. It’s actually been around 20 months since we were profiled in Tnooz TLabs.The first 12 months were definitely challenging from both a business operations standpoint as well as a customer acquisition standpoint.Things kept progressing though, and about 15 months in it really began to pick up.Growth over the last few months has been nothing short of spectacular thanks to the very positive press we’ve received as well as great word-of-mouth from our customers.Has the problem you were trying to solve changed?It has not changed a bit. We started out with the question: "How can consumers get a great deal on a car rental without having to do a lot of work?"I’m pleased to say that we were on target with our original hypothesis that this was a real issue for consumers, and that they would warm to an easy solution.Once customers realized there was an easier way, they totally bought in, but there was and still is a challenge of educating those not familiar with our service what we bring to the table.Which startup that has launched in the past 12 months did you think "Ah, wish we had done that!"?I’m going to cheat on this one and pick DropBox which has been around for a while. It’s the essence of simplicity, amazingly useful, and it fills a need most people didn’t even know they had—have all of your files accessible everywhere all the time.Making things incredible simple yet incredibly useful at the same time is an art in itself. It’s something we strive for at AutoSlash every day.If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?It would probably be not to get discouraged or frustrated. There were some difficult times in the early days, and it would have been easy to pack it in and go do something else.Thankfully I was fortunate that my amazing co-founder Mike Miller was there to prop me up when things looked bleak. Anyone who launches a start-up on their own without a great co-founder is either superman or crazy.I can’t stress this point enough. AutoSlash would not have made it without both of us doing what we do best and supporting each other along the way.NB: Tnooz launched TLab Showcase in March 2010, a dedicated channel to give startups in the travel, tourism and hospitality sector an opportunity to explain their vision, company background and strategy to a wider audience.As well as publishing an elevator pitch-type questionnaire for each business, Tnooz committed to following up with each startup after 12 months or so to see how well (or not) each performed. NB2: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.