- March 15,2000
A Startup That
Already Has a Track Record:
evolves from a part-time hobby to an e-commerce initiative
Mike Levine started
PickupTruck.com as a college project in 1995. In Internet time, 1995 was
the dark ages -- characterized by gray pages, text in Courier font, and
a decided lack of design flair -- and there was little competition for
eyeballs. Web pages numbered in the tens of thousands rather than the
hundreds of millions of sites that are online today. Soon after its launch,
PickupTruck.com was selected as a Cool Site of the Day, and Levine says
he was flooded with traffic. Despite that encouragement, the site didn't
claim much of his attention. He updated the site when he had free time,
generally every few months, but he had two strong points in his favor.
He had the foresight to buy the domain name, and PickupTruck.com maintained
a steady flow of traffic.
After college, Levine
went to work for IBM and was also involved in the L.A. Times Web launch.
But in January 1999, he scored media credentials for the Detroit auto
show, took a few days off from work, and provided almost-live updates
of truck news that he posted at his site. The tremendous response was
one of those epiphany events. Instead of viewing the site as a hobby,
Levine began to think of it in terms of a full-time enterprise. He had
a business plan by March, he and his partners decided to incorporate in
June, and by September, they had their strategy and time frame nailed
Site features include
a range of articles, aggregated news, forums, and chat. The articles and
forums, Levine says are quite popular, and visitors provide good word
of mouth, often promoting the original articles at other enthusiast forums.
Chat is a new offering and is a "little slow" right now, Levine says.
But plans are underway to sponsor special chat events that the company
expects will draw more participants. The irregular update schedule of
past years has been replaced by content refreshes every two to three days.
Earlier this month,
PickupTruck.com launched its e-commerce section featuring outdoor gear,
towing accessories, upgrades, and repair manuals for more than 20 pickup
truck models. Although the current store represents a modest beginning,
Levine, who is president of the company, says that once the company gets
a feel for the types of products consumers want, they will begin building
out categories and expanding the offerings. The company's nine full-time
employees have been working on the e-commerce implementation since November,
having had to manually enter the catalog information displayed in the
Shop @ PickupTruck.com store. The bootstrap operation handles its own
warehousing and fulfillment.
The store joins existing
partners and revenue producers CarsDirect.com, InsWeb.com, E-Loan, and
1Source Auto Warranty.com. Levine says that he approached a number of
online buying services about establishing a strategic partnership for
new-vehicle sales, but that Cars.Direct.com "was the most enthusiastic."
He said that that the CarsDirect.com deal is commission based, but admits
that he doesn't "expect to make a ton of money." However, the new-vehicle
buying service provided by CarsDirect.com fits the corporate strategy
of making PickupTruck.com a "one-stop shop" for truck enthusiasts. Levine
acknowledged that the company is currently evaluating potential partners
for used-vehicle sales, but says that "nothing has been signed yet." A
deal is also in the works to provide third-party comparison data at the
site within the next three to four weeks, but Levine was unwilling to
comment on the negotiations except to say that in an effort to keep the
costs low, the company is exploring the option of doing a swap for the
As with all startups,
money is an issue. PickupTruck.com recently completed its first round
of financing, raising just over $1 million from private and family investors.
The company is currently in a second round that it hopes to close by April.
This time, the pitches are to venture capital firms. Much of the money
will be used to upgrade the infrastructure and provide customization options
at the site, but advertising is also in the budget. Its longevity has
given PickupTruck.com prominent placement in the search engines, and Levine
says the company is looking at the link exchanges, considering a NASCAR
sponsorship, and evaluating the potential of banner ads.
In the meantime,
Jay Weinberg, vice president of marketing, says that the site is now getting
close to 200,000 unique visits per month, and time on site and repeat
visits are high. The average visitor spends 13 to 14 minutes at the site
and has visited 5 to 6 times in the past. The demographic is a niche marketer's
dream. The age range is 33 to the early 40s, and the average income is
$55,000 to $75,000.
Levine is enthusiastic
about the site's potential. Explaining that the principals have worked
for other dotcoms, have a thorough grounding in e-commerce, and know the
pains of startup fever, he says, "The part that makes it passionate is
that we like trucks and this is for ourselves."