He is one of the most influential entrepreneurs of our time. He embodies the spirit of what is possible. He’s smart. Humble. Disruptive. Respectful. Accessible. And incredibly successful. If we do our job well, we’re one or two of these things on a good day. Rarely are we all of them. So we are honored to feature Mark as our cover profile in the inaugural issue of Connect, the TrueCar magazine created exclusively for our TrueCar Certified Dealers.
As we move into our future as a company committed to making car buying simple, fair, and fun, it’s hard to ignore that Millennials are finally starting to become the economic force in automotive that we always hoped they would be. They arrived with a bit of a fizzle in 2013. In 2015, the confluence of a rebounding economy and the fact that members of Gen Y are now having kids has moved them into the second largest car buying demographic, displacing Gen X. They are the first digital natives. They grew up using technology, and they’ll be using TrueCar on their mobile phones to connect with the rare group of dealers that you are. Hence our name: Connect. We dedicate this issue of Connect to all TrueCar Certified Dealers. You are changing the way consumers buy cars and are paving the way for the next generation of car buyers.
Lucas: Thanks for being such a champion of TrueCar over the years. Let’s talk about the young car buyers coming up. The economy seems to be recovering. Twenty somethings were out of the economy for awhile, large in numbers, less influential in automotive. But now we are looking at an economy where there are opportunities for them, and that is going to impact their car buying behavior. How does this new generation of buyers differ from their grandparents and parents?
Mark: For the parents of Millennials the goal was to get out of the house and get a car. Now there isn’t quite the rush to get out of the house. The desire to get a new car, however, has not changed. If you are living at home, you need your own car. You are your car. It is your brand and the star of social media. So the world has certainly changed and I think it’s for the better for car sales.
LD: Over the last year, TrueCar traffic has shifted from 100% desktop to almost 50% mobile. How do you see mobile transforming how we purchase and act as consumers?
M: I think mobile increases the confidence that people have when buying a car. It used to be you would print out what you found on TrueCar. Now you can take it with you and check pricing and buy a car with much more confidence than before. Plus, it’s cool and exciting to pull out your phone. Pulling out a printout, not so much.
LD: Transparency has been a hallmark of the TrueCar brand. How will data and technology enable greater degrees of transparency? How important is that to the Millennial generation?
M: Millennials trust companies that are who they say they are. There is such an enormous feedback loop for Millennials that if you are not authentic, as TrueCar is, they find out very quickly and abandon you even faster. TrueCar actually is the definition of transparency. It gives you market information that you need for a purchase. Being at the center of the feedback loop is exactly why TrueCar is of so much value.
LD: Do you buy that Millennials are more values-based and purpose-driven as consumers? Is it important for companies to stand for more than just turning a profit?
M: They are. I see far too many business proposals, and without question making a contribution to society is important to Millennials. They are willing to give up a share of profits and gear their businesses toward a cause. I think a company that focuses on Millennials needs to make it clear what its corporate mission is and how it looks to impact the world.
LD: The world is changing quickly. It’s easy to feel obsolete if you aren’t a kid these days. What will the secret be to surviving in a hyper-connected world if you aren’t at the bleeding edge of technology?
M: Don’t stress. If the tech is valuable to you, it will find you and you won’t have to think twice.
LD: Shifting gears to how we reach consumers.
At TrueCar, we currently use television as one of our biggest and, ironically, most efficient customer acquisition channels. How do you see television and media consumption in general changing over the next several years?
M: My partner and I essentially started the streaming business back in 1995 with a company called AudioNet. Our mantra back then was the same as it is today. Bits are bits. They don’t care what they contain, whether it’s audio, video, or data. They all can be transported via wires or wirelessly to any digital device. The point being that we will consume what’s available to us in the way we most like to consume it. It may come from a digital radio station, it may come from a Wi-Fi connection, it really doesn’t matter. We may call it radio, television, Internet, it really doesn’t matter. Content we love will find a way to us in a manner that makes us happy. It always has and always will!
LD: In your book, How to Win at the Sport of Business, you mention the cars you owned as a barometer of where you were in your life at the time of ownership. Can you talk about the role that cars play in American culture and specifically in your life?
M: Cars are about enjoyment and branding. You want to enjoy riding in your car, and you want it to send the right message when people see you get in or out and when it shows up in your social media. For me, I love to drive. Just to get on the road and think about whatever I need to think about without interruption. It also gives me a chance to be by myself. Every now and then I need a break. My Lexus Hybrid is where I find that getaway to relax and enjoy the ride.
LD: Thanks, Mark. America has a love affair with cars. Our next TV campaign is called “TrueJoy,” and it is based on the thesis that the future of car buying can be as joyful as driving.