Shop-Ware has been waiting for a year like 2020 since 2015.
The startup, which sells software to neighborhood automotive shops to digitize their operations, had struggled to capture capital from venture firms. Until recently, its sole major investor was aftermarket automotive giant Bosch.
For companies like Shop-Ware, the disruptive wake of COVID-19 has cleared a path to capital as mainstream investors have sought out startups with services and products needed in the pandemic era. Investors finally get Shop-Ware founder Carolyn Coquillette’s vision and business. Their endorsement: $15 million in funding through a Series A round led by Insight Partners.
“It’s a different level of validation in terms of this industry going through a transition and catching the eye of traditional investors,” Coquillette said.
Coquillette says Shop-Ware will use the funds to fuel growth across its operations, sales and marketing teams.
The fresh capital comes as Shop-Ware has tripled its customer base while also lowering churn, Coquillette said, although she would not disclose total revenue numbers or whether the company is profitable.
The idea of Shop-Ware began when Coquillette started her own San Francisco-based auto shop, Luscious Garage, in 2007. The goal from the get-go was to offer customers a peek into what happens in an auto shop. It meant more communications from the repair-person to the car-owner, and a software platform was the best way to do it. Eventually, the push for modernized software became less of an in-house project and more of a standalone company. By 2015, she had a product and an incorporated company.
Shop-Ware helps auto-repair shops streamline operations both inside and out of the shop. Auto-repair shops are able to use Shop-Ware to track employee hours, inventory ordering and management and integrate with third-party tools such as QuickBooks. Shop-Ware also helps the neighborhood auto-repair worker communicate and charge customers through text or a web-based interface.
The intricacies of car ownership are something that Coquillette thinks the average consumer doesn’t understand, so she built an entire business around adding more transparency to the clunky process.
“There is no way that a normal person is going to appreciate what it takes to fix their car,” Coquillette said. “The car is built to distract you and hide its complication for you by design so that you agree to buy it.” In other words, she says, you’re buying a “magic carpet.”
It’s an easy pitch for the most part, the founder says.
“Everybody who owns the car has gone to a repair shop and had an unsavory experience,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious to be like ‘oh yeah, you can make that experience less unsavory.’ ”
The real roadblock for the startup is convincing a business to adopt technology to change a process that isn’t technically broken. COVID-19 has been the impetus for auto shops — some of which have been steadfast in their pen-and-paper approach — to turn to a digital platform to communicate and operate.
The sector of digitizing auto-repair processes has grown considerably since Shop-Ware first launched five years ago.
Concierge startups such as CarDash and Wrench have popped up over the past several years to give customers an easier way to request maintenance checks. The services consolidate auto repair shops under one approachable umbrella, which Coquillette thinks is the wrong approach.
“I’m a real big believer that you need to enable those independent providers,” she said. “You have to basically let those special snowflakes be their own snowflakes.”
A closer competitor to Shop-Ware is Shopmonkey, which raised a $25 million Bessemer-led Series B in August. It is welcome competition, Coquillette remarks, because it has put an investment spotlight on the category.
“There’s been a wake-up call around autonomy and how we related to our cars,” she said.
Now it’s up to Shop-Ware to take that wakeup call and turn it into cash.