Former car salesman-turned-startup founder Andrew Lemoine says he’s kickstarting a technological revolution in an industry that’s been stuck in neutral for far too long.
Lemoine is the co-founder and CEO of Autocorp.ai, a three-year-old company that’s aiming to upend the way cars are financed in North America. The firm’s subscription-based software taps into credit bureau Equifax’s database to provide real-time access to a buyer’s credit history, allowing dealerships to quickly assess whether a loan is likely to be approved and what the terms will be before a consumer signs on the dotted line.
That might seem like common sense, but Lemoine says it’s anything but common in the car financing business. While the products that roll off the assembly line now feature all manner of cutting-edge technology – with cars literally capable of parking themselves – the way they’re bought and paid for has remained fundamentally unchanged since seat belts were still a novelty and tail fins were all the rage.
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“Our industry, for whatever reason, has always been totally backwards when it comes to financing,” the 34-year-old says. “Financing is traditionally the very last thing you do when you buy a car.”
Lemoine notes that the average car buyer in Canada spends almost 20 hours researching the vehicle they want to buy and pricing out various models before heading to a store. Once they get there, they typically devote another three and a half hours to consulting with sales staff and managers as they zero in on exactly which car they want.
Only then, he says – after nearly a full day’s effort – does the subject of how to pay for their new wheels get broached.
As a result, a buyer who thought he was getting a great deal might find himself suddenly shifting gears when, for example, he finds out he doesn’t qualify for zero per cent financing after all.
That’s where Autocorp.ai comes in. The startup wants to make it quick and easy to assess a buyer’s creditworthiness before he or she sets foot in the showroom, saving both sides time and potential disappointment down the line.
“There was this huge disconnect between folks who were shopping for cars online and then when they’d actually walk into a physical location,” Lemoine says. “That experience was very broken.”
The Ottawa native grew up in the business, landing his first job washing cars at a local Volkswagen dealership when he was 16. Within six months, he was selling them, and before long he was the dealer’s top salesperson. By his mid-twenties, Lemoine had been promoted to general manager and director of operations at Ottawa’s March Auto Group.
He could have simply stayed on that road and steered his way to a comfortable pension. But, frustrated by what he calls the industry’s “archaic” approach to financing, Lemoine decided to abandon the security of a career in auto retail for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.
In 2019, he teamed up with partners Josh Elias and Jason Groulx to launch his new venture. Elias was a skilled software designer. Groulx, meanwhile, was executive chef at the Shore Club and impressed Lemoine with his ability to calmly manage dozens of people amid the chaos of a busy kitchen – a talent that made him the perfect fit for the role of VP of operations.
A year later, Toronto-based Kole Hicks, the former VP of marketing at car service software platform AutoServe1, came on board as chief revenue officer.
The founders spent two and a half years honing the platform and cultivating their partnership with Equifax, a key relationship that sees the firms collaborate on “soft-pull” technology that allows dealers to conduct credit checks without negatively affecting buyers’ credit scores.
To seal that deal, Autocorp had to prove it could meet the global credit reporting agency’s rigorous legal, security and compliance standards. Lemoine says it was no mean feat.
“We were doing something that had never been done before in our country,” he explains.
“There’s so many times where you ask yourself, ‘Is this even worth it?’ You’ve got to just wake up every day and reaffirm your mission.”
“There’s so many times where you ask yourself, ‘Is this even worth it?’ You’ve got to just wake up every day and reaffirm your mission. It’s got to be that excitement that pulls you out of bed or you’re going to give up.”
In January 2021, the software was finally ready to hit the market. By then, the pandemic had forced the car industry to hit the gas pedal on its transition to e-commerce as dealers across North America were forced to shut their showroom doors.
More than 300 dealers across Canada have since signed on to Autocorp’s platform, and the company cracked the $1-million mark in annual recurring revenues in its first year.
But Lemoine says the firm is still at the starting line.
He expects the software to be a fixture in more than 1,000 dealerships nationwide by the end of 2022. Autocorp is eyeing a move into the U.S. market this summer, and Lemoine says the company is on pace for a five- to sevenfold increase in revenues in its second year.
The company helped car buyers land more than $100 million in loans last year, a figure Lemoine expects will balloon to $1 billion in the not-too-distant future.
Eyeing VC investors
“We’re really just at that hockey-stick-growth stage,” he says.
Now at 31 employees, the venture was initially fuelled by less than $1 million in seed capital from friends, family and the founders themselves. Lemoine says Autocorp is close to finalizing a larger round funded by investors that include Canadian and U.S. venture capital firms as well as prominent local angels.
Meanwhile, the company keeps fine-tuning its products. It’s now developing an app that will let consumers verify their income, driver’s licence and other information on their smartphone, and it’s also working on integrating major banks into the platform so loans can be approved faster and more efficiently.
The software has caught the eye of related retailers such as snowmobile and boat dealerships, Lemoine adds. But even though he says the platform could easily be adapted for such customers, for now he and his partners are happy to stay in their current lane.
“We have a pretty aggressive focus right now on the automotive industry,” Lemoine says. “It’s the industry we know the most and that we’re seeing the most growth for.
“This model 100 per cent is going to become the default model. We hope that obviously we can get as much market share (as possible) because we really feel like we pioneered a lot of this.”