Beepi sought to reduce friction in used cars sales via an online peer-to-peer marketplace that handled the hassle of listing and fulfillment handled for sellers and provided third-party transparency for wary buyers. A big part of Beepi’s bet was that their convenience and ancillary platform services could counteract the buyer’s typical need for a test drive before making a purchase. But in a world where buyers and sellers can easily multi-home, limited car inventory slows transaction liquidity, and a dearth of direct network effects made scaling in this highly capital-intensive business especially challenging, Beepi went from being a venture darling to utter dissolution in just under four years.
Here’s how Beepi works. A seller would submit basic information about his car to Beepi and await an in-person, 240-point vehicle inspection and quote. If the seller approves the quote, Beepi lists the car on its site and handles the heavy lifting of photo-taking for the listing page. If no one buys the car within 30 days, Beepi purchases it itself and then re-lists it on the site. Additionally, Beepi manages car fulfillment, delivering cars for free in California or charging between $600 and $999 out-of-state. Buyers even get a 10-day window to return the car, no questions asked. An added plus: buyers get their car delivered with a special bow stretched across the hood of the vehicle.
Assessment of the platform:
Beepi took a platform-first strategy, increasing liquidity in used car transactions for buyers and sellers and therefore enabling cross-marketplace value sharing.
Ways they created value:
- Reduced cost of transactions for sellers
- Guaranteed a higher offer price for sellers than the dealer trade-in value, a $1,000 difference in some cases
- Better customer experience vs. hard-to-trust online marketplaces like Craigslist or inconvenient, offline car dealership shopping
- Quick buyer financing offered to ease purchase friction (and drive retention and potentially additional affiliate revenue streams)
- Indirect network effects: more seller inventory attracted more buyers to the platform
Things seemed to be going great for Beepi with a projected a $6MM run rate in first year gross sales, of which it would keep its 9% take rate; 2016 was on-track for $100MM top-line. It became operational in 16 cities across Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Washington, as well as the greater Washington D.C. area. Fast forward to these past couple months, when news just surfaced about investors pulling out, a sale attempt to a competitor, Shift, followed by subsequent failed sale negotiations with adjacent players Fair.com and DGDG.
What happened? Some thoughts on challenges to scaling the platform:
- An absence of direct local network effects and inability to convert indirect network effects into direct ones likely exacerbated the capital-intensive nature of the business, driving up costs for both customer and seller acquisition – and re-acquisiton at that. One could argue that there may be some direct local network effects generated from accumulating a geographically clustered set of sellers. For example, this could lead to better infrastructure to support faster sales, i.e. deploying mechanics quickly for pre-listing vehicle inspections and delivering cars faster. But key to achieving this critical mass was accumulating enough inventory, which Beepi failed to build.
- A fundamentally illiquid market exacerbated inadequate platform liquidity. Car purchases occur infrequently, and one wonders if Beepi offered adequate vehicle inventory to drive customer engagement. Its competitor Shift recently partnered with Hertz to bolster its used vehicle supply, likely to address this very challenge.
- Low switching costs contributed to high multi-homing, which, when coupled with low network effects and illiquid market fundamentals, prevents platforms from expanding the used-car market and crowds out players like Beepi. Competitors abound with the likes of Vroom, Carvana, and Shift, some of which differentiate on offering pre-purchase test drives and richer inventory from strategic partnerships.
Ultimately, what could Beepi have done differently to compete?
In addition to the points made above on differentiating with a more holistic customer experience, one wonders if Beepi could have done more to leverage sellers as a buyer acquisition channel and vice versa. Focusing first on a hyperlocal strategy could have aided in initial cost management and brand building, though admittedly would limit the richness of available inventory. Finally, to this last point, there could be value in engaging with dealers to off-load their used car business, which contributes to expensive brick and mortar overhead. While dealers may balk at losing a key driver of their in-store business through trade-ins, I’d argue that show-rooming is already dampening revenue capture here.