By Jim Chabas and Venkat Jonnala, Wharton MBA 2013
Now that we are about to graduate, we can look back at the development of our business and we see what Wharton and school in general offers to entrepreneurs: support, guidance, time, and a network.
Venkat and I met on the Class of 2013 Wharton Facebook group while looking for roommates! Thankfully, when we moved-in and met in-person for the first time, we clicked right away. We started bouncing business ideas back and forth, and by the end of our first semester we applied with ZenKars for the Wharton Venture Initiation Program – VIP. However, thinking through the issues raised by the VIP mentors, it became apparent that we were far from being ready.
We went back to the drawing board and decided to reach out to Wharton alumni who worked in the car industry. The Wharton network was impressively responsive and helpful. We reapplied to VIP with a much stronger business model – one that is still at the heart of ZenKars. In our new model, we sell the best-priced used cars online with a peaceful buying experience by reinventing the automotive value chain. We partner directly with large commercial fleets to sell well-maintained cars at low prices through our website, bypassing traditional dealerships and auto auctions. Once we got into VIP, we eschewed a typical summer internship and focused on using VIP resources and mentorship to build our business. This decision led to a major win by the end of summer 2012 – our flagship partnership with a leading automotive firm! This was a huge boost, considering we were a very early stage company.
The momentum from the summer continued into the fall as we were accepted into DreamIt Ventures – one of the top startup accelerators in the country. With DreamIt, we got our first sliver of outside investment. More importantly, we gained access to a larger pool of mentors and investors, whose input has been crucial in guiding our business. We hit several key milestones at DreamIt – hiring our first employee, making our first sale, signing up financing and warranty partners, and more. Generating our first few thousands in revenue was a particularly thrilling moment, since it was market validation that our big idea was actually working! It was also heartening to see the similarities in the quality of companies and resources within DreamIt and VIP.
Our current focus is now on driving revenue and raising additional money. We spent much of last year tightening up the supply side of the business. Now, we want to grow out the demand side and build relationships with the investment community. Both VIP and Wharton have been very supportive of our efforts, particularly by awarding us the Snider Seed Award and setting up for-credit marketing projects with other MBA students to help us out.
Venkat Jonnala, Wharton MBA 2013, is one of the co-founders of ZenKars. He previously worked with the Boston Consulting Group in Atlanta on growth strategy and sales improvement projects in the consumer and B2B retail industries. He has an undergraduate degree in Engineering from Georgia Tech. More info at: www.linkedin.com/in/vjonnala.
Jean-Mathieu (Jim) Chabas, Wharton MBA 2013, is one of the co-founders of ZenKars. He previously founded Premium Energy in 2009 – a renewable energy company that installs solar systems for individual and small businesses. In 2008, he co-founded GotInterns.com, an online platform for companies to find high quality interns and for students to find internships. Jim holds a Masters degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois. More info at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jmchabas.