Kieran O'Brien, Shopgenie: Supercharging Auto Repair Shops

Kieran O'Brien is the Founder and CEO of Shopgenie, an all-in-one platform for independent auto repair shops.
February 25, 2024
Facebook LogoTwitter Icon
Black LinkedIn Icon

Company Snapshot

Shopgenie is an all-in-one auto repair shop CRM.

  • Founded: 2022
  • Headquarters: Scottsdale, Arizona (remote-friendly)
  • Notable Investors: TechNexus, Antigravity Capital, Shaan Puri, Sahil Bloom, Codie Sanchez

Send your resume to careers@shopgenie.io to work at Shopgenie.

What I like about Shopgenie

With ~280,000 shops in the United States, the independent auto repair industry is experiencing massive consolidation. According to a survey conducted in 2019 of 36,000 independent auto repair shop owners, more than half expect to retire within the next nine years. Of those retiring, 52% intend to sell the business, 26% plan to pass it down to a family member, and 17% to close the business entirely. Private equity firms will be the largest buyers, but more relevant to Shopgenie, the new owners will likely adopt technology to solve their most significant problem — creating a better customer experience. 68% of customers have encountered negative opinions or mistrust of repair shops.

In my interview with Kieran, he gave a great example of how auto repair shops can use Shopgenie to meet the needs of their customers better and demonstrated that he understands the nuances of their problems. When discussing Shopgenie’s AI technology, called Jasmine AI, he shared how auto repair shops will be able to offload all the manual work of getting the car to the shop, so the “in-person interactions become a priority” for the employees instead of “always [being] on the phone or typing on a keyboard [where] they’re inherently neglecting the customer in the shop.” I really appreciated the framing of the solution. Shopgenie doesn’t intend for their technology to replace jobs — something auto repair shop owners would be reluctant to adopt – but instead help them do their jobs better by letting them refocus on what they do best: provide exceptional service to their customers.

When I think about Shopgenie and what they could accomplish, I can’t help but draw comparisons to another startup with a commendable mission, Slice. Slice empowers independent pizzerias to compete with heavyweight chains, like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, etc., by giving them access to the same tech and services at an affordable cost. Slice was founded in 2010, serves 19,000 pizzerias, and just raised a $40 million Series D with participation from Cross Creek, KKR, GGV Capital, and Primary Ventures. With a similar suite of products — website, marketing, scheduling, reviews, etc. – Shopgenie could do what Slice did for independent pizzerias for independent auto repair shops. 

Kieran (2nd from the right) with some of the Shopgenie team

Shopgenie is off to a strong start — hitting $1 million in ARR in 102 days – and when you speak with Kieran, it’s easy to see why. The way I would describe him is extremely customer-centric and focused. When I asked him about adjacent opportunities to expand into, he pushed back. He told me they are entirely focused on the opportunity in front of them now — serving independent auto repair shops to the best of their ability. In a world easily distracted by new opportunities, I found it refreshing to hear about his commitment to solving this problem set for this customer alone. Kieran and his co-founder Cayden have been focused on this long before Shopgenie started, a major reason why this seems natural and genuine. Kieran and Cayden ran a marketing agency that helped 300+ automotive shops grow, and before that, Kieran worked at the front desk of an auto repair shop. Shopgenie is just getting started, and they have a long way to go to accomplish their mission, but I can’t help but find myself rooting for them.

Interview Transcription

KR: Hey, Kieran, thanks for joining me today. Can you introduce who you are and what Shopgenie is?

KO:  My name is Kieran O'Brien. I am 24 years old. I am the founder and CEO of Shopgenie. We're an all-in-one customer experience platform for the automotive repair industry. We're a vertical SaaS company that started a little over a year ago. We were in stealth mode for about six months and launched in June 2023. I am very passionate about automotive and SaaS and am excited to be here and chat more about it.

KR: Why are you excited about this opportunity?

KO: There are so many reasons to be excited about Shopgenie. For me specifically, I've always been a car guy. I've always been super into automotive and have always been a gearhead. In this industry, many tailwinds are working in our favor. For example, the industry is consolidating extremely fast, and a lot of private equity money is coming in and rolling up these different automotive repair shops. This trend isn't exclusive to auto repair. It's also happening in many other SMB verticals - where companies are coming in and consolidating. A lot of the old guard is changing. A lot of baby boomers are the ones that started these businesses, and they're getting to retirement age, selling or handing down their businesses to their next of kin, and so, as a result, younger owners are coming on the scene. The younger owners seek more modern technology and solutions to their problems. That's where a company like Shopgenie comes in, and we get to enjoy working with these changing winds, so to speak, in the industry.

KR: Can you talk about the data around the macro trends? You mention in another podcast that two-thirds of shop owners are passing down their shops within the next ten years.

KO: Yes, that was one of the shocking statistics I found when starting Shopgenie. There was a study done about five years ago in 2017, and essentially, they interviewed a few thousand shops, and one of the statistics was that in the next ten years, over 66% of the people who were interviewed are planning on getting out of the business, retiring, selling, shutting down their business. I found that staggering, and then, of course, that study is five years old now, so in the next five years, there will be over a quarter million automotive repair shops in the US alone changing hands. The study did not count Canada, Australia, or other English-speaking first-world countries. It's a massive opportunity. Again, younger owners, more consolidating, tech-savvy, forward-thinking people, are taking over these businesses and looking for solutions like ours.

KR: I'm curious about the customer and trying to understand that better. Why do customers go to independent auto repair shops over car dealership repair shops? I've heard two things in the past. One is cost-related. Going to a car dealership costs more money because they have more overhead. I also heard something about limited spots. If there weren't independent auto repair shops, then you'd have to wait a long time to get your car serviced at a car dealership repair shop. Are those the two main things, or is there more nuance?

KO: There is a bunch of things that influence it. When most people bring their car to a dealership, it's usually out of necessity due to warranty work. So the car is under warranty, or there's some reason why they need to bring it to the dealer. The reality is the auto repair industry is the backbone of America, and SMBs as a whole are the backbone of America. An inherent trust factor goes along with being able to do business with your neighbor down the street versus doing business with a suit or some big logo or brand. So there's an inherent trust factor that goes along with it, and this intrinsic distrust in Corporate America, so to speak, is what's often associated with those big box dealerships. Then, of course, yes, you're right. Independent repair is often cheaper and more accessible than dealerships. Dealerships' first and primary function of existence is to sell cars, not necessarily repair them. It's more common for a customer or consumer with an older vehicle to want to go to an independent shop rather than the dealership.

KR: You mentioned there are about 250,000 independent auto repair shops in the United States, and that's your customer. Zooming in more, can you share where you are seeing the initial product-market fit? Are these multi-location or single-location shops? Are they converting from pen-and-paper, or do they already have existing software tools? Please talk more about where you are seeing that pull.

KO: We're primarily working with shops already using existing software. Surprisingly, they're more sophisticated SaaS buyers. The macro trend is moving towards more cloud-based software. North of 30-40 percent of the industry is still on pen-and-paper. I'm using such significant variations in numbers because there are no studies on these things. However, these pen-and-paper shops are much more difficult to find. As an early-stage company, finding the more tech-savvy, forward-thinking, technology-adopter-type customers is more accessible. So that's our ICP right now. If we think about the horizon and what the next three to five years look like for Shopgenie, it's figuring out a way to find those more pen-and-paper-type users and getting them to adopt modern technology.

KR: Can you talk about how fast you are growing? Please discuss your revenue, growth rate, customer satisfaction, and anything else you want to share.

KO: The big thing I like to focus on when we talk about our growth numbers, and we've got some pretty impressive ones that I'll get to in a moment, but for SaaS founders, setting yourself up for success is the most critical piece. What I mean by that is we were in a private beta for six months before we did anything - before we launched, before we were willing to take on customers. We had three customers for about 90 days and then upgraded it to ten. We let seven more people in, and that was it. That's all we had for six months. We had people that wanted to work with us. We had people willing to pay for our MVP, but we didn't take them on because they didn't fit our profile for our customer development program, which was customers who were deeply invested in our success and helping us solve some of the pain points we were initially looking to solve with our MVP. Being very strict about that worked in our favor because it meant that when we came out of stealth in June, we had a product ready for customers to use and kept our NPS score high. We kept customer satisfaction high, and we focused on the right things. We already had low six figures of revenue in June coming out stealth. That's another important lesson for first-time or early-stage SaaS founders. Our customers were paying for our MVP before it was worth paying for. If you're not embarrassed with your first product, you waited too long to launch. We didn't let anybody use anything for free. Everybody was paying since day zero. That was a big piece. We did have revenue from day zero, which was great. We launched on June 15th. We hit a million dollars in ARR in just over a hundred days—a hundred and two days post-launch. We are on track to crack five million in ARR in 2024.

KR: What needs to happen for you to accomplish that in 2024?

KO: We spend a lot of time on our go-to-market, refining our ICP, and figuring out what our most successful customers have in common. And again, like I said, our NPS score is high. Customer service is the number one focus for us at Shopgenie. We like to use the term customer obsession. Our most significant thing is growing organically. It's important to note that the numbers I just gave, we've spent zero dollars on paid marketing up until this point. It's all been organic inbound, which speaks to the importance of brand, referrals, reputation, and customer services. In SaaS, throwing a lot of money at marketing is really easy. You'll get a bunch of signups, but if your churn rate is crushing you, you'll always stay on the ground. And so that was a big focus for us. To hit our goals, to get past that five million in ARR mark, it really is just doing everything that we've been doing up until this point and then adding in that customer service factor and obsessing over our customers. Not overcomplicating it. There's no magic bullet for increasing sales. There's no magic bullet for go-to-market. Find a simple and repeatable system for getting eyeballs and in front of your ICP. And then once they're on board and paying customer, not messing it up and obsessing over them and listening and understanding their problems.

KR: Can you give an overview of what the product does today and where you see it going in the future?

KO: We're a CRM platform. We call ourselves a customer experience platform, and it has a few different aspects. We do a lot of the automated follow-up and marketing for automotive shops. So if you've ever been to a shop and you get a piece of mail a week later, a text message or an email saying hey, you're due for your next oil change or whatever it is. Those are the types of things that we do. So, retention marketing for automotive services, reputation management, review platform management, etc. We also have a CMS and a website builder inside our platform. That's our second product. We help manage the online presence of the shop as well and have a scheduling platform. Think like Calendly for auto repair shops. It shows the real-time mechanic availability. When a shop customer goes on their website or Google Business listing, like OpenTable, you can see when you can bring your car in for service, and know when it will be done because it's all intelligent availability. The scheduling workflow is also a big piece of our system.

KR: Where do you see the product going from here?

KO: Our big focus in 2024 is getting more into phone calls. Helping consolidate tooling for the automotive shops using VoIP systems and platforms like CallRail. Being able to reduce their tooling is a big value prop for us. We're a compound startup, so we're building multiple product areas simultaneously. This allows us to cover a lot of service areas. There are pros and cons to this approach. Being a traditional startup, knowledge says to focus on one product, one problem, and then expand from there. Still, if you can have a relatively large surface area from the get-go, you serve a slightly different customer profile. You're also serving them better and helping them consolidate vendors, saving them money and headaches. So again, there are pros and cons to both, but again, we've decided to take the compound startup route.

KR: When I was researching your company and the product, one of the exciting things that I saw you guys working on was this tool called Jasmine AI, which is your AI-powered product. Think ChatGPT but trained on auto-repair data. Can you talk about the progress on that? How would you see a customer using that part of the product?

KO: A lot of manual work is involved in the workflow for getting a vehicle into the shop. So, it typically looks something like this. A customer Googles the auto repair shop. They call in and ask, can I get this service done today? How much does it cost? Can I drop it off? Do you have a loaner car? What are your hours? Can I pick up tomorrow morning? Do you have a key box? All these questions. Each question is easily answerable by the data encompassed in a shop's website or their back-end point-of-sale software. Jasmine, the AI tool that we're building is essentially a virtual service advisor that's going to be able to take all of the contextual data from that shop from different sources, like their point of sale or their website, and essentially build a virtual service advisor that can live on the shop's website, answer their questions, and give contextual and accurate answers, whether relating to inventory or appointment availability or a nuanced question that only that shop's front desk person would know. Jasmine will be able to take the place for that and let the in-person interactions become a priority because if you have a front desk associate or customer service person who's always on the phone or typing on a keyboard, they're inherently neglecting the customer in the shop. We want service advisors to be able to focus on what's important, which is the customer that's there face-to-face in the shop. Then, Jasmine can handle all the repeatable and predictable questions and conversations. That's set it and forget it. Let us take care of it.

KR: Who do you see as your competitors? What do you think about your positioning? There are auto-specific ones like AutoLeap and Shopmonkey and regular CRMs with marketing suites like HubSpot.

KO: When we look at the industry, we look at vertical SaaS as a whole. It's obvious that vertical-specific solutions are going to win. Because the barrier to entry of software is so low now, the only moat is go-to-market and distribution. If you can find unique go-to-market and distribution, tap into your ICP, and relate with them, that's the most essential part. Many horizontal SaaS companies have trouble getting into niche-specific verticals because they don't deeply understand the ICP. My first job in high school was working at an auto repair shop, and I've been in and around auto repair shops my entire career, so I know some of the nuances of how this works and, how they like to be spoken to, etc. So that's a big thing. You listed a couple of companies there. Those companies are point-of-sale software, whereas we're more CRM software. Those companies are not competitors to ours, and even if they were, we focus on customers. We're customer-obsessed. We always use this analogy at Shopgenie if there is a conversation about a competitor; it's that meme of Michael Phelps in the Olympics where losers focus on winners and winners focus on winning. The guy in the lane next to him is looking over at Michael Phelps, and Michael Phelps is looking straight ahead. That's what I always like to remind my team and make sure that we're not getting distracted or focusing on competitors too much and that we're focusing on customer value and staying obsessed with our customers.

KR: Awesome, I love that. You are very focused on the current plan and executing against it. Curious, thinking long-term, are there adjacent areas you're excited about? Do you see opportunities on the car dealership repair shop side of things or the shop management side? Where could this go if you're successful with the current plan?

KO: We're not thinking about expansion outside of our current vertical. Auto repair is such a massive vertical, and it's something that we know super well. The reality is we're not looking to expand because of how much opportunity and blue ocean there is inside the auto repair vertical.

KR: Let’s talk about the team. Can you discuss the team's current size and the culture at Shopgenie?

KO: We brought on our 20th full-time team member last week, which is exciting, and we're growing fast. We're always hiring if anybody wants to work at a fast-growing vertical SaaS company. The culture at Shopgenie is a lot of energy with many young people on the team. It's also an entrepreneurial kind of self-starter community, and I know many people say this a lot, and many founders say this, but everybody on our team has true ownership of what they do. It's extreme ownership for everything good and bad that happens within your scope of work, so everybody is a self-starter. Everybody's very independent. There's no bureaucracy. There's no hierarchy. My co-founder Cayden and I are shoulder-to-shoulder with our employees every single day. Everyone gets their hands dirty and wears multiple hats. One of the biggest keys to success with an early-stage company is that nobody is above anything. Nobody's too cool for school. Nobody feels like anything is beneath them.

KR: Can you talk more about the roles you're hiring for now or early next year?

KO: We're always hiring software engineers and customer success managers. If you are a talented software engineer or have experience with SaaS customer success or onboarding, that is one of the things we are always looking for.

KR: Is your company remote, or are you headquartered somewhere?

KO: We are headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, but we are also hybrid. So, we have plenty of remote team members all over the place, too.

Read next