If you have spent any significant time at a SEMA event or media gathering, chances are you have either met Matt D’Andria or seen his work. The 36-year-old Phoenix, Arizona, native moved to Southern California years ago to be closer to the automotive aftermarket and has been involved in dozens of digital media projects, from helping top automakers develop a digital footprint, to co-hosting Adam Carolla’s popular “CarCast” podcast and launching his latest venture as CEO of a unique online automotive community called Motorator.com.
D’Andria was inducted into the gearhead lifestyle early, helping his father restore a Fiat Spider when he was just five years old. He “helped” his dad by hitting the freshly restored sports car with a toy hammer. At 15, Matt restored a ’65 Mustang with his brother, buying parts with money earned from a job at the local auto parts store. Eventually, D’Andria was able to combine his mutual love of technology and cars in college, where he and a friend created a tech firm and worked on a variety of high-profile automotive projects.
Today, D’Andria continues to push the boundaries of content marketing in the automotive space, connecting enthusiasts with manufacturers through digital media. We sat down with D’Andria to learn more about how automotive aftermarket companies can best take advantage of emerging technologies.
When/how did you decide to merge your experience in the dot-com world with your passion for the aftermarket?
In 1995, at 19 years old, I raised some money, quit school and started a web development company with my childhood friend, Adam Pisoni. Yahoo, at the time, was still just a directory at Stanford University and Netscape was making waves as the first web browser to support images. We learned how to work with the web—which was new at the time —and built technology solutions for Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Kia, and Clarion Car Audio. We also built websites for video games and dot-coms, including Resident Evil, Street Fighter, The Simpsons, eToys.com and Stamps.com. I wanted to start a new company and I spent all my money on cars, so I decided to build something that would allow me to work with my friends in the technology and automotive industries. I started writing a car blog in 2007 as a hobby and things grew from there.
How do you feel digital media is changing our industry?
Digital media is a powerful medium that our industry is just starting to embrace. We can attract, inform and entertain customers like never before. We can create and control our own content, and we can get in front of customers in so many ways. Installation videos and downloadable manuals on smart phones can help customers install parts. Blogs, photos and online product reviews help consumers decide which products to buy. In fact, 80% of all online purchases of $500 or more are influenced by consumers’ reviews. Don’t discount the entertainment factor, either. You may be a manufacturer, but all people, even car guys, love to browse the web for cool ideas, products, etc. Create some fun, entertaining online media and it will lead to new sales.
What is CarCast and how did you get involved with Adam Carolla?
"CarCast" is a podcast and Internet video show hosted by comedian Adam Carolla ("The Adam Carolla Show," "The Car Show," "Loveline," "The Man Show"). "CarCast" is like talk radio, but on the Internet. It’s just two guys chatting about all aspects of the industry, but with Adam’s edgy sense of humor. There’s no script and it’s uncensored, which certainly allows us to have some fun. The videos are great, too and add a dynamic that traditional radio can’t. "CarCast" regularly features automotive industry guests, such as Jay Leno, Vic Edelbrock, Chip Foose, John Hotchkis, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Michael Anthony from Van Halen and more. Adam and Sandy Ganz created "CarCast" about three years ago. Sandy is an incredible engineer I met working at a comparison-shopping website and he brought me in to help produce the show. I became Adam’s co-host in 2011, and it’s been a lot of fun. Adam is a talent and a true car guy. He has a great collection of about 25 cars, including three of Paul Newman’s race cars.
What roles do social media and content marketing play in the aftermarket?
More than 90% of people online in the U.S. use social media and nearly 25% of their time is spent on social networks. Furthermore, social media users are the best consumers to target. They are extremely influential to others and they are the biggest online spenders. So, for every social media user that you convert to a customer, they potentially become a powerful marketer for you as well. This is the strategy behind Motorator—build a community of like-minded enthusiasts and give them the tools to socially market to each other. Every manufacturer and vendor in our industry should have a social media person in-house or hire a firm to represent their company full-time. Small business owners who can’t afford to hire someone should learn how to utilize social media on their own. At Motorator, I personally manage all our social media.
Tell us more about Motorator.com—what are your short- and long-term goals?
Motorator.com is a community dedicated to automotive performance enthusiasts. Our short-term goal was to create a hub where anyone can share their favorite automotive videos, seek and offer tech help and research the latest aftermarket parts. Our blog, for example, is a virtual showcase of more than 600 of the coolest new products to hit the market in the past couple of years. For the long-term, we’re developing the first community-driven shopping destination for performance enthusiasts. As a guy who loves tweaking my own cars, I grew frustrated knowing that there was no easy way for me to buy aftermarket products online while seeking advice from like-minded individuals on which parts best match my project.
Motorator’s approach to solving this problem is to combine online social networking with a comparison-shopping marketplace. Think of us as Facebook meets Amazon for gearheads. As a social destination, enthusiasts will be able to research the best products, get tech help, watch installation or product videos and chat with others who may already own the product. This community will be integrated into our marketplace where enthusiasts can find, compare, recommend and buy any part. We’re going to change the way enthusiasts find and purchase aftermarket products.
Motorator is designed to support manufacturers, vendors and enthusiasts. Any vendor will be able to list their products on our site and compete on the same level as everyone else. You don’t even need a website of your own. We’ll provide our shopping cart technology. When an enthusiast finds a product they want, they will see a list of vendors who sell it, can choose based on price or rating and add it to their cart. They can continue shopping from other vendors or checkout at any time.
What is your opinion on the youth market—are young people still interested in cars? How do companies connect with them?
What the aftermarket needs to worry about is not teens’ lack of interest in cars, but competition for their money from the tech sector and the fact that social media is reducing their reliance on transportation in general. Teens communicate and are entertained online and through mobile devices, and this significantly diminishes the need to physically meet. Furthermore, the gadgets of today are expensive. When I was 16, I would have never considered spending $400 on an iPad or $200 on a phone, but today those items are a necessity. This is the key issue for the aftermarket to overcome. Our goal should be making vehicles a part of teens’ social lives again. We can’t just market speed parts to teens and tell them they’re cool; we need to market cars as a social networking tool and a cool way to spend their time/money.
For someone who hasn’t been in the aftermarket long, you seem to know everybody. How did you make so many connections?
“This is the kid, he calls me 59 days in a row, wants to be a player. There ought to be a picture of you in the dictionary under persistence.” – Gordon Gekko in Wall Street
That quote from the movie Wall Street always makes me laugh, but it’s largely how I do things. When I came up with the idea for Motorator, I found SEMA and became a member. A month later, I was at the SEMA Show. I walked up to everyone I could find and said, “Hi, I’m Matt and I’m going to change this industry with my new company.” One guy I met was Dr. Jamie Meyer from GM Performance Parts. He had no idea who I was and had no reason to talk to me, but he just welcomed me to the industry and maybe spent 20 minutes answering all my questions. Unfortunately for him, I now have his cell phone number and bug him all the time. Sorry Doc. That said, to me this is a critical component to networking and new business success—don’t be shy. Talk to everyone, be outgoing and actually listen when people offer advice. Those connections will serve you well long-term.
You’ve been involved in several startups. What advice would you give someone chasing a new idea?
Don’t do it; get a real job! I’m kidding, of course. I love starting companies and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from chasing their dream. I typically take a very analytical approach to starting a business. First, identify the problem you plan to solve with your new venture. Do your research and develop your solution for that problem. If you think it’s never been done before, you’re wrong. Figure out how you are going to make your idea different and better. Then surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. I’ve always hired to my own weaknesses. Then market the new idea as much as possible. Pitch it to everyone and anyone who will listen. If you make it past the first year, the chances of surviving grow exponentially.