Alumni Magazine Summer 2014 - page 5-6

Clarkson
Magazine
Summer 2014
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Clarkson
Magazine
Summer 2014
Nodding in agreement, Gibbs adds, “When you’re
building something from scratch, it’s really important
to have at least a model of the values you need to get
through tough times. Clarkson gave us a good example
for approaching the kind of work we wanted to do.”
And there were tough times, including the
bursting of the dot-com bubble, the economic
downturn and the recession that followed. But
they had another advantage.
“We made the products that our customers
wanted to use,” Gibbs says. “And that’s because dealers
saw our marketing software helped them sell more
cars faster and make their business more efficient.”
In 2001, the company changed its name to
Dealer.com and by 2007 started seeing exponential
growth. All the while, Dunn says, culture mattered.
And this, too, had its roots in Clarkson.
“We were frat brothers and roommates,” Gibbs
says. “We got to know each other at the same time
we were learning how to code.”
“And that was really important in forming the
company culture,” LaScolea says. “In the beginning, we
had ‘snowboard meetings’ — board meetings in the
gondola while boarding at Stowe. After things clicked
and we started growing so quickly, we saw how it
could be a challenge to keep the culture we valued.”
“Everyone here,” Lane says, “from the four of us
to our most recent hire, we are all investing ourselves
in what we do. We’re passionate about it and we have
high expectations. And we recognized that to get the
best people — and keep them happy — we needed
to make sure everyone knew they were valued. So we
talked about what’s important and what is absolutely
indispensable.”
This is how they arrived at what they call Dealer.
com’s “Core Values,” like commitment, innovation
and collaboration. These principles of the company’s
culture are paired with attributes like curiosity,
approachability and, like this example from the
brand manual, enjoyment:
“Thrive. Take advantage of our unique
surroundings, support one another and grow
healthier, happier and more productive together.”
“And take risks,” LaScolea says. “Don’t be stupid
or reckless about it. Do your research. Know the
parameters, your limits and your options, too. But
once you know the terrain, bite the bullet and take the
risk. We weren’t afraid. And that’s a big part of how
this company came to be what it is.”
Ryan Dunn, the company’s creative director,
says this was groundbreaking. “Merchandising is
the term for what dealers do today with pictures,
video, lists of features and why you want your car
to have them. Basically, what everybody does now,
Mark was doing first.”
So, the four Clarkson grads joined Bonfigli and
began developing the sophisticated tech platform
we learned to learn quickly.”
Jamie LaScolea, Dealer.com’s chief interface
architect, says knowing how to write code and how
to work on the fly were crucial. “When you start your
own business,” he says, “you learn really fast that you
have a lot to learn. No school can teach you everything
you need to know. But Clarkson gave us the tools we
needed to get this business off the ground.”
From the five founders, the company has
grown to more than 850 employees. Walking
through Dealer.com’s sprawling office space — a
former warehouse south of Burlington’s Church
Street Marketplace — everyone can see the values
and principles that shaped this business. They’re
written on the walls, next to pictures of the staff and
the people throughout the auto industry who have
become clients.
and content-management system that make websites
easier to use for car buyers and sellers. Their work
also made it easier for new and used car dealerships
to merchandise each car and implement other
marketing strategies.
“We were building something better,” says
Rick Gibbs, president and CEO, “but dealers were
required to use software from the manufacturers,
which wasn’t really user-friendly at the time.”
But Gibbs says he and his friends had a few
advantages.
“We went to Clarkson, for one,” he says, “We
learned how to develop software in comp sci. And
Mike Lane, Dealer.com’s chief operating officer,
recalls the company’s humble origins. “I was shopping
for a car online. Remember, this was 1998. Back then,
dealers posted little about their cars online. You’d see
the make, model and year of a few cars on the lot.
Maybe a stock photo or short list of a car’s features. It
was a poor shopping experience. But then I found this
site that had photos and up-to-date info on each car.”
That was Earthcars.com, run by Mark Bonfigli.
“I walked into his dealership a few days later,” Lane
says. “He was the only car dealer — new or used
— who was merchandising every car on his lot and
doing it really well.”
(l to r): Rick Gibbs ’97, Mike Lane ’97, Jamie LaScolea ’98
and Ryan Dunn ’97.
“Clarkson gave us the tools we needed to get this business off the ground.”
— Jamie LaScolea ’98
Employees move easily through the open
space, working behind glass doors or congregating
around a co-worker’s computer or conference
table. Others are in the workout room, playing
ping-pong, taking a yoga class or stopping for a
break at the Dot.Calm café (an onsite eatery). If
it sounds more like a campus than a corporate
office, that’s by design.
“This is a learning environment,” Gibbs says.
“We’re still learning, because— to us —what we
do is a craft. We set out to build something and we
looked at it as a career, not just a job.”
Now that their company has merged with
Dealertrack (NASDAQ: TRAK), Gibbs, Lane,
Dunn and LaScolea say they’ll stay on, keeping their
current —but always evolving— roles.
“We want to stick around,” Gibbs says,
“because we’re really curious to see what will
happen next.”
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