Mitch Golub and Cars.com changed the way we buy cars

Stick to your beliefs

When you’re creating a new industry, you are making decisions that will shape that industry’s future. One of the big ones for Golub was the way he responded to companies who wanted to buy their way to more customers on Cars.com.

Another was the resistance he felt from advertisers and industry veterans who had grown quite accustomed to the way things worked in the auto sales sector.

“We went to the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and told them about our website and shared it with them,” Golub says. “They were upset with the publishing of invoice pricing and they met and said, ‘We don’t like that. Take it down or you can’t participate in our auto show.’ That was obviously important to us not only because of the large audience it reaches, but also because it’s in our market. But they thought having this information and exposing it to consumers was heresy. Those are some of the forces we had to deal with in the early days.”

Golub had to demonstrate that his model would make auto dealers more successful by making their business user-friendly.

“It was building the system, having tracking on our website of everything that consumers did, matching it up to our reporting system and then going in on a regular basis, typically with that dealer, to go over the metrics,” Golub says. “How many vehicles they sold or in a lot of cases, how many opportunities they missed because they didn’t have the proper process in the dealership.”

Stay on target

It wasn’t just external challenges that Golub faced in building Cars.com into the successful company it is today. Early on, his eyes were opened to what happens when you don’t spend enough time nurturing your corporate culture.

“We’re toward the end of our first year as a business and getting ready to launch Cars.com,” Golub says. “I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and looking at a lot of partnerships. I keep noticing each time I come back from the road that people who were sitting at certain desks before I left weren’t at those desks. There were a lot of new and unfamiliar faces.”

Golub spoke to HR and discovered that the company’s turnover rate was an astonishing 200 percent.

“The No. 1 complaint of people that we were turning over was that they didn’t know what our strategy was,” Golub says. “They didn’t know where we were going. They wanted to contribute and be part of a startup company. But they couldn’t because they didn’t fully understand their role.
“If you’re building a successful business in a marketplace that is changing in dog years and you don’t have good communication, you’re not transparent and you’re not keeping employees abreast of what’s going on, you’re going to lose employees.”

So Golub set up regular meetings with employees and started creating “Mitch Minutes,” one-minute videos he produced to provide regular updates on company happenings.

“I view my customer support people to be among the most valuable voices in the entire company because they are my last line of defense to the customer,” Golub says. “They talk to more customers than I will ever talk to. If we aren’t listening to them or we’re independently making bad decisions without knowledge, shame on us.”

Cars.com has indeed changed the way consumers buy cars. And Golub is hopeful he can soon change the way consumers get their cars fixed. In 2012, he invested in RepairPal, which has a vast database listing the costs of virtually any car repair you can think of.

“It’s doing extremely well and dealers are craving the product because it’s such an important and profitable part of their business,” Golub says.

The key to its success is the same, however, as every other business venture he’s tried.

“You have three customer groups,” Golub says. “You have customers, advertisers and employees. Just because someone puts you in a chair doesn’t mean you are the smartest person at everything. You have to listen to your customers.”