BEHIND THE WHEEL
Net Driven fuels the auto supply industry with some off-road technology.
So you’re driving through northeastern PA, admiring the countryside, when you hear a clunk. Then you feel a shimmy. Next thing you know, you’re over on the shoulder with the hood up wishing you’d listened to your dad and his carburetor talk all those years ago. Subsequently, a garage lays the diagnosis on you–new transmission–and after a brief sticker shock moment, you hop on your smart phone, search “transmission repair,” and come up with an alternative repair shop, get a better price quote for the repairs online and, before you know it, you’re getting your transmission repaired with enough scratch left over for a shoo-fly pie. Pat Sandone’s company, Net Driven, powers the technology that makes this happen. He helps tire dealers and auto repair shops connect and interact with consumers online.
Pat Sandone grew up in Scranton, spent about ten years in investment banking on Wall Street in venture capital (focusing on Internet companies), and got his MBA at Columbia. He decided to move back to Scranton because “I really liked the area. There’s a great quality of life here.” Plus, he wanted to rejoin the family business, Sandone Tire, a wholesale distributor of tires and auto products. His plan? To expand their model with a combination of his Internet business acumen and their auto-industry savvy. It is while working with Sandone that he developed the idea for Net Driven and it’s been gangbusters.
Designed to “drive sales to your shop from the web,” Sandone’s company, Net Driven, connects the browsing consumer with the bricks-and-mortar retailer, a model inspired by some intense market research. “We assessed the way to drive sales in the industry and have studied how people shop,” says Sandone. Their conclusion? People use the ROBO method–Research Online, Buy Offline–for tires, brakes and oil changes the same way they use it for electronics, appliances and bathing suits. Sandone launched Net Driven as a software-as-aservice business that helps independent tire and car repair shops, and offers each dealer a three-part success proposition. First, Net Driven will customize a consumer-facing website model–which his server hosts–along with designing a custom skin for each dealer. Net Driven also develops SEO strategies for its dealers and will include each new URL on important industry directories. Lastly, Net Driven manages and services these technologies; making updates to the website, tracking performance and offering customer support and training.
Sandone’s venture capital years in the Internet business allowed him to nip and tuck this model into a platform that simply didn’t exist before. Now tire dealers, corner garages and clients with a billion in sales prosper exponentially with the software and services provided by Net Driven, which offers them “everything they need to be successful in marketing their businesses online.” It all works so well that Sandone finds his customers “are getting ROI in a week or two.”
Initially, Sandone looked to build this solution for Sandone Tire alone, but discovered it was “ridiculously expensive–it just didn’t make sense for a standalone business.” However, it was the perfect model for a collection of businesses and that’s when he founded Net Driven. “Now we’re signing up a handful of customers every week.”
Sandone feels fortunate to be doing business in Pennsylvania and says he’s grateful for the help Net Driven has received. In the beginning, Sandone approached Robert Watts, the region’s Keystone Innovation Zone coordinator, to discuss internship funding and tax credits. Watts suggested the eBIZ ITPA, and introduced Sandone to nearby Penn State Worthington Scranton and Johnson College to mine talent. Watts then leveraged funds to help with highly skilled intern talent develop the beginning technology and perform beta testing. According to Watts, “The KIZ was the epicenter that held it all together and rapidly accelerated Net Driven. Of course, it wouldn’t have happened if Pat wasn’t brilliant and tenaciously hard working.”
For the future? Net Driven is nine employees strong and growing at an all-systems-go rate. In fact, Sandone is proud to say “I don’t have the bandwidth to support much else right now.” And he’s content: Net Driven sales in January 2010 totaled more than all of 2009. Superhighway, indeed.