Every Car Has a Story with VINwiki Founder and CEO, Ed Bolian | #073
Last Updated on August 20, 2020 by Tim Harman
On this week’s show, we chat with prominent exotic car-enthusiast Ed Bolian. Ed has done everything from breaking the coast-to-coast Cannonball Run record to launching a very successful automotive app. His VINwiki app provides the full picture behind a car’s unique history, filling in the gaps left by traditional vehicle history reporting services. Ed also runs the popular VINwiki YouTube channel with hundreds of amazing “car stories”.
This post contains ads and/or affiliate links
FULL SHOW TRANSCRIPT
Transcribed by Otter.ai and then edited some. Mistakes are likely. 🙂
Josh Matthews 0:00
Welcome to the You can, man.™ podcast episode 73. I’m Josh. I’m Tim. And I’m Dave. And on this week’s episode, every car has a story with VINwiki, founder and CEO, Ed Bolian.
Tim Harman 0:23
Welcome back guys to the You can, man.™ podcast where we believe what one man can do you can do as well, with a little help from your friends and the proper know-how. On this week’s show, we have Ed Bolian, founder, creator, CEO of VINwiki. It is an amazing car app. And we’re going to get all into his story. And Ed, you can go ahead and say hello, we’ve got Ed on the line here.
Ed Bolian 0:48
Hey, everybody. Thanks for having me.
Tim Harman 0:49
All right. So Ed, we wanted to kind of give a story of what led you up to just your incredible love of cars and telling the story of cars as well. But first, since you are a guest on the You can, man.™ podcast, we always like to ask our guests: Where are you on the DIY scale? So this, this can incorporate working on cars, it can incorporate housework, anything that you are just getting your hands dirty, doing it yourself. Where are you on the scale of like 1 to 10?
Ed Bolian 1:23
You know, I am not the most DIY guy, I am a networking guy. And so whether it comes to the development of our VINwiki app, or a lot of automotive stuff, even I love to be involved, but I also value expertise. And so finding the right person for the right job is, in my experience, the best way to get things done as quickly, efficiently and as powerfully as possible. So probably not, too favorably, but I’d like to think I still remain pretty effective at the things I like to do.
Tim Harman 1:53
Yeah, yeah, well, again, I mean, that’s how it goes right along with the You can, man.™ spirit, for sure.
Josh Matthews 1:57
It is a skill putting the right people in the right place. Skill, totally.
Tim Harman 2:01
Oh yeah, networking is is definitely right in line with that. So Ed, talk to us about, what would you say was like that first memorable experience where you really solidified your love of cars?
Ed Bolian 2:16
So a lot of people grew up in car families. That’s where it comes by, you know, very naturally, that’s not really my story. I have a father who was an engineer, but a chemical engineer, and so not really like he had a car and liked it and drove it till the wheels fell off. And that was really kind of the extent of it. So it was a very different thing, or certainly has become a different thing for me. And it really didn’t start until I could drive them. And I started to realize that the automobile is really something that everybody on earth can relate to, but it means something differently to each person and it can become a big part of our lives. It can become a way we are seen by other people and it can certainly be very much as in my case, something rare. creational and so understanding that you could make something that everybody gets theoretically a superlative about your life or the way that you enjoy things, I thought was really, really fascinating. And so early on, my obsession was really like, what are these holy grail almost seeming to be unattainable cars and car experiences? And what shortcuts or hacks or cheats or anything that you want to call it? What can I do to make those possible for me in a shorter term, and that’s really been my life’s pursuit in various automotive contexts.
Tim Harman 3:36
That’s great. And so you are a you’re Georgia boy, yes, that correct? You grew up in Georgia?
Ed Bolian 3:42
I did. Yeah. I grew up in Buford, Georgia, about 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta and then went to Georgia Tech. And after that moved up towards Alpharetta and Johns Creek.
Tim Harman 3:52
Okay, good deal. And then we understand that while you were at Georgia Tech, you actually started and then later sold an exotic car rental business. Talk to us about that.
Ed Bolian 4:03
So again, it was kind of one of these things that, you know, I had this goal, this dream of one day having exotic cars of my own. And I was, you know, a sophomore in college in 2006. Trying to figure out well, how do I actually make that happen and at the time, the exotic car rental business model was really under explored in the United States. It’s very different than it is today where there’s exotic car rental companies in every city back then. There were some players in the market in Miami, some in Los Angeles and I just kind of helped the guys at Gotham Dream Cars in New York City source their first few cars and talk through some of the car side of the business. They were a business minded team. And they were looking for help from an automotive sense and I had some connections through the kind of used exotic dealership world which at the time was not nearly as prevalent again, as it was today. So there’s been a massive explosion in the exotic car market since then, but at the time, it was still real novelty to come across an exotic car even in a big city. And since the production was just kind of in this explosion phase between 2003 and 2006, it was a desirable thing where you could finally have reliable rental cars. And there was a way to make a business model out of it. 10 years prior, if you’re trying to rent 355s and Diablos, the cars were so unreliable that it was really hard to make a business model work. But when the 360 and the Gallardo came out, it was much more viable. And so as a literally, with no verifiable income when you could get stated income loans for cars, I got a loan for a Lamborghini without enough money to make the first payment. I took everything that I had and used as a down payment on a two to four guyardo in 2006. And started the company. Yeah, so that was probably five years and
Josh Matthews 5:52
I’m sorry. Yeah, I’m sorry to interrupt. I was just thinking, the timing of that, you know, with the the economy as a whole, you know, 2003 To 2006 were in a real estate boom, there’s money flowing, like you mentioned enough for a guy in college to get a loan on a Lamborghini. How did how did you? How did that play out over the next few years, as you know, the economy kind of went through a correction.
Ed Bolian 6:18
So it was actually wonderful timing for me in the rental business because the cost of ownership of these cars was, was rapidly becoming kind of insurmountable from an individual consumer basis. The cars were depreciating, you know, at the worst of it, maybe up to 10% a month. And so, we had customers strategically using rentals as an ownership replacement product, which meant that they were much higher quality, they came back more often, and they took better care of the cars because they wanted people to believe they were theirs. Right. So these customers were ideal, but really when the US economy bottomed out late 08 early 09, that kind of dried up. And anybody who had decent enough credit and wanted to be around an exotic car could buy something for pennies on the dollar relative to what it was two years prior. And so the quality of my customer base started to really erode, I started to have a lot more issues with the ways that the cars were being treated. And it just became time to explore other options. So I definitely enjoyed the business model and learned a lot made a little bit of money, it wasn’t a wildly successful thing. But you know, the problem with any with any kind of business like that is high cash flow and high expense is you have to figure out how to correlate that and at the time, very few people had a real handle on what the actual cost of ownership and operation was of an exotic car, it was pretty new that anybody would be accumulating any significant amount of mileage on one of these cars, and so around 2009 I have started to be courted pretty heavily by the local Ferrari and Lamborghini dealerships asking if I would come and sell cars. Now, I was really familiar with the exotic car dealership scene, especially in Atlanta because as a high schooler, that was kind of my pastime. I would go around to these dealerships and try to convince them to let me test drive their cars. At the time, kind of in middle school in early high school, I had started a business breeding albino iguanas in my parents basement. And so I had this peculiar narrative that I could weave to the salespeople that sounded like, hey, maybe this young kid does actually have a way that he can afford this stuff. Obviously, my thoughts on the timing and their thoughts on time were wildly different, but I was interested in the cars and so I got to test drive cars all over the place, and I had seen the misery of kind of that profession, but I’d gotten married in 2009. And my wife was a lot more interested in me having more traditional employment and not taking necessarily all the risks that the exotic car rental company entailed. And so in a moment of weakness In a, you know, marital obedience, I suppose I explored that a little bit more fully. But the reason they were interested in me was because of that understanding of what it really costs. So, you know, I had 10s of thousands of miles on all these cars and I knew that give or take, it was about $5 and 70 cents a mile to operate a guyardo at that point, just based on maintenance cost, and depreciation, insurance expenses, everything all wrapped in. And so they needed people who could kind of counsel their prospective buyers and their return customers into what the costs really were, what was their customer base by be able to mitigate these and speak in a much more educated manner about what ownership of these cars was really like? They had plenty of people that knew the specifications and the magazine racer figures, but they needed people who could really counsel someone through these kind of deals. And I was able to do that and you know, reasonably successfully so I became the director of sales, which really just a glorified name, or I sold pretty much all the Lamborghinis and mclarens that came to the store. Nice.
Josh Matthews 10:00
Wow. So, you know, you mentioned I’ve heard you mentioned in multiple interviews and you know, when people go to the VIN wiki YouTube, they can see some of these wild stories in here about him. But I’ve heard you mentioned, you know, specifically that exotic car business just very interesting people very interesting scenarios cropping up. I know, you know, dealing with high end cars like this, you’re coming across some eccentric folks famous folks is, is there anything kind of you know, you’re not sure every little story, but are there a couple stories that just, you know, dealing with a specific customer that that our audience might find just super fascinating? Maybe outside of what you’ve what you’ve mentioned on the YouTube channel,
Ed Bolian 10:43
You know, a lot of them are fairly lengthy, but I certainly had a lot of experiences. I mean, in that time, I bought a Ferrari 360, the rapper’s parents had jumped backwards and was not running actually in the Ferrari dealership Service Bus. I bought a Lamborghini from a local Atlanta prostitute. I had a bunch of crazy test drive experiences. You know everything from you know a 50 year old man’s 70 year old mother coming in asking us to not hold him responsible for having come in bought a unreliable Mazda? rowdy, you know, every single day was pretty interesting. We had to chase down NBA players that had stolen our cars and it was a it was as you know, reality TV ready as a dealership or a job experience could
Josh Matthews 11:28
ever be. Yeah, it sounds like reality show might have been a good might have been an interesting take on that. I don’t think I’ve seen one and a car deal. It could have been another business
Tim Harman 11:38
venture. I feel like just bring in a camera and hit hit record. Yeah. And you guys we should have mentioned on the front end that ad runs and has a 1.1 million subscriber YouTube channel under the name of Vin wiki. And so some of these stories that he’s mentioning, you can actually go and watch these videos that he’s made about Some of these incredible stories. So let’s get into talking about Vin wiki. So Vin wiki is a car app and I’m just going to read directly off of their website because I think it really really sums up what Vin wiki is. every vehicle has a story. Do you know the detail of yours Vin wiki lets you see the full picture behind a car’s unique history that a bear tear off the bumper has your BMW M five then used to pull a boat? What really happened when where it says accident reported? Only Vin wiki allows you to see the vital information about the life of your vehicle. So and talk to us about the birth of Vin wiki. What was your vision behind that?
Ed Bolian 12:48
So VINwiki happened very accidentally. It was really a product of me getting together with a bunch of entrepreneurially minded friends and trying to just kick ideas around until we came up with something that we all liked enough to Invest whatever resources that we had into it. And I’ve been in the habit of every few months getting together with, you know, people that wanted to do something different than their day job, but had different skills and different areas of expertise. And so I had gotten tired of the dealership live 70 to 80 hour weeks around the end of 2015. And that was a whole lot longer than my normal three to four year attention span for something to do with my life. And so I kind of left without knowing what was next. But I kind of accelerated the frequency in which I was getting together with friends trying to figure out if I was going to do something more traditional, I’d spoken to, you know, local, big players in the auto space that would have more, you know, work life balance opportunity, potentially, but also was very interested in doing something from an entrepreneurial perspective. And so we started to meet a little bit more frequently. And one day we kind of realized that in the room, we had a front end iOS developer, we had a great back end database developer architect. We had a web developer You know, a lawyer or an accountant, everybody, we kind of needed to start something cool. We just needed a cool technological idea. And one of the things we talked about was essentially a Vin data repository of crowd sourced database of vehicle history. And that’s what became Vin wiki. And we realized that people started to believe in the concept. And it’s kind of based on a lot of the things I used to do in working for the dealership to curate or kind of cultivate the story about a car because there’s a lot of things that you can learn from the existing data sources like Carfax or auto check or the NHTSA, but there’s also a lot of gaps there. And when you’re transacting a used car, it can require a lot of imagination on the part of the buyer to really figure out what the real story is. And if we could capture a lot of those more obscure data points, stories and ideas and put them somewhere it can be a really useful resource as people are approaching And so with 300 billion or so cars in the US and having a unique identifier on all of them that were built since 1981, and event, it seemed like a good reference point, and it seemed worth trying. And so we started the development of the app in January of 2016.
Tim Harman 15:19
Okay, and to kind of give our listeners just a better, just really practical way that maybe the everyday guy could use the VINwiki app. So let’s say you’ve got you remember your first car, and you remember the VIN, and it was still in good working order when you sold the car. It was maybe a really interesting car. Well, you could go on VINwiki, and maybe just maybe you could input that VIN number, and maybe the guy that owns it now has done the same thing, and you’ll be able to see where that car is. Now. That’s obviously not gonna happen all the time. But it’s a it’s a very interesting car and the person owns it now is a really big car guy that could happen. So actually, I went on and input my 1998 Ford Explorer that I had is actually my daily driver just to see if somebody else had ever posted about it. They hadn’t. But it was kind of interesting metal man you bought it from Yeah. Yeah. Oh, it’s like perfect use car thing, man is all owned by elderly couple anyways, but you know, I learned just like a little fact, it was first purchased in Destin, Florida, you know, the latter half of 1998. So that was kind of interesting. There was a Florida car, and then also input my 1975 Ford Bronco sport and don’t have any backstory on that was really kind of hoping man, maybe somebody that was there, you know, car back in the day and they input the vins and that sort of thing. I mean, that could still happen, you know, right, the previous owner of that. So and I know you’ve got countless stories we know you do because you’ve got so many stories. on your YouTube channel, is there any particular story that you feel like you could just give us a little background on that you’d like to share that happened solely because of your hard work VINwiki.
Ed Bolian 17:16
So your experience is probably a pretty interesting example of where we’re at right now with the app. So if you looked at the VINwiki audience today, we’ve got about 100 and 60 million cars in the database. So about half of the cars that are in the US still operational. And so the fact that of two cars you entered one had a data point, the other probably didn’t but it being a pre 1981 car. It’s a lot harder because most of the government indexes that we have don’t actually reference fans. They reference title numbers when cars are that old, but stories of people that discovered that this car they were looking at was previously, you know, used in some crazy unlicensed rental fleet cars that were Ubers car words that were used in the commission of crimes cars that were used in child abductions, I mean, all sorts of crazy things. But you know, one of the stories that’s gotten a lot of traction on our YouTube channel beyond what I ever would have imagined was that our users came together to find and sort of rescue to stolen Lamborghinis. So I had happened across kind of a unique Lamborghini that having sold most of the ones that were in the state of Georgia, I knew was either very new or had been very hidden. And it turned out through different users finding their different, you know, their data sources and everything they could dig up, we realized that it was a stolen car. And we were able to even figure out not just that it wasn’t real based on the event that it had, that it had been been swapped, we figure out which car it actually was. So we help the Georgia Department of Revenue, find that car and restore it to its previous owner where it had been stolen six years earlier in California.
Josh Matthews 18:57
Wow, that that is a wild story. And I mean, it The information like you said, the crowd sourced data, they’re so useful, especially for high end cars. I mean for, for folks looking at normal cars, normal price ranges, it’s always nice to try to fill in some gaps. But I mean, how much more important is it as the as the price tag gets up there for someone to be able to do their due diligence, instead of just looking at, you know, hey, we got an oil change here at 50,000, and another oil change of 75,000. That’s kind of that’s kind of it. It’s really been wikis, just filling in those gaps with the crowd sourced environment.
Tim Harman 19:35
Yeah, and I would assume, you know, the goal is to be VINwiki is gonna be that go to source on all these places where you you can’t fill in the gaps with all these other databases out there. So eventually, what Ed, obviously you would love to see is that Vin wiki is you know, a household name people like oh, well did you Vin wiki that you know, you’ve got to buy the used car did you go on Vin wiki And check out the stories. And so let our listeners know too that you know, so you can obviously upload photos of your car. So let’s say you’re inputting, like I just did my 1998 Ford Explorer, so I uploaded a photo of it, and then I could add some stories. Um, it can be anything, you know, like, my kid throw up in the backseat, you know, I don’t know. I mean, it could be all kinds of different stuff. And so, yeah, you’re creating a story of each car. And so the dream would be 10 years from now or whatever, if that car still running, and somebody else is driving it, I don’t know, just using it as example. No one’s gonna want the 1998 Ford Explorer. But you see what I mean? And then you could look up the history on it. And oh, well, now I know where that mystery stain came from.
Josh Matthews 20:47
Yeah, and stories are endless. I mean, it’s like Atlanta being the, you know, the Hollywood of the South. Maybe your car was in a movie. You know, that happens all the time. Especially, Tim, like your classic Bronco could have been in a movie. You can put that in there, oh yeah, you know if the movie blows up, you know, these are really or if it was in Stranger Things, TV show all sorts of unlimited information.
Tim Harman 21:09
Yeah, for sure.
Ed Bolian 21:10
And what we see is that Carfax and auto check work pretty well for the average car, what they fail at is the bookends really nice or really not nice cars. So let’s say you’re trying to sell a you know, $2,000 car on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. The the information that would be available on Carfax is absolutely useless. Because all that really matters is what’s at what’s available in the recent history of this car, lived a terrible life and still very much be worth $2,000. It’s got good brakes, good tires, good servicing, and it looks like it’s gonna run for a little while. by that same token, a lot of really nice cars. The value has much more to do with the history in the provenance that it does. How many owners a tad and whether or not it ever had any paintwork at all. And stuff like this. And so what we find is that the guys that want to document DIY service and modification, and the ways that they’ve used their cars can definitely influence and change the value of them, as they, you know, are able to tell the story. And this is just a way to do that. And, you know, certainly historically, what you would have done is just jam all the receipts into the glove box, and then have a nice little or elite arrange folder when you go to sell it, that shows the next buyer, everything that you’ve done, but the problem that we ran into from a dealership since there is that the person who has done all the documentation has a lot invested. And they’ve, you know, meticulously made sure that everything was, you know, buy on a piece of paper with a receipt, but the next guy just got it handed to them. They just bought the car, got a folder and goes down the road. And inevitably that gets lost because there’s no investment in it. It just kind of came with the car. And so this way, as long as it’s all put into an electronic register, then it’s a lot easier for the next person to feel motivated. Oh yeah, I should probably keep that up because this is out there, I’m not gonna lose it. And it will help me have more value when I go to sell it.
Tim Harman 23:12
Yeah, because the next guy that buys the car may not care as much, but the guy after that might care a great deal. And so then to have a, you know, a backed up records of the history of the car is incredible, super easy to sign up, you just go to Vin wiki calm, which will then lead you to the app. And they’ll just walk you through the process super easy. You can set up your own profile, put a profile picture and that sort of thing. And then just start inputting your cars. It even has a barcode scanner, so any obviously newer cars just open that driver side door, boom, point camera, and it’ll go ahead and input that data for you. And it’s super easy to scan bins that way. So definitely check it out. And then like we said, it has As countless videos on YouTube, very, very popular videos all about tons of these car stories. And we’re actually going to have a back on our very next episode to talk about the Cannonball Run.
Josh Matthews 24:16
Yeah, Cannonball Run. If you’re not familiar, we’ve actually covered it on one of our segments on the podcast. You know, coast to coast kind of underground race that goes on. It’s actually a one time record holder doesn’t currently hold the record, but we’re gonna get into that. So yeah, on our next episode with and we’re gonna get into Cannonball Run.
Tim Harman 24:38
All right, and thank you so much for joining us on the You can, man.™ podcast. And we will have you back next time to talk about the cannonball. guys. Thanks so much for tuning in this week. Make sure to leave us a review on Apple podcasts and we’ll catch you guys next time.
Transcribed by Otter.ai and then edited some. Mistakes are likely. 🙂