Interview with Brian Ghidinelli (MotorsportReg.com)
MotorsportReg.com is an online registration management tool for driving and social events.
I interviewed Brian Ghidinelli, MotorsportReg.com founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and seventh in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Brian for the interview!
How would you describe MotorsportReg.com in under 50 words?
We make it easier and more fun to organize and attend motorsport and automotive events. Organizers around the country take online registrations, manage participants and streamline their workflow. Attendees find new events, get registered quickly and have great experiences with their friends and cars without all the red tape.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
I have three passions in life: driving racecars, travel and being an entrepreneur.
Where are you based?
Across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and 15 minutes from one of the most famous racetracks in America, Sears Point/Infineon Raceway.
After college you started, ran and sold an internet consultancy and today run your second start-up, Pukka Software, which developed MotorsportReg.com. What were the main influences that led you to startup?
It’s a combination of a strong work ethic and DIY influence growing up. My father was a partner in an accounting firm and was “the boss”. When I was seven years old, I had my own construction company of Tonka trucks building a subdivision in the garden. In the 6th grade, I bought candy in bulk and resold it at school for a crazy margin. I started a lawn-mowing and yard maintenance business in high school, ran a modem-based bulletin board system and organized an International digital art group. When I got to college, I used my credit card terminal to charge cash-strapped students to get into our house parties. I’ve always had a little hustle in me.
What inspired you to start working on MotorsportReg.com?
In 2000 I learned about High Performance Driving Schools organized by the BMW Car Club of America. It’s basically an educational event at a racetrack where an instructor sits in the right-hand seat of your daily-driven street car and teaches you how to drive at high speeds. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on! I had always wanted to be a racecar driver since I was a little kid tearing up mini-golf go-karts and this was something accessible.
Within a year, I was going more frequently than my wallet could afford so I began volunteering on the team that organized the events. I combined my web and technology skills with their paper-and-mail process and we created something better that helps everyone with this passion have just a little more fun.
How important is it to love what you do?
I like Derek Sivers’ philosophy of breaking down things into “No” or “HELL YEAH!”: life is way too short to waste it with people, places or things that are not engaging.
What are you most excited about, auto racing, travel or startups?
After my wife, I love racing cars the most. It’s really the only thing that stops me from being a full-time vagabond and if I didn’t, I would already live abroad somewhere. Of course, I couldn’t afford to do either of those things if I didn’t have my company but despite how many hours I work and how much I love being an entrepreneur, I still work to live, not live to work.
What technologies have you used to build MotorsportReg.com?
We use a variety of technologies – it’s mostly open source and Linux-based including Java, ColdFusion, PostgreSQL, Linux, Apache and ActiveMQ. We also use and love WordPress. We’re very focused on getting things done and being pragmatic so we try to use the best available tool for the job at hand.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing MotorsportReg.com?
Online Payments. They seem so simple but have many details and exceptions that make getting them right difficult. Thankfully we work with Braintree Payments today and they have made our payment processing (especially PCI DSS compliance) a lot easier.
How long did it take to put together MotorsportReg.com?
It started as a nights-and-weekends prototype for one car club in 2002 and continued in that fashion for several years. It was a tax write off for my own driving and racing. It wasn’t until years later when customers basically demanded I make a real company out of it.
The first prototype was pretty simple and came together quickly. Today, there are thousands and thousands of hours of design and development effort into it and we’re a small team servicing 350 organizations across North America who put on 2,200 events annually. We’re the definition of bootstrapped.
How does MotorsportReg.com make money?
I’m not a staunch believer in freemium but there is an important network effect in motorsports so we offer a free plan to get as many of the players in one ecosystem as possible. Most of our customers use one of our two paid plans where we charge a service fee for processing registrations and we white-label our platform for larger organizations who want a branded experience. We also have partner programs for insurance, lodging and product sales.
Do you have any new features in the pipeline?
We push production code several times per week so the pace of innovation is pretty high for a small team and it’s driven by a sizeable back log of customer-driven ideas. We capture every enhancement but we have a goal of removing or simplifying one feature for every feature added. That feedback loop helps keep the product easy to use even as it changes rapidly.
We’re currently updating a few key components like reporting to make them more flexible. We’re also working on expanding our REST API so developers can make more magic happen on top of our platform.
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?
Don’t skimp on automation. If you can write code to do X, spend the extra 10% to totally automate and report on X. The smaller the team, the more critical this becomes for scaling the human side of a startup. It’s also nice to know you can go to the beach and things won’t come to a screeching halt.
I also wish I would have outsourced more at an earlier stage. I’m like a lot of entrepreneurs I know in that I have very high personal standards. For me, it can be hard to delegate or outsource if I’m not confident those standards will be met and it’s something I continually work on.
Has MotorsportReg.com got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
When I first started in 2002, I didn’t think this had the potential to be a real business. Today we’re profitable without taking any investment, I employ a small team and we expect to accelerate our growth. Our customers love our service – they literally give us hugs when we meet – because we’re making their hobby and passion more fun. That fills us with a sense of pride but it keeps us on our toes because we have a lot of people counting on us to make their lives easier.
Where do you see MotorsportReg.com in 5 years time?
I’m more excited about technology right now than I have been in a long time. We’ve been iterating on how we solve our customer problems for almost a decade and we’ve recently been planning how we can leverage current technologies and mobile apps to totally rethink participant registration and management needs for racing events.
For as long as I’ve been at this, it kind of feels like we’re starting from scratch. There are so many great tools and resources out there to start or reinvent companies and the barriers have never been lower. I think a lot of incumbent or dominant players look at that as a threat but I see it as an opportunity to continue innovating and delivering value.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
We have two kinds of competition – motorsport-specific services who are mostly nights-and-weekends operations run by enthusiasts and generic solutions like Eventbrite. We have a pretty unique value proposition and deeply-loved customer support which is why we dominate our niche but we don’t take that for granted.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Being a good manager and leader. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I taught myself how to program. In my adult life I’ve only received a paycheck from someone other than myself for about 18 months and at that company I was essentially my own manager.
As an entrepreneur, it’s really hard to learn how to do everything required from protecting yourself legally to hiring and firing and I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as I would like. The care and feeding of people is a lot harder than piloting a racecar!
Who helped you get to where you are today?
I’ve had a couple of colleagues who played important roles at various stages in our growth to help grow and support the company. Importantly, my wife subsidized our living expenses as I transitioned from consulting to full-time in 2007 and it would have taken much longer to get where we are if I wasn’t able to dedicate 100% of my energy. We never took any investment so the bootstrapping paid off.
If it weren’t for the Golden Gate Chapter of the BMW Car Club of America, I would have never had a prototype to grow into the service we provide today. I’m proud to say that they are still a customer 10 years later.
What are you reading at the moment?
Business Model Generation, Copy Hacker’s e-book from AppSumo and Cook’s Illustrated. What’s the point of living if you don’t eat well? :)
What one piece of advice would you give to future startup founders?
Whatever you do, don’t do it to get rich. Do it to make someone’s life better. Succeed at that and the money will follow.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I’m about to leave for a 3-week trip to Uganda to visit with chimpanzee and gorilla researchers in the field. I’ll also be volunteering with the One Laptop Per Child program which is going to be a great experience.
Can you convince the reader to start using MotorsportReg.com in under 50 words?
If you’ve got a lead foot or want to race, we probably have events that you would like to attend. If you’ve gone nuts and are organizing a driving or social event, we’re going to make it easy and help fill your event. What else do you need?