Not many people turn up late for the finals of the EY NZ Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Jamie Bennett did this year. Was he contrite?
Nah, a customer had experienced a problem and he totally knew what his priority had to be.
Bennett is one half of the Snap Rentals team, with fellow co-founder, Patrick ‘Paddy’ Broadbent. Launched in 2013, Snap Rentals is the fastest-growing rental car company in New Zealand, and one of the fastest-growing companies overall – ranking 11th in the 2016 Deloitte Fast 50 and growing almost five-times over the previous year.
But, as they say, ‘wait, there’s more!’
This duo of serial entrepreneurs is poised to ‘Uber-Amazon’ the increasingly creaky and widely disparaged global car rental industry.
They have a fleet of 500 vehicles split between Auckland and Christchurch, a burgeoning relationship with Tesla (yes, they already have a Tesla S, with three Tesla 3s in the priority queue), a mini-fleet of electric Hyundai Ioniqs enroute from South Korea, and are pushing the green, electric vehicles as a differentiator.
That’s along with offering a low-cost option too.
It’s a fairy tale in the making, especially once you’ve read how they plan to disrupt their stagnant industry.
But therein lies the danger that has upset many: how to supersize and still remain sustainable.
So they turned to The Icehouse’s Ken Leeming, an adviser with an engineering background, to focus their marketing flair and entrepreneurial spirits.
Broadbent and Bennett have been a successful, low-ego team since they met at Canterbury University in 2006, studying history, of all things. What first drew them together was a little venture Bennett had thought up – CurrySoc, a university club for ‘people who liked curry and good times’.
“That sounded perfect to me,” remembers Broadbent, “so I joined. Little did I know at the time, but a shared love of curry and beer has led to a great friendship and a number of business ventures, with a variety of outcomes.”
Bennett had a part-time job working for a small campervan rental start-up, doing “everything-and-anything” – from cleaning vans to dealing with customers.
“When I heard there was a vacancy, I jumped at it. Our part-time roles became full-time once we finished uni, but this was short-lived as the GFC hit international tourist numbers and our jobs became unsustainable.”
After a couple of months, Bennett came up with a mobile coffee business, with a difference, Green Bean (it really all started there) dispensed out of two tiny Smart Cars, with the passenger seats removed (both are big lads) and the kit under the hatchback window.
“It was an incredibly hard slog, and we hardly got by. We used to start each day by using the revenue from the previous day to restart: $5 for petrol, $6 for two bottles of milk.
“As we did our rounds and got more cash we would top-up on more supplies, so we could survive. Looking back, it’s a miracle Green Bean, and us, survived.
“We soon realised it could really only sustain one of us. But we stuck it out, simply because we had no other options.”
Adlids, which put advertising on takeaway coffee lids was to be their salvation. But just before the eagerly awaited launch, the Christchurch earthquake struck. Adlids was shafted.
Soon after, they found a buyer for Green Bean, settled their debt and used the little amount of money left to get Snap Rentals started – fired by their mutual love of cars and some early confidence and insights gained in the campervan market.
A short while later they were already being celebrated for “bringing a whole new attitude and business philosophy to the car rental business”.
Focused on tomorrow
“It’s hard to think we started with second-hand cheap, reliable and easy-to-service Nissan Sunnys,” says Bennett. “Today, most of our fleet is brand new. And we were the first New Zealand rental company to offer the sensational Tesla electric car, which has been a great success.”
But Snap Rentals and its two hard-working, colourful co-founders are much more about tomorrow than yesterday. Their app (“to shake the car rental market in New Zealand”) might realistically even have a ripple affect across the interconnected Western world, at least.
Here’s why, and it will bring joy to anyone hiring a vehicle and “having to wade through a ‘telephone directory’ of incoherent ‘terms and conditions’; being forced to sign a ‘scratches and bumps’, one-sided acknowledgement; facing gross one-way penalties, mostly opaque until your credit card arrives; the infamous full-petrol-tank-on-return rip-off; and even paying to get the vehicle out of the airport”.
The good news is, all that’s over. With Snap Rentals, an electric car or one of your preference is brought to you. You show your ID and that’s the formalities done and you drive off.
When you’ve finished with the vehicle, you call in and tell them where it’s parked. All charges stop at that point.
What? No walking round the car looking at existing scratches, while you’ve already wasted nearly an hour getting the car?
Broadbent: “All cars get scratched. That’s a fact of life. We aren’t trying that on; but we will know if you’ve trashed the car and follow that up.”
Bennett again: “Shortly, we will be in a positon to allow you to call, and we’ll drop off a car to you to drive across town to your next meeting. So we will be competing against the like of any city-based pick-up-and-drop-off cars.”
Meanwhile, Ken Leeming at The Icehouse remains measured and calm as this head-popping plan is laid out.
“Yes, there are challenges, but these guys are tested and proven, as are their business plans.
“We can, and will, supersize and remain sustainable. My job is to remind them at all times to remain ‘authentic’ – know your limitations, but [deliver] more ‘out of the box’ thinking; the same high standards and technological innovation which have driven year-on-year success so far; and to be certain in what they are going to bring off, while achieving one of the greatest disruptions yet.
Snap Rentals is trading on the fact the small-print will not generate sustainable profits, but a product and service the client wants will, adds Leeming.
“All at a reasonable price, on simple, understandable terms and conditions.”