Meet the 30X30: Clutch Co-Founder Stephen Seibel Wants to Make the Car-Buying Experience a Delight
Our sixth annual Bay Street Bull 30X30 guide showcases a group of incredible individuals who are redefining the way we do business, championing their communities, and cultivating entirely new industries. From tech and environmental pioneers to cryptocurrency entrepreneurs and media trailblazers, each of this year’s inductees is challenging Canadians to think (and work) differently for a brighter future.
In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and best advice.
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Stephen Seibel: Clutch is Canada’s first, largest and fastest-growing online car retailer that has revolutionized the way that people buy and sell cars—making what was once a long and complicated experience nearly as easy as ordering a pizza.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Stephen Seibel: The automotive retail industry has a deserved reputation for being archaic and painful for shoppers. With Clutch, we’re solving these problems for the first time.
We get to solve those problems through software that is designed to move atoms around, versus a product that only lives in the cloud. This crossover of manufacturing processes and software makes problem-solving in our vertical incredibly interesting and rewarding.
Being able to then step back and see the difference that our product has made in the customer experience—and getting to hear directly from our customers themselves—is really the most exciting part.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your community?
Stephen Seibel: We help save Canadians thousands of dollars and a huge amount of painful time that otherwise would have been spent on negotiations and trips to dealerships. Life is too short to go through a terrible car-buying experience every five years.
What was wrong with the status quo in your industry that you saw as an opportunity to change and evolve?
Stephen Seibel: If you’ve been to a car dealership before, you’re likely familiar with the feeling of frustration when haggling with a salesperson, the irritation of having to sacrifice so much personal time, or the unsettling feeling you get when driving away and not knowing if you’ve been taken advantage of. Up until now, the industry was built to make things better for car dealerships at the expense of the consumer—at Clutch we’re changing that. A car is a huge purchase and people should feel confident and excited throughout that process.
What is your philosophy around problem-solving, specific to your industry and work? How do you approach complex problems through an innovative lens or out-of-the-box thinking?
Stephen Seibel: I rely on a first-principles approach when solving problems. First, you need to have an understanding of the actual problem you want to solve. This sounds simple, but it’s actually the most important step and the one people breeze by—if you try to solve a problem before understanding it, all the work you do will eventually be thrown away. Once you do have your requirements set and understand the issue, you then start problem-solving and rapidly iterating on your solution. Only once you have a solution that proves effective do you increase the cycle time of it and then finally automate it when you can’t make it go faster. Too many people start by trying to automate their poorly understood problems away, which rarely solves the root issue and only adds to operational complexity.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away from your work?
Stephen Seibel: People interested in starting companies shouldn’t shy away from building products that live in the physical world. Many people in the pure software space have been successful, but there are tons of problems just waiting to be solved that require a software and operations hybrid solution.
What has been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur? Your biggest milestone?
Stephen Seibel: My proudest accomplishment has been building a team and a system from the ground up that is now able to run without my direct day-to-day involvement. This is possible if you’ve established a strong product-market fit, done a great job recruiting people smarter than yourself, and driven a culture of continuous iteration that values customer experience above all else.
My biggest milestone would have to be selling our first car in 2017 as this proved we actually had something consumers wanted to buy! Our first customer, Barry from Cape Breton, took a chance on us after reading about Clutch in a blog post while searching for a first car for his daughter. Being able to deliver that car to him in person, and see how excited his entire family was about the purchase and Clutch, was definitely an unforgettable milestone.
Why does your work matter?
Stephen Seibel: A car is the second largest purchase that most people will make in their lifetime, but historically, this purchase has left many people feeling taken advantage of. At the end of the day, I feel good knowing that we’ve unlocked a way for Canadians to purchase a reliable and cost-effective method of transportation in a super fun and easy way.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve built your company and raised your voice?
Stephen Seibel: I’ve gone from being a generally open person to one who is extraordinarily transparent with everyone at the company. People are inspiringly resilient when it comes to hearing bad news and I don’t ascribe to the belief that every piece of news or feedback needs to be a delicately crafted narrative. The most important thing is to share context, assume positive intent, and not foster a culture of secrecy where only good news is shared.
What is a major career goal that you have set your sights on and hope to accomplish in 2022?
Stephen Seibel: I want to establish Clutch as the number one player in the used automotive space and do it with full vertical integration. By the end of this year, Clutch will be seen as its own category within automotive.