From car videos to car auctions to car empires

Doug DeMuro is perhaps the most successful automotive YouTuber in the relatively short history of this fledgling medium. He has over 4.5 million subscribers, and his 20-30 minute car reviews regularly garner more than a million views, often within a week or two of being posted. He has already become a central figure in American car culture, sharing screen time with Jay Leno while being a regular guest on major car blogs and participating in the annual Pebble Beach Concours. And now, with a $37 million investment from The Chernin Group (TCG) in his recently launched auction site Cars & Bids, Doug can add “entrepreneur” to his list of accolades.

Doug’s YouTube channel started in 2013 based on feedback from a Jalopnik reader, where Doug was freelance writing at the time. Doug started his channel as a sort of vlog about his personal ownership of special interest cars he bought, the first being a Ferrari 360. “It’s the most pedestrian exotic car you can imagine, but then nobody on YouTube had a Ferrari. That was kind of interesting to people. What’s it really like to own a Ferrari?” Doug did the same with an Aston Martin, a Hummer and a Viper.

This format lasted for about 3 years, but Doug realized that his viewers were more interested in getting his perspective on many cars rather than in-depth analysis of just a few, so he shifted to reviewing special interest cars and modern vehicles , often with the help of owners or local dealers who lend him the vehicles. His “odds and features” reviews have become a vital research component for a growing number of new and used car buyers due to Doug’s approachable style that never comes off as intimidating or condescending to the mainstream car buyer.

Doug’s YouTube activity remains a key component of his day-to-day work, but he now has to split time with running Cars & Bids, the auction site that launched in June 2020. Since then, Cars & Bids has sold over 230 million worth of specials dollars interest cars. The site focuses primarily on collectible vehicles valued under $100,000 from 1980 to 2010, although it also features many new electric vehicles, including Rivian trucks and SUVs, as well as the Ford F-150 Lightning. Interesting models between one and three years old, such as the Ford Bronco and exotic cars valued at more than $100,000, are also increasingly appearing in Cars & Bids online auctions.

Why did Doug start Cars & Bids? “About three and a half years ago, it occurred to me that I wanted to do something with my audience that was less beholden to the YouTube algorithm,” said Doug. “You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the day after, but I have a big audience and I really needed to create a business where I could control the revenue streams, unlike YouTube, which can turn them on or off at any time.”

Doug partnered with Blake Machado to start Cars & Bids, and he admits that it was extremely stressful for him to start his own business. “I told a lot of people that I would never start another business again. It was tough,” Doug said. “First, the anxiety before we launch, especially in the middle of a global pandemic, but also the question of whether it will work and whether people will show up? I don’t sleep any of those nights. And even after the launch you are anxious. It’s just a huge amount of stress and fear.

Sure enough, the site worked, growing so quickly that Doug’s stress immediately changed from “will people show up?” to having to hire a team of people to manage the flow of activity generated from day one. Doug tells us, “The first day we got 900 bids and the person reviewing all of them was just me, and I still have videos to shoot!” He immediately had to hire writers and auction support people. And the next 2 years were a race trying to keep up the growth. “That’s the nature of a startup. A hole appears and you hire people to plug it, then another hole appears and you hire more people.”

This rapid growth, a jump from two auctions a day to four auctions a day to 10 auctions a day, has led to interest from venture capitalists and private equity firms. “The thing that was attractive about The Chernin Group is that they work specifically with these creative-owned and operated businesses, like MeatEater and Barstool Sports,” says Doug. “We’ve heard from all these potential investors, but here’s one who understands. This understands the limitations and benefits that the creator brings. This understands that paid marketing may not be the way to achieve growth. Perhaps it pursues people who are naturally there because they love the creator. Here’s a group of people I don’t have to explain this to.

Doug felt it was time to bring in someone who really knew how to take the business to the next level. “We hired a CEO who had been a CEO before. We received an investment from a business that had invested in similar businesses before. I still own a large part of the business and will still be involved on a daily basis,” Doug assured us.

Steve Cousineau, director of TCG, told us: “At TCG, we’re excited about businesses built for highly engaged, passionate communities — the modern enthusiast automotive sector is a perfect example. Doug has done a tremendous job connecting with this community through his unique brand of content and building a commerce platform to serve them. We believe Cars & Bids is just scratching the surface of this sector.”

Roh Choi will be CEO of Cars & Bids, with previous experience as CEO of BitTorrent and CBO of Luxe. Ro began his career at eBay Motors and plans to focus on accelerating market growth through increased investment in content, technology and business operations.

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