Meet Ibrahim Mesbah
Co-Founder and CEO of RevolutionParts
"I was always intrigued by the States."
Originally from Egypt, Ibrahim’s family moved to Zambia when he was six months old. He attended a British international school and grew up in a multicultural environment. With many of his classmates originally from South Africa and the UK, the default choice for college was not necessarily the US.
I loved Michael Jackson. American Nightrider was one of my favorite things to watch growing up. I was drawn to the States and decided to pursue an education in engineering there. I fell in love with the country and all the opportunities, so I ended up staying.
It was quite a cultural change.
Ibrahim didn't grow up in the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, “I was in a smaller city called Ndola,” he shared, “it was very sheltered, very close-knit. I had never seen a phone booth before."
I remember being at the airport. I was trying to make a phone call, and yeah, there was a lot of learning very quickly right when I first moved here.
"We left PayPal to start RevolutionParts."
We started RevolutionParts about nine years ago. My co-founder, Andreas, and I worked at PayPal for about five years. At the time, PayPal was an eBay company.
We had the opportunity to work with the eBay team and had a growing passion for marketplaces, payments, and e-commerce. One of our mutual friends worked locally in Phoenix at a car dealership. We were struck by how hard it was for our friends to run a successful online business for parts and accessories.
That piqued our curiosity, and as we dug in, we saw it as an opportunity to take our passion for e-commerce and payments and marketplaces and bring a more modern consumer perspective to the automotive industry and solve some of those challenges.
"We bootstrapped 10 million dollars."
We found about seven or eight companies in the space, but many of those solutions lacked what you'd expect from a modern e-commerce platform.
“We knew that we could do better.”
Ibrahim and his co-founder felt that the industry was under-served. They recognized the opportunity to take their passion into a big industry, “as we researched automotive, we just learned more about how big the industry actually is,” he says: “we wanted to make an impact.”
It's a big challenge to take a lot of the disparate systems and data that make up the parts catalog, distributor pricing, and inventory at the dealer and distributor level and build that up to a compelling e-commerce experience. We couldn't solve all the challenges at once, but we started by solving one of them: how do we help you price competitively?
It used to take about six months to get prices updated online. It's tough to run a competitive online business if you don't have up-to-date pricing. So we started solving smaller challenges like that first. Our business began to grow, and we realized we could do much more in the space. We learned a lot about the industry.
“We were software guys; now, we just love the industry.”
It's very fulfilling to see the impact that we can have, helping our dealers and OEM partners to easily sell online. However, there are a lot of challenges that we haven't solved, so even though it's been nine years, it feels like we're just getting started.
"Our platform powers over $625 million a year in OEM parts sales online."
It's a pretty narrow niche. But, when you look at how much OEM parts and accessories are sold online, we believe we can grow that piece of the pie and continue to drive more sales for our partners.
Automotive has unique nuances, and relationships still go a long way in the industry. So the first few years, we just served one automaker. After that, it was a little bit easier to get access to data and start to help their dealers, so we could prove the model and expand nationally.
"We now power more sales than anybody else in the industry in the US for online retail OEM part sales."
The first few years of their business were spent focused on serving one automaker. It became easier to access data and start to help their dealers. RevolutionParts was able to prove their model and expand nationally.
There are new challenges with supply chain issues and COVID around finding inventory and setting better expectations. The model is changing quite a bit, too, because automakers are looking at how to reduce friction and provide a better experience to their end buyer, but, of course, there are franchise laws that come into play here. Trying to navigate all that, we feel fortunate that we have a seat at the table and could be part of that solution. We didn't realize how big the industry was and how many opportunities there were, right?
"We try to ruthlessly prioritize the things we're going to work on."
“There are many things we could work on and problems we could solve,” Ibrahim smiles. “I wish we could move faster. There is always an opportunity to make an even bigger impact.”
Initially, we were very market driven. We were smaller, and we partnered with many early adopters in the industry willing to take a chance with a small company. As a result, we got to deeply understand our customer’s day-to-day and where we can add value.
Understanding what those customers largely drove the most impactful thing we could do. We bootstrapped our business for the first six or seven years with $10 million. We had to make every dollar stretch and manage our resources incredibly effectively. So privatization is important to us. We must be careful how and where we spend our time and resources.
There's no shortage of tasks because there are a lot of opportunities and ways to contribute and add value. We manage our resources and focus by considering our different teams and understanding the Northstar metric for each team. We want to enable and empower our engineering and product team. It's up to them to consider all the different opportunities we can think of to improve the shopping experience and conversions, for example, and take a couple of bets, as long as what drives the most impact and the customers' voices is part of the equation.
"Our dealers have a really good sense of what matters."
RevolutionParts understand that dealers are fully in-tune with their operations. “We understand that and work to prioritize a roadmap where there's typically one big rock that that team is driving towards every quarter,” Ibrahim says.
Our core business is helping franchise dealers sell parts online. The end customer we are targeting is the consumer, people who work on their own cars or do their own repairs. They can go online, find a genuine part, place an order, and get it delivered to a nearby dealership.
The change we are seeing is that many insurance companies and reconditioning centers are struggling to find inventory for OEM parts. What they're interested in is whether we can help them solve this problem. We have a network of about 2,000 dealership partners here in the U.S., and we can help find the inventory. We're doing a couple of pilots right now that we're pretty excited about: working with those larger wholesale buyers and giving them a way to easily tap into our network of dealers and locate inventory.
Our goals this year are to continue to strengthen our online retail footprint.
E-commerce is growing, and we believe we're in a bit of a recession or a slowdown this year. With interest rates rising, people will hold on to their cars for a little longer. This should bode well for our industry and our dealers. If people hold onto their cars longer, there will be more investment in maintaining them.
"So we're excited about being part of that and helping double down on our current core business and enabling our dealers to sell even more online."
Our future gross lever is taking this pilot we're working on right now, productizing it, and launching it this year. This solution enables bigger wholesale buyers to source parts from our network of dealers, OEM parts specifically.
The third focus area for the year, our three pillars, is removing friction from the experience. Our customers are short-staffed. How do we help with automation and integration so that day-to-day, our platform is even easier to use? Enabling them to do more with less.
Ibrahim’s humble approach is in stark contrast to what you may expect a CEO of a wildly successful business to be like. Measured and thoughtful, he and the team clearly approach problem-solving with the long-term game in mind. We look forward to what RevolutionParts has in store for the industry this year.