Carro’s Aaron Tan On Becoming An Entrepreneur At 13 And Founding One Of Southeast Asia’s Largest Online Car Marketplaces
The pandemic has shaken up most industries, leaving some struggling to rebuild, and others embracing the disruption and going fully digital.
Globally, the used car industry is booming thanks to the pandemic, as people are motivated to buy their own ride to avoid public transport. One of the companies reaping the rewards of the demand boost and digital acceleration is Carro, an online car marketplace offering end-to-end services for all aspects of car ownership.
According to group CEO Aaron Tan, who started the company in 2015 with his co-founders Aditya Lesmana and Kelvin Chng, Carro’s latest sales turnover is nearly US$300 million. Earlier this year, it was named the fastest-growing company in Asia-Pacific in an analysis jointly conducted by the Financial Times, Nikkei and Statista. In the region, Carro has presence in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Since 2016, Carro’s staff has grown from just 10 to almost 900 today, says Tan, spread across seven countries worldwide. It has also raised over US$180 million in funding from global investors such as Softbank Ventures Asia, Mitsubishi Corp and EDBI.
As an entrepreneur who started two tech businesses before Carro, Tan doesn’t shy away from trying new things. So when the pandemic began last year, he reassessed Carro’s business model and led the team to find new ways to improve the company’s services using technology.
This resulted in innovations such as making the purchasing experience of its used cars contactless, and using AI to calculate the premiums of its auto insurance based on a driver’s behaviour and level of usage. Carro also uses AI to scan cars for potential problems before mechanics check them for defects, reducing human error by up to 80 percent.
Tan has been programming since he was a teen over two decades ago. His first idea was to build a search engine, after he logged into Yahoo! for the first time in 1995 when he was just 11 years old.
We always need to learn and relearn, and be certain of the matter at hand before acting on it
“My mum had just gotten me a computer then and when I came across Yahoo!, it got me interested to find out how someone could build a search engine,” he says. “So I started going to the library near my house to read up on this, and that’s how I became familiar with the technical side of things.”
“My thought has always been: How can I make money over the internet?” With his enterprising spirit ignited at such a young age, he decided to drop out of school at 16 years old to dive deeper into the world of technology.
“I remember I was sitting on the upper deck of a double-decker bus, on the way to school,” Tan says. “When I got to my stop, I recall telling myself that I’m never ever going to use any of the things I’m about to learn, at least in the academic sense; I’d rather be learning about technology. So I got off the bus. My mum didn’t find out that I wasn’t at school until two or three months later, but from my perspective, I was using that time to make money.”
By this time, he was already running his first startup, building websites for companies. He later sold this venture to work on his second—a search engine called YoSearch that he'd eventually sell as well, to an Australian company.
He did go back to school, but that was a few years and two sold companies later, to get his computer science degree and an MBA.
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Today, he runs Carro with similar decisiveness. “My work motto is ‘don’t assume’. Often, when things don’t get done, it’s because of miscommunication and people making assumptions,” he says. “But when we’re starting or running a business, we cannot afford to assume.”
“If we’re expanding into another country, we can’t assume that its tax system works the same as in Singapore, or that the people we hire will be like those we hired in Singapore,” he says. “We always need to learn and relearn, and be certain of the matter at hand before acting on it.”
In order to grow the business, Tan is single-mindedly focused on finding areas to use AI to streamline Carro’s processes and free up its manpower to do more productive work. “From time to time, I speak to employees who are several layers away from me and ask what they wish they didn’t have to do at work every day,” he says. “I want to know if we can automate some of these tasks for them. I’m also very edgy whenever I see paper lying around,” he says with a laugh.
Introducing automation where possible, says Tan, will help Carro reach its goal of becoming Amazon for cars in Asia.
See more honourees from the Technology category of the Gen.T List 2020