Joel Milne, co-founder and CEO of RepairSmith, is hiring as fast as he can. The serial entrepreneur's company, which he founded in August 2019, is working on overhauling the car repair industry--which he says hasn't been reimagined in more than 50 years: "We basically created what we think is the most convenient form of car repair. We come to you and fix your car either at your home or your office."
It's a simple but elegant solution to an otherwise stressful situation. Taking your car--if it's drivable--to a mechanic is almost always a headache: How long will you have to wait? Can you get time off from work? If it's a multiday repair, how will you get home?
RepairSmith lets customers in California, Nevada, and Arizona book a car repair online. The company then sends one of its mechanics in a specially outfitted Mercedes Sprinter or Metris van (essentially a workshop on wheels) to complete the repair. Milne says that 90 percent of repairs can be completed with the van, but for special cases, RepairSmith will take the customer's car back to a workshop and return it when it's fixed. The prices are similar to those found in a typical repair shop, the company says, so the real selling point is the convenience factor.
"You don't take your toilet to the plumber; once you've had the plumber come to you, that's pretty much how you want to do it from then on," Milne says.
RepairSmith, which Milne co-founded with Felix Walter, is funded solely by Walter's former employer: Daimler AG, better known as Mercedes in the U.S. (Disclosure: Mercedes is a current Inc. sponsor.) RepairSmith declined to share funding or specific revenue figures, but says revenue is in the eight-figure range, having grown at a monthly compound rate of 22 percent in the past year.
To keep up with demand, Milne says that RepairSmith is hiring new, full-time mechanics instead of independent contractors, who don't make as much sense for such highly skilled work. The company is also putting new vans on the road every week, and plans to have more than 70 technicians and 100 vans on the road by the end of the year.
That rapid rate of growth has posed a challenge--especially when it comes to logistics: "It's like running with scissors," Milne says. "In the early days, when we had two or three vans, I could do a schedule in Outlook. Once you have 50 vans? Good luck."
Milne says that 80 percent of RepairSmith's business is logistics. Using data analytics and algorithms to handle a lot of moving parts has helped the company get the average wait time for repairs down to two to three days after booking.
While RepairSmith's calendar is full, the company has devoted time and resources to giving back to the communities in which it operates. Earlier this year, Milne says, the company pledged $125,000 worth of repair services to those in need--namely essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, and people who lost their jobs to the economic recession.
That money ran out quickly, and while Milne says it was gratifying to be able to help people in need, it was heartbreaking to have to turn people away. And the giveaway was hard on the team: "When you announce you're giving away $125,000, it does create a little bit of chaos internally. And some of the feedback was, 'The end result was amazing. But, you know, it really strained us taking all these phone calls and emails and having to get back to every single person.'"
Milne decided that RepairSmith needed to take a more efficient approach to giving back. After reading a story on CNN about the Cahoots program in Eugene, Oregon--which deploys mental health counselors and medics in vans to answer 911 calls that don't necessarily require police intervention--Milne says he decided that donating services to charity partners would be the way to do the greatest good.
"I saw this organization and thought, hey--they have a bunch of old vehicles that I'm sure cost money to keep running. We could help that group serve its mission," he says.
In September, RepairSmith announced that it will donate an additional $250,000 in services to charities--with a maximum donation of $10,000 per charity--through what it's calling the Jump Start program. The program's first partner, Project Angel Food, delivers meals each day to approximately 2,100 homebound people fighting serious illnesses. RepairSmith is in the process of completing $6,000 worth of repairs to Project Angel Food's fleet of 10 vans.
"RepairSmith has made it possible to drive our vans and deliver our meals to our clients without worry," says Project Angel Food's communications and marketing manager, Anne-Marie Williams. Mechanics have done everything from rotating tires and changing the oil to replacing brake pads and even a power steering pump.
Milne says he's confident the company has hit on a giving program that will spread the most good to organizations in need. He also predicts that as car technology continues to become more complex and computerized, RepairSmith will be in a unique position to evolve alongside the industry.
"You've got 200,000 local, small-business repair shops across the country, and for them to invest in the next-gen technology is going to be expensive and difficult," he says. "We feel as a platform of scale, we'll be able to make those investments for training our technicians and buying the equipment. The amount of repair, I think, is going to stay the same--the types of repairs are going to change."