On Designing A Website For Discounted Car Rentals Saving Users Over $50M

Published: April 3rd, 2020
Jonathan Weinberg
Founder, AutoSlash
from New York, New York, USA
started April 2010
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My name is Jonathan Weinberg and I’m the founder of AutoSlash.com, a website designed to help consumers get the best possible deal on a car rental. In the past ten years, AutoSlash has saved over one million people over $50M on their car rentals!

More recently, we also launched HotelSlash.com, a website that aims to do the same in the hotel space. Our customers have been asking us for years if there was a site like AutoSlash that could help them save money on their hotel stays. After extensive research into space, we feel we have come up with a product that will be a game-changer for consumers.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

I was interested in travel and technology at an early age. My father worked for United Airlines installing their computer reservation systems. This was back in the days before PCs when everything was “green screens”. The airline industry was one of the first to computerize, and I spent a lot of time with my dad helping out and experimenting with surplus equipment at his office and home. I’m pretty sure I was the only kid in the neighborhood with a teletype machine with a punch tape at home (you’ll have to Google that kids).

Learn everything about the area you are in and become a subject matter expert.

I came of age just as the personal computer revolution was taking hold. My first computer was an Atari 800XL and my friend across the street had an Apple IIc. Being exposed to all this technology as a teenager had a profound impact on me. Whereas the rest of the world was just being introduced to what computers could do, I was deeply entrenched in this fascinating new world. It wasn’t long before I discovered online bulletin boards (a sort of predecessor to the internet) and hacking the phone system, which, much to my parent's dismay, became a bit of an obsession.

Post-college, it was sort of inevitable that I would gravitate toward computers as a career. I worked selling computers in Radio Shack, was head of technology for a corporate travel agency, worked for one of the earliest Windows software developers who built a predecessor to Microsoft Outlook, and then had a very successful career as a technology professional working for financial companies on Wall St.

At some point, I got bored with finance and felt the pull back toward travel. I ended up consulting for a very small (at the time) airfare deals site called AirfareWatchdog. It was there I learned the ropes of how an internet startup functioned and saw what was possible. Once that bug bit me, it was all over. I became increasingly disenchanted with my “day job” and wanted to spend all my time in the online travel space.

AirfareWatchdog was eventually sold and I began to think about my next move. I was visiting my parents in Florida one day and I bragged to my mother about how I always get an amazing deal on car rental because I know all the best coupons and discount codes to apply, and then I keep checking the rate every day and re-booking anytime the price drops. My mother suggested that there could be a business in that. I dismissed it at the time, but over the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

One thing led to another, and after approaching an amazing developer named Mike I had recently met, I convinced him to embark on this crazy journey with me and we founded AutoSlash.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

The first question Mike asked me was whether rental rates really changed all that much. My experience thus far had only been anecdotal for personal rentals. Being the analytical sort, Mike wanted to see for himself whether this harebrained idea actually made sense.

We built a little prototype to collect rental prices over a week to analyze the data. When we first looked at the data collected, I thought the program was broken because the prices were all over the place. After verifying that the program was working as intended, we realized that there was far more volatility in car rental pricing than anyone realized and a significant amount of money could be saved for folks by tracking the price of a rental reservation over time.

Neither one of us knew anything at all about car rentals at the time, but we knew an opportunity when we saw one. We recruited a graphic designer and Mike built the site from scratch. We launched in early 2010 and the site immediately was a hit with consumers. Bloggers were relatively new at the time, and we were featured on View From The Wing, one of the more popular travel blogs, and this helped to jump-start awareness of our site, with others picking it up from there.

From the get-go, folks realized that AutoSlash was a game-changer for booking car rentals since the site could enable you to find a better deal than anywhere else. Then with daily price tracking, we could ensure that you not only got the best deal the day you booked but that you had the best deal period until the day you were scheduled to pick up the car. It was like price protection for your rental.

While the site proved amazingly popular with consumers, it was not nearly as popular with the established car rental industry players. We decided early on though that we would obsessively focus on doing what’s best for the consumer, and that strategy has served us extremely well in the ten years since. I think that consumers instinctively know when a company or service has their best interests at heart vs. one that is just looking to milk them for maximum profit. Our strategy has been, and will always be, get the consumer the best deal possible and they will not only be loyal repeat customers, but they will tell their friends, family, and co-workers about this great website where they got an amazing deal on a car rental. Who doesn’t love to brag a bit?

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

AutoSlash is extremely successful at what we do. We built (bootstrapped) the business without any outside capital at all. It didn’t hurt that for the first few years, I was still working my “day job”, and the early years were tough, but we persevered and the business is now quite profitable.

We run a very lean operation with team members working remotely all over the world. We have team members in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Colorado, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Chile, Poland, and Ukraine. We’re a tight-knit team that is obsessively focused on the customer and customer experience.

We don’t spend a lot on advertising, preferring instead to wow our customers with incredible savings and service. We’re known for having the best service in the travel industry and I’m extremely proud of that. Customers do notice, and it’s one of the reasons that we have such amazing organic growth, which is consistently greater than 30% year-over-year.

We also have an incredible content team that not only produces the most comprehensive and accurate car rental focused information on the internet, but also generates an incredible amount of inbound traffic from search engines thanks to our long-term focus on SEO.

We’ve got tons of enhancements planned for AutoSlash in the coming year, and I believe that HotelSlash, while still in its infancy, is going to be a significant force in the hotel space just as AutoSlash has cemented itself as the best place to rent a car. After all, who doesn’t want to save money?

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The business is a constant learning experience. I literally learn something new every day. We’re constantly trying new things and experimenting. I’ve gotten an education in many varied topics like SEO, writing SQL queries, the most arcane details of car rental insurance, and learning that stepping up and admitting a mistake and making the customer whole for it eventually returns far more in customer loyalty and brand evangelism that whatever reimbursement you had to payout.

I’d say that the most important things I’ve learned are that as a founder and CEO, hiring is your most important job and you have to lead by example. From day one I’ve worked hard to take care of our customers and employees. My employees see how I treat our customers, and they naturally pick up on those cues and do the same. It helps that we work extremely hard to hire smart, dedicated people who are a “fit” for the team. Having a great team that works well together is as important--sometimes even more important than having a great product or great technology. If you have all three, it’s winning combination and a force multiplier.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

AutoSlash and HotelSlash are built on top of a Microsoft .NET architecture running on top of Amazon Web Services. Having the service based in the cloud from day one has been a huge advantage and allows us to scale the business quickly and easily. We use many services from AWS to run our infrastructure.

We don’t have physical offices--our staff is 100% remote, so we rely heavily on Slack. We used Gmail’s Gchat in the early days, but thankfully, just as we started to build out the team, Slack came along, and we’ve never looked back.

We also use MailChimp for email marketing and support our customers with Desk.com (a great product). Unfortunately, Salesforce.com purchased Desk.com and then decided the product was no longer strategic for them, so we’re in the process of migrating to Salesforce Service Cloud. It has been a painful migration, to say the least, and frankly, we’re sad to see Desk go as it was such a great fit, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I’m a big fan of the How I Built This podcast and also listen to Recode Decode, This Week in Startups, and Planet Money.

The book Made to Stick has a lot of great lessons for entrepreneurs and CEOs in the areas of marketing and company positioning. Anything by Malcolm Gladwell is also worth a read for insight and inspiration.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

My best advice is to find a need or pain point you yourself have and come up with an idea to solve it in a new, novel, or creative way. Build a product that you yourself would use. Learn everything about the area you are in and become a subject matter expert.

Keep the 10X rule in mind which is that everything will be 10X harder, take 10X longer, cost 10X more than you expect, and you will work 10X more hours than you ever have just to get the business off the ground. If that doesn’t scare you, then you might have a shot at a successful business.

Where can we go to learn more?

This one is easy: