Making the most important pitch of his career, Doug DeMuro stood in cargo shorts in front of a camera, unwavering in his giddy demeanor. He was about to unveil his new car auction website to his 3.7 million YouTube subscribers. The site would feature cars “that I like most,” he said.
Mr. DeMuro had dreamed up his perfect car auction website during a flight without Wi-Fi in spring last year. It would feature cars from the 1980s on up, like a pristine 1984 Honda CRX or a manual transmission 1991 BMW 325i. And it would have integrated chat.
Leading up to the introduction in June, Mr. DeMuro, 32, from San Diego, was hoping for 100 submissions from sellers in the first week. He played down his optimism, telling his team that they might see around 30 cars.
Cars & Bids received 720 submissions on the first day.
“There’s two bad things that can happen when you launch a business,” Mr. DeMuro said. “The first is that no one cares and it fails. But the other one that people don’t think about all that much is that it’s more successful than you expected, because you’re not prepared.”
Mr. DeMuro’s career had taken a number of turns before reaching this point. While working a corporate job at Porsche Cars North America in Atlanta, he discovered that writing snarky car columns was more compelling. In 2013, Mr. DeMuro left Porsche to pursue his passion, finding bylines at Jalopnik and GQ. He also started creating supplemental YouTube videos. Three years later, he became editor of Autotrader’s blog, Oversteer, before stepping away to pursue Cars & Bids.
“All of those of us who make a living on YouTube are fearful that someday it will come to an end,” Mr. DeMuro said. “And so anyone who is a YouTuber, who is smart, is thinking, ‘How can I leverage this platform for something that’s a little bit more permanent?’”
For car fans, it’s hard to imagine YouTube without Mr. DeMuro. His deep knowledge and genuine enthusiasm have made him one of the most popular car reviewers on the platform. He’s edging out channels like Jay Leno’s Garage by a good 700,000 subscribers.
“I would say that he’s more powerful than a guy on Instagram with 20 million followers,” said Joe Gagliese, a co-founder and the chief executive of Viral Nation, an influencer marketing and talent agency.
“Sometimes it’s not about the numbers — it’s about the engagement,” Mr. Gagliese added. “There’s guys on YouTube with 3.7 million followers that get 100,000 to 300,000 views, whereas he’s averaging anywhere from 700,000 to one and a half million. That’s over 35 percent of his audience.”
That audience helped propel the introduction of Cars & Bids.
With the sudden flood of submissions, Mr. DeMuro quickly got to work on his backyard patio with his co-founder, Blake Machado, and the four other members of the team, dealing with the onslaught while trying to socially distance.
On one of the top car auction sites, eBay Motors, the sellers submit pictures and write up a description. Cars & Bids wanted all its listings to have the same information. This required editorial oversight. Sellers must fill out a detailed questionnaire and submit upward of 100 photos. It’s a timely process.
“To me it felt exhaustive, but they held my hand through it the whole time,” said Nick Szabo, 33, a marketing product manager in St. Louis who recently listed his Porsche 944 Turbo on the site.
Even with the team working frantically, as soon as it would decide on a reserve price for one car, five other submissions would arrive.
Mr. DeMuro has built this audience with a personal touch. He comes off like a buddy telling you about a cool car. He rarely advertises products, and avoids gimmicks. For a half-hour at a time, he’s digging deep on all of a car’s quirks and features.
“I chose Cars & Bids because I follow Doug DeMuro’s channel,” said Andrew Johnson, who works at Authentic Motorcars in Redmond, Wash., and had been in talks with Mr. DeMuro to bring him some cars to review. Mr. Johnson, 31, sold his 2002 lifted BMW X5 for $12,700 on the site.
Bring a Trailer is Cars & Bids’ closest competition. Both sites mix online auctioning with a Facebook comments section. Sellers, potential buyers and onlookers will often have vibrant discussions for each car, which adds to the fun of seeing bids scuttle upward.
“Transparency really has value when you’re stuck behind a screen during this horrible pandemic,” said Jeremy Anspach, chief executive of PureCars, a digital advertising company for dealerships. “And when I’m on Bring a Trailer, it’s almost soothing for me in the evenings to just see what was listed and what the comments are.”
That community, transparency and dialogue around cars helped push Bring a Trailer’s sales to $230 million in 2019. And of the roughly 275 cars listed weekly, 70 percent sell. Since its introduction in June, Cars & Bids has sold 450 cars, bringing in $8.5 million in sales, with a 75 percent sell-through pace.
“I’m sentimental about my car,” Mr. Szabo said. “And I’d like the buyer to care about this car as much as me.”
Mr. DeMuro’s operation is lean and simple.
“It was important from the very beginning that it felt like something that would come from Doug,” Mr. Machado said. “We didn’t want it to be almost like too high fidelity, too polished seeming. We wanted it to be kind of reflective of Doug and simple and straightforward.”
But behind this simplicity is Mr. DeMuro’s obsession with making things perfect. And if Cars & Bids holds firm, it may be his least stressful project to date.
“The first few days I woke up terrified,” he said. “I would go on the internet on my phone. Is it still on? OK. Yes. Are there bids coming in? OK, yes, there are — I don’t have that fear anymore.”
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