Jesse Willms is the owner of several vehicle history websites and currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. His websites provide various types of free vehicle history information, such as a vehicle’s title, mileage, previous ownership, accident reports, and what the vehicle was used for. It started out as a concept in 2015, but it has turned into a successful site with about four million people using it each month to get free vehicle information.
Even from a young age, Jesse Willms was always interested in business. When he was 15, he began to read many books on business, focusing particularly on biographies and stock investing books, but would read basically every book that he could get his hands on. Jesse Willms was fascinated by investors like Warren Buffet and others that had amassed wealth. Since he had been reading so much, he started getting involved in business by selling books online by the time he was 16. He did not believe that it was worth it, as it took quite a bit of effort to make a small amount of revenue. However, it taught him valuable lessons, which led him to selling computer software online. Jesse Willms enjoyed it so much that he quit school at 17 to continue pursuing his passion for selling products online and being self employed.
How did you get started in this business?
I got started in business when I was 12, and my first website provided free gaming
strategy advice. I monetized it by putting ads on the site. This started during
the technology boom in 1999 and was my first successful venture. From there, I
started to read business books and biographies to gain an education on how
to start my own business. My next business, at 16, was selling computer
software. I took advantage of different prices on eBay, Craigslist, and
Amazon and sold software between the sites. I often dropped shipping from one site
to another, providing consumers discounts where they could get the cheapest
price. This quickly grew into a million-dollar company by the time I turned 18.
How do you make money?
Currently, our vehicle history sites make money by car manufactures
advertising on our website. We also make money from lead generation when
consumers look up used vehicles in their area and then contact the detailers for
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Currently, we are still working toward achieving profitability. As our product is
completely free, it will take at least another year before we receive enough
advertising revenue to cover our costs.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
For the first three years, we really weren’t sure if this business model would
work. Everyone in our industry, including Carfax and AutoCheck, charge for this
data. We had a lot of ups and downs with Google and how much traffic we
received; just when we started gaining momentum, we would see traffic
drop again. We all stayed focused and kept making progress little by little, and our
motto was “one step at a time.” Now that we have started to receive major
advertising revenue from car manufacturers, we have become confident in the
long-term vision of the company.
How did you get your first customer?
In 2012, we bought the domain VehicleHistory.com. Once we started giving
away free VIN reports, users started to visit the site. The idea caught on fairly quickly, as we were the only source for this free information.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
The best marketing strategy has been finding an underserved niche in the
marketplace and make truly great products. Ultimately, the best content wins, and if you can provide something that doesn’t exist today, you’ll be very successful.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
COVID has been very tough. When we have to do layoffs, those are always
the toughest decisions. When we have to let hardworking people go, that is
very tough. I’m looking forward to 2021, and I’m confident that we will rebound
from a difficult year.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I’ve always believed that success comes from working hard to pursue your vision while
constantly learning and adapting your strategy. Our businesses are going to
change over time, so it’s important to be flexible and keep evolving. Another key to
success has been finding great people, sharing the vision, and then giving them
a lot of autonomy. When you hire great people, you need very few rules.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The most satisfying moment in my career was early on, when I saw my software business become profitable. To pursue my passion, I left high school at an early age, and many of my friends saw this as foolish. At the time, I knew that there was a high chance that it would fail, but I would forever regret not trying. I also knew that if the business became a success, I would be free to pursue a career I loved.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We hope to be the leading automotive research sites over the next few years. I am most excited about the advancements that we’re seeing in our industry. Every year, cars have more safety features, and with self-driving cars on the horizon, our roads are only going to get safer, thus saving lives. Another big concern of mine is global warming, but the skyrocketing popularity of electric cars will go a long way to help solve this global problem.
What business books have inspired you?
The first book I ever read was “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley. It taught me key lessons on how to manage money. As a business owner, it’s important to manage expenses closely and always be saving for a rainy day. 2020 has proven that any companies without significant savings can easily end up in very difficult positions. Another book that I have read several times is “Good to Great” by James C. Collins. It talks about the different traits that managers must have to take their businesses to the next level.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The biggest piece of advice that I would give to my younger self is to seek out really smart people and listen to them. We need to be constantly evaluating where our strategy needs to change. As business owners, having people around us pointing out where we have gotten off course can be our greatest asset.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I would love to be a mentor and help young entrepreneurs on their way. I have had many successes and failures in my career and learned many lessons along the way. To anyone starting out, my first piece of advice would be: Don’t think so hard, and just go out there and pursue your passion. So often, we wait for the perfect conditions to start our business, but in reality, that never happens. The sooner we start pursuing our vision, the sooner we can figure out what works and what doesn’t. Our business will evolve so much over time, so the best thing that we can do is get out there and learn as quickly as possible.