Monday, November 7, 2011
Interview with Tara Weingarten, VroomGirls
As automotive web sites go, there are lots of review and information sites giving you information about new and used cars, magazines and information sites for auto enthusiasts, and discussion sites and groups for all kinds of cars. But, it turns out, there are not any automotive sites specifically geared towards women. That's something which Los Angeles- and Austin-based VroomGirls is looking to change--with the backing of sponsors like Toyota, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. We spoke with founder Tara Weingarten--formerly an automotive writer at Newsweek--to talk about why the site is the first, how it came about, and what it's trying to do. (Editor's note: we're cross-posting this interview, which ran today from our Southern California site, because VroomGirl's co-founder, Marjory Hawkins, is based in Austin.)
What is VroomGirls?
Tara Weingarten: I spent seventeen years as Newweek's weekly automotive columnist. I drove everything, all kinds of cars, everything from the most inexpensive Hyundai, to Ferarris and Lamborghinis. Over those seventeen years, I was able to get a pretty good library in my head of the many generations and models of cars. Over those years, one thing became plain to me, which is whenever you'd go on a car launch, it was a sea of men. The only women on the car launch were the PR gals, and I always wondered why. I love cars--I grew up in SoCal, and my father was really into cars, and didn't have sons. I thought--I can't be the only one there whose Dad turned their daughter onto how fun it is to drive, but for years and year, there were not lots of women doing automotive. The other thing that struck me, is because it is only men, they tend to write with lots of testosterone. Their writing style, even for a mainstream publication, is they write with lots of testosterone. They write about the transmission, the brakes, and the suspension, and that creeps into all of their evaluations of cars.
For the most part, female buyers don't really care about that stuff. I finally realized that there is nobody specifically speaking to women in the automotive world, either editorially, or frankly, even on the marketing side. Marketing departments tend to be headed by men, and face it, men have been trying to figure out women since Adam and Eve. We're tough to figure out. The lightbulb went on in my head, that I know how to talk to women, I know cars, and that's how VroomGirls was born.
What we've done is we've left out the jargon in our reviews, and talk about what is really great about a car. We talk about how quick it is, how the brakes are great, how the ride is really rough or smooth, but we don't use that jargon to describe it. We also pass over those things relatively quickly, much quicker than someone at Motor Trend or even Edmunds might. I consider Edmunds a great automotive site, but when you really read the reviews, you can tell they're very much written by guy enthusiasts.
How long has the site been around, and when did it start?
Tara Weingarten: We're starting our third week. I came up with the idea in December, when I was at a Mazda Christmas party, sitting at the table with folks from Mazda and Range Rover. We were talking about guy cars and gal cars, and what makes a chick car. Mazda has an amazing brand, but even then it tends to be more male dominated. The rides are sportier, and it's fun brand, and even though I love a sporty ride, women with families are not primarily looking for that. So after talking about that in December, I did some thinking. I really thought about it for months, and didn't do anything, and sat in a chair thinking about a car site for women, and what exactly does that mean.
I took that question to heart, to figure out what I could do differently, and what was born after literally sitting there sitting in a chair thinking about it was to be the anti-Motortrend. If you go to Motortrend.com, it's testosterone filled. It's got movies running, engine noises, lots of information packed into the site. It's very dense, with lots of car pictures. I thought, my photos would be photos of women, and be more of a fashion magazine about cars. It's what Motortrend would be, or Car and Driver would be, if it were edited by Oprah or Martha Stewart. I know that what I like to look at are attractive happy things. You don't see that often in car buying. Buying a car should be a happy experience, and you want it to be cheerful and fun. You want bright colors. We went with a mid-century, Jetson-ey look, with art evocative of the Jetsons. I think everyone finds that attractive and fun. There's lots of white space, lots of places for interaction and response. As you can see from the site, we have tons of white space, don't have movies going on, it's much more of a low key experience compared with other automotive sites.
Have you ever wondered why there are no other automotive sites for women?
Tara Weingarten: I think it's the same reason there are not more women writing about automotive. It's simply that there are so many men doing it. If you put a man into a car writing job, in a month, he's become an enthusiast. We all go out on a track, because we test out all of the cars on racetracks. I've gone to track school, and driving school, and most of us--including myself--have even gotten a racing license. That turns you into a crazy person, who wants to drive fast on the racetrack. The more you do that, the faster you want to go, and the more you want to do with cars. I think the simple reason that no one has reached women, is there just haven't been that many in automotive. No one really thought of it.
It was shocking to me that the door was wide open. If you think about the Internet and how many wide open areas there are, there are not that many. I've worked for seventeen years in the industry, and walk with authority. I do know cars, and really do have a voice, and I think I can really reach these people. I think because of that, and as a result, Toyota came on as a sponsor. They are our first sponsor, and are pretty large, and they happen to appeal to lots of families. But what was surprising to me, were my other sponsors, Ferrari and Lamborghini. They came on, because right now, their sales go entirely to me, even though they know there are women who have money, who are eager to seek out adrenaline sports, and why shouldn't they also drive fast cars? Why shouldn't women go skiing out of helicopters, go scuba diving, and why not drive a Ferrari or a Lamborghini?
It's fascinating that you have some very big sponsors, even though you're a brand new site. How did you manage that?
Tara Weingarten: We had no metrics when we started, and even now, we had a big week with 1900 uniques on one day. But, I think it's because I have known all of these car companies for seventeen years. They've followed me in Newsweek, they know what I do, and each and every one of them has told me like the VP of Marketing at Toyota did, is that they banking on you Tara, and don't let us down. They fronted the money to make this happen. I would recommend that for anyone, doing whatever they are doing, to make contacts every day, and even if you don't know lots of people, feel comfortable about approaching people. In whatever career you are in, just in the course of your business people see your work, and see if you're good or not at what you do.
I think it's a stupid idea not to step into that, and ask the people you know who you've worked with, to help you start a business. That's exactly what I did. We basically got venture capital money, without having to give away any of the company. My partner and I might have to put another $5,000 or $10,000 into the company to get us through, but I believe this will carry us through. I've been told by other manufacturers, that they're watching very closely at what we're doing, and are going to step in and support us in this effort. Frankly, I think we'll all be winners if we can reach a market which they haven't been able to reach.
You've also got a deal with TrueCar, correct?
Tara Weingarten: That's a really cool thing. We wanted no haggle shopping on our site. It's a cliche of women getting ripped off by going to a dealership, and even for men, it's a miserable experience. You're taking a really happy moment, which is buying this great new thing, the second most expensive thing you buy in life, and you ruin it, by trying to trick you when you walk into the dealership. We decided there is no need for that. There are services out there, that provide a no-haggle service, where you set the price online, the dealership agrees to it, you step into a dealership near your house, know the exact price, get an appointment, your paperwork is done, and half an hour and you're out of there. You sign your papers, and leave with your car, and never see a salesperson.
We did a bunch of research into services like TrueCar, and how they presented things, played with those services, and so on. It was interesting, as we got into a conversation with them -- again, with no metrics -- their initial reaction was that, come back when you have something to show, that they are not doing business with startups. They had been approached by many other guys trying to set things up, although they hadn't been approached by a woman. There seem to be a lot of automotive writers who have lost their jobs through downsizing, and are setting up automotive websites. However, when we sent TrueCar our early pages and mockup of the site, and showed them what our plans were, as well as our sponsors, like Toyota, Ferrari, and Lamborghini, they took a leap of faith. They said--this is something unique, let's do it. Hopefully, this will really take off, and TrueCar will see lots of women buying cars online, so they do not get ripped off.
What is your end goal for the site?
Tara Weingarten: I really hope this becomes the de-facto auto website for women. I'm hoping that women shopping for cars will think of VroomGirls, and enjoy going here. We are giving really honest reviews, we don't love every car, and we're not in bed with any manufacturers. We have sponsors, but we have separation of church and state. We have a separate department running business and advertising, and I'm just in charge of editorial. I'm not meeting with ad sales people, just running the editorial department. My hope is that the women in this country will come and check us out, see that we are providing honest reviews, as well as lots of tips for safe driving.
On today's home page, we have a brand new story on creating the ultimate just-in-case car kit, which is basically a backpack of stuff you should always have in your car, no matter what. We also have an article on how to winterize your wheels, if you're living in a cold weather climate, tips on driving in the rain and getting out of a skid, how to be more fuel efficient. Beyond those reviews and features, we're not going to be doing things like how to change or tire or change your oil--because most women do not want to do that. There is no "put on your grease monkey suit." We also don't yet have used car information, which is an area we plan to expand into in the next couple of years. We're really concentrating on taking one step at a time, to do the best we can. My hope is that this will be a real honest resource for women, and we want their feedback. We've included comments sections after all of our reviews and features, so everyone can say what they think.
Thanks, and good luck!