In the beginning, automotiveMastermind was just an idea: Two top-performing Mercedes-Benz salesmen, Marco Schnabl and Johannes Gnauck, recognized the value in leveraging data to improve the automotive retail experience for both buyers and sellers.
In 2012, they brought their idea to Mohammed Jaleel “MJ”, a software engineer who would bring their vision to life, helping launch the Mastermind platform in 2013. Today, MJ serves as Mastermind’s Director of Product, leading all facets of product development through:
In his 10 years, MJ has helped automotiveMastermind (aM) scale from a three-person dream team to hundreds of Masterminds across four countries:
Even with all that momentous growth, he says the core values and differentiators defined by Team Mastermind, in those early days, remain the same.
When initially approached by Johannes and Marco, Mastermind was still in its infancy, “a PDF with a diagram drawn on it.” Just one year later, Mastermind launched with its first six dealer partners.
“aM has always been a very agile and dealer-facing company, and dealers played a big role in defining, designing, and building out Mastermind as a product,” MJ explained. “So, that’s where our journey began.”
For the first few years, MJ was heavily involved with product:
Each of these were done remotely, on Skype, despite the time difference. “We made it work,” he said.
From his desk in India, he collaborated with Johannes and Marco back in New York, incorporating feedback from dealers to build and design the Mastermind platform. By 2016, Mastermind onboarded more than 800 dealers nationwide, attracting the attention of IHS Markit who acquired the company in 2017.
That year, MJ shifted his focus from the tactical aspects of Mastermind to mentorship and team leadership, spending his time educating his team and aligning on strategy. “Through our journey, we have seen various different instances of whenever dealers raise their hands or market conditions change, we have pivoted,” said MJ. “We have always been a company that’s been nimble for change, and that is what makes Mastermind so unique.”
Building the Rocketship
That methodology hasn’t changed, explained MJ, but the size and scale at which feedback is received has evolved alongside the company. In the beginning, most of this information was collected directly from dealers, analyzed, and leveraged in strategic product updates.
“Even today we take market inputs and dealer feedback, run pilots for dealers, test the markets — all those philosophies still exist — and we have dealer councils and commercial councils,” explained MJ. “We have a lot more participants from different aspects and different personas who provide us feedback today.”
The strategy for how this feedback is applied has also matured over time as the team has grown. Today, the product team talks to dealers and experts within the industry to build strategic product updates that are pitched and vetted internally.
“We’ve positioned product managers as founders within the company to constantly pitch and evaluate the value proposition that they bring, by building these products, which has helped us make better choices and build a team that’s more collaborative.”
This continual commitment to listening to the industry has empowered Mastermind to continuously meet the evolving needs of its dealer partners with essential and innovative product updates, integrations, and more.
As the ways dealers serve their customers have evolved over the years, the ways in which they leverage Mastermind has grown increasingly more valuable across the dealership. “Because of this, dealers’ expectations of Mastermind have also changed,” said MJ. ”Dealers today look at us as the source of truth about a consumer.”
“If you look at how dealers work with their customers, a lot of their data is living off in vertical places across the organization. The customer interacts with F&I, there is a vertical that lives there. The customer interacts with the service department, that interaction lives there,” MJ explained. “Some of it happens within the CRM, some of it happens within the DMS.”
Today’s dealers look to Mastermind to bridge the gap and provide better visibility to customer behaviors across platforms and departments. “What dealers do want is a 360-degree view of their customers so they can best service and support them,” said MJ.
Behind the wheel since the company’s inception in 2012, MJ offers a unique perspective on how aM has grown over the last decade, despite such rapid acceleration. “With constant growth and this kind of fast growth, there are also a lot of obstacles that come along with it,” he said.
MJ credits aM’s ongoing success to two traits. “One is trust and faith in ourselves — that is what has driven Mastermind into the future. Second, we have always been able to back each other, support each other, and constantly learn how to work together for a common goal.”
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