Editor’s note: Startland News selected 10 Kansas City firms to spotlight for its annual Startups to Watch list, now in its seventh year recognizing founders and startups that editors believe will make some of the biggest news in the coming 12 months. The following is one of 2022’s companies. Click here to view the full list of Startups to Watch — presented by sponsors Husch Blackwell and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The flexibility and malleable nature of VinCue’s growing Kansas City team has proven the auto tech startup’s ability to thrive — and boost locally owned dealers — amid any uncertainty in the market, said Chris Hoke.
Elevator pitch: VinCue is an innovative all-in-one solution that gives dealers access to real-time data and tools in a single system to stock smarter, increase turn, beat their competition, and above all else — maximize profits.
- Founders: Chris Hoke, Jeff Rice, Brian Kellogg
- Founding year: 2015
- Current employee count: 50
- Amount raised to date: $6 million
- Noteworthy investors: Matt Watson (VinSolutions), Cypress Capital, locals Bob Green (Backlot Cars) and John Mitchell
“We’ve built everything with an incredibly small team, but that’s changing in 2022 because our product line is spreading out significantly,” said Hoke, CEO and co-founder at VinCue, emphasizing the company’s commitment to hiring local talent, almost entirely from referrals.
An all-in-one digital platform for auto dealers, VinCue has notably helped clients with inventory acquisition amid historic supply chain disruptions and vehicle shortages. But the company’s wide array of tools — from inventory management, auction sourcing and real-time market pricing to advertising platforms and virtual showrooms — offer the opportunity to test drive solutions in a way rarely seen even in the startup world, Hoke said.
“We have product lines that aren’t selling well — now — because of the pandemic, but the power of this company is that our people are very nimble,” he continued. “We allow a certain amount of chaos to remain because that chaos kind of tears open holes in things and lets you fix them. At any time, you’re usually looking at a new platform or product that we’ve all ideated or assembled that didn’t exist six months ago.”
Buy-in from the team — every step of the way — is critical, Hoke said.
“We have a very clear mission: to help our clients win. And our clients are in a battle with big entities right now,” he detailed. “When you work at VinCue, you really feel like there’s a purpose behind what you’re trying to accomplish every day, every week.”
That purpose: compete not necessarily with other software vendors in the auto industry, but to take on national chains like Carvana and CarMax that use greater access to inventory and capital to crunch locally owned retail automotive dealerships, Hoke said.
Click here to explore the solutions offered by VinCue.
Hoke and his team know the industry — and the tech community — well. As former director of software development at VinSolutions, which made headlines in 2011 with its $147 million exit, as well as former chief enterprise architect for Billboard, Hoke’s leadership and expertise are key to the startup’s next-generation software.
Add in the experience of Danny Zaslavsky, managing partner at VinCue — also managing partner/general manager at Country Hill Motors in Merriam — and the platform’s builders have access to both sides of the industry equation, they said.
“Coming from a car dealership background where I was always on the receiving end of software, to now being on the creation side of the technology, I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve stayed relationship based,” said Zaslavsky, who knows the industry pain points as intimately as VinCue’s strengths. “That starts with sales and lasts through performance management. We’re not hiding what’s behind the data. We are the data. So therefore it’s important that our dealers continue to level up so that they have control over their businesses.”
With its headquarters in Kansas City — and more than 800 attorneys across 25 U.S. locations, including its virtual office, The Link — Husch Blackwell’s industry-centric approach and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work give the firm a deep understanding of what its clients face every day.
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Startups to Watch is now in its seventh year, thanks to ongoing support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.