Most Common Questions We Get About Shift (From Engineers)

When interviewing with Shift, we give you plenty of time throughout the process to ask questions. But to live up to our value of transparency, we wanted to get the most common ones answered honestly and publicly up front. Here they are:

The Mission

Wait, what is Shift again?

We’re the modern way to buy and sell used cars! Have you bought a car recently? It’s a pretty terrible experience: unfair, slimy, often discriminatory. At Shift, we aim to fix that. We think buying and selling a car should be convenient, transparent, and fair.

Why is this important?

Cars are a critical part of life for the vast majority of people in this country. They’re how we get to work, take our kids to school, buy groceries, take vacations, or earn a living. They can even feel like a secondary home (depending on your time in traffic). Access to transportation matters.

Buying a used car is financially smart and better for the environment than buying a new one. Unfortunately, the current process to buy is intimidating and unpleasant. We think it should be simple, easy, and enjoyable!

Ok, so how does Shift’s service work?

If you want to buy a car, you just browse our inventory on shift.com. We try to be as transparent as possible, giving customers the full out-the-door pricing with no negotiating. You can also view a free copy of the Carfax report, detailed photos of all the wear and tear on the car, and the results of the inspection we performed on the car – with details on everything we found and fixed.

When you find a car you like, you can schedule a free test drive and we’ll bring the car to you! You do a quick test drive with our non-pushy, non-commissioned Concierges. If you like the car, you can buy it on the spot! We offer transparent, competitive financing and additional warranties. We’ll help you complete all the paperwork in under 30 minutes from the comfort of your driveway using our iPad app. Keep the car and we’ll leave in a Lyft. Every car comes with a 5-day return policy and a 30-day powertrain warranty. Instead of spending your whole day at a dealership, you spend an hour with us from the comfort of your home.

Want to sell your car? It’s just as easy! Request an instant estimate on our website. If you like the estimate, schedule an evaluation and we’ll come out to you for brief inspection and provide a finalized offer based on your car’s condition. If you like the offer, we’ll initiate a payment direct to your bank account, collect and process the DMV paperwork, and leave with your car. Depending on your bank, your money arrives in your account in 3-5 business days. We also accept cars with loans or leases on them.

The Business

I don’t know much about the used car market, what’s the opportunity here?

Most of our current engineers didn’t know much about the used car market before they joined, either! But we’ve learned a lot. There are $750 billion worth of used cars sold in the US every year. That’s more than the total amount of smartphones sold globally ($450 billion). If the US automotive industry was its own economy, it would be the 15th largest in the world – and it’s incredibly fragmented. Carmax has a 2% market share and is the biggest used car dealership in the US. They’re worth $12 billion. The top 100 used vehicle dealers combined only have 7% market share.

What are the high-level plans for the company in the next year?

The next year is all about growth. We did about $140M in total sales in 2018 and we plan to double that in 2019. This will mean growing our existing markets as well as launching new ones. Currently, we serve the Bay Area, LA, and San Diego, which covers about 80% of people in California. But we’re opening our first non-California markets as of… now.

Five years?

Our goal is to become the platform for buying and selling cars. Used and new. Additionally, we aim to provide a great service for ongoing vehicle maintenance and to become the most reliable source for used car pricing and information. Also, maybe IPO.

IPO?! Tell me more about that…

Companies in this space tend to IPO earlier than other tech startups. That’s because it’s a very capital intensive business and the public markets are a cost-effective way to raise lots of capital. We have to buy cars, fund new markets launches, lease real estate, and hire engineers. Our closest competitor, Carvana, is 2 years older than us and IPO’d last year at about a $2B valuation with around $300M in total sales.

What about the competition?

The market is so fragmented that competition is a lot less relevant here than in many other businesses. It’s not a winner-take-all market. It comes down a lot more to execution and persistence than luck. Pretty much all our competitors could be successful and it wouldn’t really hurt us. If we can get to even 0.25% market share, we’d most likely be a deca-corn (a $10B+ valuation company).

But we still think about our competitors, at least as a benchmark, and they fall into three main camps: new startups like Carvana and Vroom, listing websites like cars.com, CarGurus, and Autotrader, and traditional dealerships, like CarMax and AutoNation.

For the first two groups, our big advantage is our operations. Online listing sites let you browse lots of cars, but customers still have to visit an old-school dealership to test drive and buy them. With Carvana and Vroom, customers can buy the car, but can’t get test drives. Customers have to buy it sight unseen and then the car is delivered it to you. User research (and common sense) shows that a vast majority of customers want (some might say need) to test drive a used car before they buy it.

Lastly, compared to traditional dealerships, our advantage is in our technology. Traditional dealerships typically rely on third-party software – which is an outdated strategy. Software gives us an incredible advantage in customer experience, efficiency, and scale.

So how do you make money?

Two primary ways. First, on the spread between the price we pay for cars and the price at which we sell cars. This is highly dependent on our ability to accurately and fairly price cars to match supply and demand. Most traditional dealerships rely on humans to do this because it’s a hard, messy problem. But as a technology company, we use software and machine learning to automate nearly all of it. This is a hard, technical challenge.

The second way we make money is by selling financing, warranties, and Gap insurance. These are useful add-on products that are often hard to get on used cars. A loan application can be messy and complex for a customer, so we’ve put a lot of work into making it easy and convenient. In the future, there are also many other potential revenue streams that our proprietary technology and data will enable, like licensing our platform or selling data products.

But isn’t it expensive to deliver test drives?

This was somewhat counter-intuitive to us at first, but it turns out, it’s actually cheaper. It costs less than half as much for us to serve a test drive as it does for a traditional dealership. That’s mainly because we don’t need to have expensive real estate/showrooms. Additionally, we serve a much higher volume of test drives much more efficiently with our sophisticated logistics software and better labor utilization. This logistics software is a fundamental competitive advantage, and a super hard technical problem. You can imagine the difficulty of efficiently coordinating thousands of cars, hundreds of employees with different schedules and capabilities across dozens of parking lots to offer at-home on-demand test drives.

The Engineering Team

Alright, let’s talk about the engineering team.

Let’s! At the end of the day, we’re a technology company. Our business doesn’t exist without technology. We’ve put together a world-class engineering team, with top talent from all over. Currently, we’re about 40 engineers, but we’re looking to double that in the next year.

What’s the engineering process like?

Each team has the cross-functional members they need to own a problem area and deliver on it end-to-end. Each team has its own product manager, designer, engineering manager, tech lead, and a team of engineers. We believe in pushing decision making down as far as possible, so each team is responsible for coming up with their own roadmap, getting buy-in from leadership, and delivering on it. This means individual engineers have a lot of ownership, autonomy, and impact! The startup trifecta!

We loosely follow a sprint methodology, but our work is largely focused around delivering high-impact projects. We know startups are all about trying things, learning, and iterating, and as we double in size our processes will have to scale as well. Every major project built by our engineering team goes through a design doc and architecture review process, and each feature is thoroughly code reviewed. We use quarterly OKRs for longer-term planning and Phabricator for the day-to-day.

What are the teams?

Since our teams are primarily cross-functional, most of our teams are full-stack product teams. This means there are interesting frontend and backend problems on nearly all of our teams. Teams are focused around problem areas, and in pursuit of solving those problems and creating a better customer experience they will span the full stack and use whatever technologies are necessary. Currently, since we’re growing so fast, we re-evaluate our teams once or twice a year to determine if we need to create new, increasingly focused teams. Here’s the current list, as of December 2018:

  • Seller: Making our seller experience great and acquiring a bunch of cars.
  • Local: Owns the tools that our field teams use, our complex scheduling systems for appointments, as well as the iPad app for completing tasks in our warehouse and with customers.
  • Shopping: Owns the top-of-the-funnel experience for someone who first visits Shift and is shopping for a car. The goal: to create a shopping experience for cars that is as educational and engaging as Amazon’s is for…everything else.
  • Appointments: Helps customers schedule, prepare for, and complete test drives and pickups.
  • Purchase: Product and tools team that’s responsible for checkout, including paperwork, financing, and warranty integrations. Also, customer support team tools.
  • Pricing: The team that’s responsible for pricing cars, managing the prices of cars in inventory, data infrastructure, and the tools we use to acquire auction cars (about 10% of our inventory).
  • Infrastructure: Backend and frontend infrastructure team that’s responsible for site reliability, DevOps tooling, and developer productivity.

What technical challenges are there?

We’ve got a ton! A lot of the challenge stems from the inherent complexity of buying and selling cars and there’s too many to get into all of them here, but here’s three examples:

  • Pricing: How do you accurately price assets that are all unique with messy, incomplete data and then explain to customers why the price is fair?
  • Appointments: How do you efficiently offer appointment slots to customers to test drive cars at their home when the cars are scattered across dozens of parking lots with variable traffic and staffing?
  • Paperwork: How do you complete loan applications and sale paperwork in a customer’s driveway in under 30 minutes, when it takes three hours and a half dozen specialized people to do it manually in a traditional dealership?

What’s the tech stack?

We use Go on the back end, running on ECS with PostgreSQL as our main database. On the frontend, we use Typescript, React, and Redux. And on mobile, Swift. For a company our size, we have pretty robust developer tooling, deploy tools, continuous integration, and production infrastructure.

What’s the culture like?

Friendly, helpful, transparent, and pragmatic! We believe in fostering an environment where everyone feels safe to take risks and be vulnerable (psychological safety). We take the time to listen, learn and teach. We understand that engineering is about trade-offs, so we like to identify the ideal solution, but balance that with the most practical one. We strive to have solid tooling and stable systems, to take time to clean up tech debt, and to leave code better than we found it. As with our product, we believe in transparency on the team. We have open communication from leadership to the team with monthly town halls, weekly AMAs, and open sharing of sensitive information, like company financials and fundraising. We believe in being thoughtful and introspective about who we are and how we work.

This isn’t limited to engineering. We’ve also got amazing design, PM, data science, and business operations teams with whom we work super closely! We’re a small but tight-knit group with a wide range of backgrounds and ages. We’ve got a strong contingent of new grads, but also a bunch of experienced engineers with families. We have a number of clubs, including board games, surfing, running, and biking! We like to eat lunch together and do escape rooms. Everyone on the team is invested in making this a great place to work for people from all backgrounds and at all stages in life.

Wow, sounds great! What’s the catch?

No catch! Well, our biggest challenge is that we don’t have enough engineers to do all the things we need to do! But you can help us change that — we’re hiring!

Shift and Lithia’s Strategic Partnership in the News

Lithia to provide Shift with capital and facilities to grow

Shift Technologies has quickly become one of the largest used car retailers in California. By investing heavily into its online platform and sophisticated pricing algorithms, Shift continues to streamline the car buying and car selling experiences and make them much more user-friendly.

Lithia is the fourth largest auto retailer in the US, operating 160+ stores in 18 states. With this new partnership, Lithia will be able to provide greater vehicle storage capacity, reconditioning facilities, and access to capital to expedite Shift’s growth and expansion.

News roundup: Shift & Lithia’s new partnership

The recent $140 million Series D funding and partnership has been making the rounds. Learn more from a selection of news articles below.

Auto Portal Watch: Shift, a US-based online used car marketplace, raises $140 million

Auto Remarketing: Lithia leads $140 million financing round in Shift

Auto Remarketing: Lithia investment, partnership can drive Shift scalability

In an early meeting between the companies, the management at Lithia Motors posed this question to the co-CEOs of Shift, an online automotive marketplace: “Since all this stuff is so good and it works so well, what’s preventing you from scaling this thing quicker?”

The answer Lithia got back “really opened our eyes up to the potential synergies between the two companies,” Lithia chief executive Bryan DeBoer said in a conference call with investment analysts last week.

Automotive News (subscription required, but accessible for free if you search via Google): Lithia invests in alliance with used-car startup

Shift Technologies’ appraisal algorithms and consumer-controlled online platform helped it quickly become one of the largest used-car retailers around Silicon Valley. So Lithia Motors Inc. CEO Bryan DeBoer posed this question in a meeting with Shift’s senior leadership: Why haven’t you scaled up that model at a faster pace?

“They said they didn’t have the capacity of storage, reconditioning facilities and access to capital,” DeBoer told Automotive News. “Three items Lithia has easy access to.” …

Continue reading “Shift and Lithia’s Strategic Partnership in the News”

Shift Raises $140 Million Series D. Partners with Lithia.

We’re Partnering with Lithia, and have $140 million more in the bank!

At Shift, we recognize that mobility comes in many forms. Whether you’re biking across town, navigating the subway, or driving a car, everyone should have access to safe, reliable, and affordable transportation. Having a car affords you the freedom and flexibility to always get where you need to be, whether it’s a last minute trip to Yosemite or a quick run to the market.

Access to car ownership isn’t merely a convenience; it changes people’s lives. And good things happen when people have mobile freedom.

For the last four and a half years, we’ve been on a mission to make car purchase and ownership simple by building a technology platform that brings fun and fairness to the car marketplace. And today, we make a big step in our journey forward.

We’re excited to announce our Series D of over $140 million led by Lithia (NYSE), one of the nation’s leading auto retailers. We’re also launching a national partnership with Lithia, which will help us scale the product our customers love to more locations quickly.

Continue reading “Shift Raises $140 Million Series D. Partners with Lithia.”

7 Tips to prepare your car for sale

Make your car beautiful (as possible)

Preparing your car for sale is super important if you want to maximize your sales price. A buyer is going to probably make up their minds about whether or not they want to buy your car as soon as they look at it. Whether looking at a picture of your car online or in person, you will only have a few moments to convince the person to take a closer look. So whether you choose to sell to a “private party” through a listing on craigslist, opt to trade-in to a traditional dealer, or use a full car selling service like Shift, it is very important to make sure your car looks clean and appealing.

Here are some tips to prepare your car for sale and increase it’s curb appeal!

1) Clean up your car

Let’s start with the most obvious: clean your car. Simple, yet you will be surprised how many cars are put up for sale without proper cleaning. This has to be more than just spraying the car with water. It’s the little things that could make your car look appealing and push people over the fence with hopefully a good offer. Consider the following:

  • Wash & vacuum your car.
  • Clean out your car of your belongings. Your entire car and trunk should be empty of all belongings.
  • Wipe down your wheels and hubcaps.
  • Wipe down your dashboard with car cleaning products so it looks new.
  • Wipe down your mirrors and windows inside and out.
  • Wipe down leather seats with a leather cleaner.

If you don’t have the time or are too lazy, you can always get it detailed or use a service that does it for you. Continue reading “7 Tips to prepare your car for sale”

National Shift Survey on Car Buying

Today we’re releasing data collected from our National Shift Survey on consumers’ experiences with car buying and selling, as well as their opinions on everything from ridesharing to seat warmers.

Drumroll, please….

The Industry Needs a #METOO Movement
Nearly 90 percent of women have felt spoken down to, belittled, or disrespected during the car buying/repair process. Sadly, we shouldn’t be surprised. Data shows car buying is ripe with discrimination and abuse, especially for women and people of color. The status quo is unacceptable – the industry can – and must – do better.

Car Ownership is Here to Stay
We’ve been saying this one for years. The conventional wisdom is wrong about the future of car ownership. According to our data, more than 87 percent of people have no intention of getting rid of their cars for ridesharing. Which makes sense. Have you ever tried strapping a car seat in an Uber? Continue reading “National Shift Survey on Car Buying”

How to make the most of your engineering internship

Are you about to start an engineering internship and are wondering how you can optimize your time there? Or maybe you’re starting your first full-time job and want to get started on the right foot. Throughout my internship at Shift and other past internship, I have learned many invaluable lessons that helped me grow as an engineer and perform well at my internships. Here are some of the lessons and tips that I find most important to optimize your internship!

Be customer focused

Whether you’re building a new consumer-facing feature or internal tool, you should always be thinking about your users and customers.

Who are the users of your project? Are they engineers, data scientists, or car buyers? Are they technical? What is going to bring the best user experience to them? Understanding your users will help drive the direction and vision of your finished product.

Why are they using it? Are they using the product to buy/sell a car, for entertainment, or something else entirely? This is a question to address early because if you can’t think of any reason why they would use what you’re building, you should hold off on writing code. Instead, talk to your manager, designers, and even customers to get a better understanding of why people would want your feature. This step will also help you understand the leverage and impact of your project! Continue reading “How to make the most of your engineering internship”

Getting Started with Go: 3 Tips for Engineering Interns

When I received my first code review as a fresh new engineering intern, I was horrified. How could I have received 87 comments on a 50 line code change? After getting A’s in all my CS classes, how could I be so unprepared for programming in the real world? After taking a deeper look at the comments, I realized that my fundamentals were fine, I simply didn’t know any of the industry style guidelines or best practices. The code review comments were extremely helpful in teaching me the industry standards for programming in Go. To help any future engineering interns, this blog post is a list of the three Go styles and best practices I wish I had known before I started my internship.

Continue reading “Getting Started with Go: 3 Tips for Engineering Interns”

10 Used Car Spring Deals You Don’t Want To Miss

Brace yourselves—Spring is coming! A new season brings in some new, awesome deals. We asked our pricing team to find you the some sweet deals on new rides to jumpstart the season. These cars are yours to test drive and buy at amazing below-market prices. Read on, and book a test drive now! Remember, we’ll bring the cars out to you wherever you are, whether you’re at home or at the office.

San Francisco Spring Car Deals

2015 Ford Edge SEL AWD

Ford Edge SEL 2015

Dealership: $26,698
Shift: $20,950
You Save: $5,748CarGurus great deal

That is one shiny, sleek blue vehicle. If you are looking for a good, functional vehicle with a little splash of personality, look no further than this Ford Edge SEL. This beauty comes with the technology package. Basically all the stuff you want plus more stuff you thought you never needed. Blind spot information system, back-up camera, rear parking aid, voice activated touch screen navigation, cross-traffic alerts, auto-dimming side view mirrors, and this thing even has an outlet. And the real kicker is that it’s only got 20K miles. Yes please.

Give it a test drive: 2015 Ford Edge SEL AWD

2014 Audi S4 Premium Plus

Audi S4 Premium Plus 2014 - Black Studio Masked

Dealership: $29,676
Shift: $25,650
You Save: $4,026CarGurus great deal

You know what is better than ice cream? Premium ice cream. What is better than premium ice cream? Premium ice cream at normal ice cream cost.

Come test drive this Audi S4 Premium Plus. Save over $4K below market price. Comes with a full-on navigation system, back-up cameras, parkings aids, heated front seats, leather and basically what you would expect from a “premium” Audi.

UPDATE: CAR JUST SOLD! Find similar cars here: 2014 Audi S4 Premium Plus

2014 Chevrolet Impala Limited LT

Dealership: $11,708
Shift: $8,000
You Save: $3,708CarGurus great deal

Perhaps you are thinking, I don’t need no flashy blue tech car or a premium anything. I just want something that will get me from point A to point B, it’s reliable, an awesome deal, has some cool perks and something other than a Civic or Corolla. Well, how about a Chevy Impala Limited LT? Got a little something extra with perks like remote engine start, keyless entry, dual climate control and of course got to have that AUX input. But more importantly, at only $8K, it’s a great option to consider.

UPDATE: CAR JUST SOLD! Find similar cars here: 2014 Chevrolet Impala Limited LT

2015 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sedan

Subaru Impreza 2.0 Sedan

Dealership:$15,706
Shift: $13,650
You Save: $2,056CarGurus great deal

So you are outdoorsy and environmentally friendly and just looking for a nice all-around car with of course, all-wheel drive. This Subaru Impreza provides just that. 28 city / 37 highway. Only ~25K miles. Perhaps this is the reliable, fun new partner you are looking for.

UPDATE: CAR JUST SOLD! Find similar cars here: 2015 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sedan

Continue reading “10 Used Car Spring Deals You Don’t Want To Miss”

How I Used Machine Learning To Price Used Cars

Andrew Carman is a software engineer at Shift.

At the core of any market is pricing. If you get pricing wrong, your marketplace doesn’t work. Our success at Shift—as a marketplace that makes it easy for anyone to buy and sell used cars—hinges on accurately and competitively pricing cars. 

Dealerships traditionally have a team of experts that price trade-ins for customers and manage the prices of their vehicles. They haggle over those prices with buyers that come to their dealerships, and often take advantage of consumers who have less access to car price data.

Our goal is to make selling and buying a car a fun, fair, and accessible experience by using technology to disintermediate what car dealerships do poorly. So we build software instead of back-office sales teams to price our cars, which increases efficiency, levels the playing field for our customers, and lets us systematically improve the accuracy of our pricing over time.

Read on to see exactly how we did it, and pass this along to the folks who might be interested in our approach.

Continue reading “How I Used Machine Learning To Price Used Cars”

7 Handy Car Hacks That Will Make Your Life Easier

We all love our cars, but oftentimes we come across unavoidable problems and issues on the road that need a quick fix.  Below, we collected a slew of handy car hacks to make driving a breeze and tide you over until your next maintenance appointment. Read on, and share these tried-and-tested tips from Shift with your friends!

Continue reading “7 Handy Car Hacks That Will Make Your Life Easier”