Jesper Løvendahl is the CEO and founder of ExpatRide.com, which helps expatriates navigate the often complex process of lease or financing a car in a new country. With teams from Denmark, the United States and Sweden, ExpatRide offers financing assistance in more than a dozen countries, as well as chauffeur service in some places and auto insurance or car rental help in more than 100 countries worldwide.
How did you come up with this business idea?
When I moved to the US in 2005 on an expat assignment for a Danish software company, I had a very hard time leasing a vehicle. Even though I had been a customer with the same leasing company in Denmark for 10 years, I was seen as a completely new customer with no US credit historic. The US is not different from any other country when it comes to measuring a person’s credit worthiness; it is done by looking at their historic local income and ability to pay back credit. When you are new in a country, you do not have this historic data to show, and therefore many expats are denied credit in their new countries.
When the credit crunch happened at the end of 2008, I was ready to create something on my own after having helped others start or expand their companies over the past 10 years. With the much stricter credit restrictions enforced by the financial institutions at the end of 2008, I thought now would be a good time to find a solution for expats moving to the US needing credit to lease or finance a vehicle.
What were the initial challenges? How did you overcome them?
Since I did not have much savings when I started out, I first needed a partner who could fund the vehicles and deliver vehicles nationwide in the US. Secondly, I needed to figure out how to finance the expenses in my new company while at the same time have money to pay for my family’s living expenses. Well, I have always been very naïve when it comes to my own abilities, so I didn’t think much about these challenges. I dove in head-first and found myself faced with two major challenges.
One, my sales pitch to potential funding partners was terrible.
Two, finding someone I could trust to run my company on a daily basis while I found a new full-time job which could earn me enough money to pay for my company’s expenses and my family’s.
OK, so we all know how important a good elevator sales pitch needs to be in order to gain interest. Well, this was my pitch - at least how the potential partner heard it. “I know that the financial market has just crashed, we have no idea if it’ll get worse. We know it was all due to financial institutions lending money to people with bad credit. Well, I have a great concept for you; I can provide you with customers who have no credit history in the US, are only here on temporary assignments and can decide to leave the country at any time”.
Well, I guess luck follows the crazy ones, because I managed to find a great nationwide leasing company interested in giving it a shot, and an even better person to run my business while I went and worked for another company for 18 months while spending my spare time developing ExpatRide.
How has the journey been so far?
Now we have been profitable on a monthly basis for the last four years, so right now things are looking really good. However, the beginning and all the unforeseen challenges I have had to battle have been learning experiences. Everything from disloyal partners, a lawsuit, dirty tactics by competition, etc., made the journey one that if I had known in advance, I might not have started ExpatRide. But standing on the other side of all these challenges, I am much better off than if I had not done it.
One thing that I have been very lucky with and have had no challenges with are my employees. I couldn’t have wished for a better team. To begin with, I only aimed to hire Scandinavians for my company to ensure that the mentality was the same and the level of trust you can put in someone was respected and embraced. My team is made up of Danes and Swedes, and it works very well.
We all work from home as the company is completely in the cloud and virtual, which gives a great work environment for us all, as the workday is less of a pain and more relaxed and flexible.
How has becoming an entrepreneur changed you, personally?
I think the greatest challenge most entrepreneurs struggle with, or at least I have, is being mentally present when I am with my family, as I my mind never gets off of work.
Do you have any other personal reflections or a message to budding entrepreneurs?
Invest in your network. Up until about eight years ago, I never spent any time on networking. Then I read the book ‘Never Eat Alone’ and it gave me such a big motivational kick in the butt to go out and meet some new people and find ways to help them.
Through the process, I ended up starting Denmark’s largest international business network, DABGO, which has over 10,000 members globally and meet ups in 40 cities around the world every first Wednesday of the month.
Being able to reach out to my network globally for help and inspiration has helped my company immensely. The mantra of the DABGO network is “It’s not about who you know, or who knows you. It’s all about who and how many you’ve helped.”
I can proudly say because so many great people surround me, my best work has been done by others.