Once I was homeless, then I went on and became CEO of multiple internet businesses to much success - Ask me anything about my rags to business journey

Dagmawi Belay
Nov 9, 2017

Hey there people of AMAFeed and fellow CEOs or those looking to startup their own business. My name is Dagmawi Belay, founder and CEO of Carcela.com an internet used car sales platform based in the UK.

Carcela.com was founded to make buying and selling cars much easier and its all done via the digital highway, pun intended.

The journey to setting up and running carcela.com was anything but easy. At a moment in time of my life, I only had a park bench and ambitions for company.

With tenacity, and a bit of serendipity I stared uncertainty in the face and defeated its negative surge. To date I've co-founded and sold one company for $XXX,000,000 and have had another not go as well, resulting in closing up shop. Carcela.com is currently my third venture and it is going excitingly well. 

Feel free to ask me anything about my journey.

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Conversation (53)

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How would you recommend start-ups that have very low capital to have their site launched in order to have their products or services displayed (any free hosting site)? 

Nov 10, 6:42AM EST0

Many thanks for the question Paul. In order to get free hosting, I'd recommend joining an accelerator/incubator. They would have access to AWS (Amazon Web Services) Activate which is a programme that enables you to have $15,000 in AWS credits over two years. Sadly you can't gain access to this program by reaching out to Amazon, you need to be a part of an incubator/accelerator. Potentially worth asking university (assuming you are at University) as they may potentially be able to acquire such credits. I have heard of Hostinger being free for hosting but have no experience with them and hence, do the necessary due diligence before using them. Ultimately to get a landing page up and going, you can even use Wix, Squarespace etc (and these will cost less than $100). Best of luck :)

Last edited @ Nov 10, 9:51AM EST.
Nov 10, 9:50AM EST0

Where are you from?

Nov 10, 6:06AM EST0

Many thanks for the question Dodevskaa. I'm from the UK. :) 

Nov 10, 9:45AM EST0

where will you be on the next 5 years

Nov 10, 4:29AM EST0

Thanks for the quetion Bmokamba.We intend to see big name used car dealerships throughout Europe close down as we become evidently the best way to buy and sell ones vehicle. We intend to IPO by year 5 and have already proven such accelerated traction within our growth plans to such a speed to justify such milestones.

Nov 10, 4:54AM EST0

what challenges did you face ?

Nov 9, 7:19PM EST0

Thanks for the question Ms. Goodie. I faced the typical challenges every business with a relatively new model faces. Lack of money, lack of proof of concept, no team to begin and no customers. So I had to go about figuring it out accordingly. 

Nov 10, 2:15AM EST0

How did you start the business?

Nov 9, 6:24PM EST0

Thanks for the question James. I started by putting pen to paper and genuinely trying to make sense of the unit economics and business model on paper. I then proceeded to spend a small bit of cash to truly see if I could turn every £1 spent, into a return >£1. If it failed I would have closed up shop, but thankfully, carcela.com 's business model made sense (and cents :P )

Nov 10, 1:50AM EST0

How did you come up with the idea of starting the kind of business that you now have?

Nov 9, 12:24PM EST0

Thanks for the question Agnesph. I was taking my mum to a dealership to buy her a car. The customer service we received was terrible. My legs ached from the amount of aimless walking. The haggling, the up-selling, the pushy salesman syndrome - I had enough. In the age of ubiquity of internet, one should be able to purchase and sell their vehicles online as they do all other items. Hence, I got to starting up Carcela.com

Nov 9, 1:25PM EST0

How are your communication skills?

Nov 9, 9:11AM EST0

Thanks for the question Zack. My oratory skills have been called top-notch. It is one of my better attributes :) 

Nov 9, 11:51AM EST0

What was your goal for success?

Nov 9, 4:16AM EST0

Thanks for the question Fatema. My goal was was to reach a stage where finance was no longer a strain.

Nov 9, 11:52AM EST0

Where is your business available?

Nov 8, 3:23AM EST0

Thanks for the question Liudmyla. We are available throughout the United Kingdom, and will be available across pan-Europe in 2018 starting with Paris, France. You can find us at Carcela.com Alternatively, you can check out our blogs at blog.carcela.com for more info and stories :)

Nov 8, 1:04PM EST0

How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

Nov 7, 8:41PM EST0

Many thanks for the question Jesa. Admittedly this is dependent on consumer adoption and where the automotive sector may be veering towards. Over the next two years we intend to scale our current operations further across the UK and also scale into Pan-European cities. This requires me to constantly remain vigilant of ensuring our current operations are run to the best level we can for the customer. Creating that change requires me to continuously and actively question every action we carry out with our team. I have to ensure that we never reach a state of complacency as ultimately, a customer experience can always be improved by greater magnitudes. It's my responsibility to find the "how" and see how far we can push that margin. 

Last edited @ Nov 9, 2:37AM EST.
Nov 7, 9:28PM EST0

How many people do you have on your team?

Nov 7, 8:31PM EST0

Many thanks for the question Diana. We're currently just under 12 months old, and are already a full team of 12. (+ - 4) 

Last edited @ Nov 9, 6:06PM EST.
Nov 7, 9:23PM EST0

How long did it take to create your project?

Nov 7, 3:38PM EST0

Thanks for the question Tamara. With Carcela.com, it took us two months to go from design table to fruition. We were experimenting with the business model and truly making sure the unit economics made sense whilst having the tech created. 

Nov 7, 5:04PM EST0

What question do you think we need to be asking that we haven't asked already?

Nov 7, 3:13PM EST0

Thanks for the question Katerina. Admittedly, your question is a tad bit vague for me to truly give you a compelling enough response. Can you scale it down for me as to what you are referring to? Are you referring to train of thoughts in relation to already stated questions that do not necessarily tackle what is needed to start a business? 

Last edited @ Nov 7, 9:22PM EST.
Nov 7, 5:05PM EST0

In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result?

Nov 7, 3:08PM EST0

Where are you from?

Nov 7, 2:50PM EST0

Thanks for the question Adrian.I was born in the UK. 

Nov 7, 3:51PM EST0

How can you become the company that everyone would love to join?

Nov 7, 11:34AM EST0

Thanks for the question Giada. Company culture may differ from company to company depending on sector, output and other nuances. For me it starts by treating those who are already a part of the team with the respect you would want. For me, that's enabling the team to take the initiative on tasks and not being deterred by failure. If you provide your team to take the freedom of thinking for themselves they will repay you with much more than great work. I for one, never want to be surronded by Yes-people. That's an inevitable sinking ship. You want people who are willing to question you on your decision; people who can think of a better way of solving a problem and who can take that initiative to steer the course. By providing such a platform - making your team feel comfortable to go against you in an open debate without fear of assumed dictatorial repercussions, such a culture will matriculate into the industry and more people will hear about it. Always think of your team. Without them, you wouldn't be in existence (which a lot of managerial folks tend to forget sadly).Look out for those who are currently there, and they will go out of their way to find the best people to join your company. 

Nov 7, 12:37PM EST0

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Nov 7, 11:30AM EST1

Thanks for the question Aarohisurya. Ultimately, every leader should possess a variety of characteristics. A singular entity isn't going to be the defining factor but rather a conglomerate of charactersitics make up a great leader. Once more, it's dependent on the sector you're involved in. However, if we are to pick one characteristic that is clearly upheld by those across the board, it's persistence. Whether it's going well or not, the tenacity and dedication to what you're doing to ensure you, your company and your team succeed is something you tackle every second. There are times it gets hard and you will question whether it is worth it - you have to fight through it. Continue persisting regardless of how dire a situation could be. If I were to pick one characterisitic, it would be persistence. 

Last edited @ Nov 7, 12:05PM EST.
Nov 7, 12:03PM EST0

How would someone write about your life for a magazine or newspaper?

Nov 7, 11:14AM EST0

Thanks for the question Mvidal. Honestly, I have no idea as to how it would be depicted in text. Good luck to whomever is given the tedious task :D 

Nov 7, 3:47PM EST0

What does success look like for you?

Nov 7, 9:40AM EST0

Thanks for the question Nicz. I wished I could give you a straight answer. Unfortunately, success is a dependable variable for me. It depends on what is around me. Hence, when I was homeless, success was to attain wealth at a level where I no longer was in such dire situations. The moment I had attained such wealth, success then became to pay off and move my family to a nicer neighbourhood. It's all relative. The line of success is forever-changing. 

Nov 7, 11:03AM EST0

What Are Your 3 Biggest Accomplishments?

Nov 7, 8:30AM EST0

Thanks for the quetion Shilpa. There are a variety and they probably will differ depending on where I am. But to date my 3 biggest accomplishments to me have been: Starting and running a company with an incredible team; having sold a company with great cofounders; being able to have cleared parents debts. 

Nov 7, 10:53AM EST0

How long were you homeless?

Nov 7, 7:20AM EST0

Many thanks for the question Chee. I was 16 and homeless for just under a year. Hilariously, I was simultaneously walking into business meetings I was trying to set up pretending like all was well (I kept a bag with a suit within it, just in case I needed to dress smartly for some form of engagement).

Last edited @ Nov 7, 8:54AM EST.
Nov 7, 8:14AM EST0

What has been the biggest let down in your career so far?

Nov 7, 6:47AM EST0

Thanks for the question Chee. Truth be told, there hasn't been a "let down" in my career thus far. More so a tough realisation: your parents could potentially be the obstruction between you and your own venture. My parents have always meant well. Never carried an action out of maliciousness. They always wanted what was best for me. But when I deferred the concept of going to university (not due to capability - I just felt I could exceed further expectations by taking a diversion) they viewed it as disrespect and when I proceeded to cofound my first company years back, assuming they would be my biggest cheerleaders, they turned out to be one of the toughest characters to deal with. The harsh reality is parents are human. They all have the typical human skepticism associated with anyone we hear is starting a business.You're better off executing your plan and save your breath explaining to your parents what you are doing. (This goes for parents, spouse or any other significant person/personnel whose opinion you typically value).

Last edited @ Nov 7, 9:11AM EST.
Nov 7, 8:19AM EST0

Can you give me one word that describes you the best?

Nov 7, 5:25AM EST0

Thanks for the question Hanah. One word: Persistent. This is the one trait that I have been labelled with since a child and a trait I have apparently upheld. Whether I failed or succeeded, I would go at it again. Regardless of the degree of failure or success.I was never phased by failure. Whilst others would criticise me for failing (parents, friends etc) I would not care. I would go at it again. Ultimately in my heart of hearts, when I am old and grey, I can look back and honestly say, I tried whether I failed or succeeded. Never be afraid to fail. Do not aim for it, but if it happens, take the intial sting, then get back to trying again. The lessons you learn are indispensable. 

Last edited @ Nov 7, 3:31PM EST.
Nov 7, 8:32AM EST0

What other CEOs do you look up to?

Nov 7, 5:21AM EST0

Thanks for the question John. This is an ever changing one for me. However in recent years, it would be amiss to not say Elon Musk. Whether Elon fails or succeeds, it's clearly indicative he has inspired a generation to think outside of the box, and that is greater than any business metric of success we would typically judge CEOs by. I would also have to say Bezos. He has already played a significant part in revolutionising commerce, and though Amazon has become a staple, I don't think Bezos has even come remotely close to what he believes he can accomplish. CEOs who were dreamers, but acted upon those dreams and refused to stop when the whole house looked like it was burning down. Ones who are clearly still in the trenches even though they don't need to be. Those are the types I look up to. 

Nov 7, 8:36AM EST0

Are we changing as fast as the world around us?

Nov 7, 12:37AM EST0

Thanks for the question Brittany. Ultimately, it depends what you use as a metric for the supposed catalyst. The world has clearly alerted us to the presence of global warming affecting it (and it seems to be increasing in intensity with each year). It's a matter of do you think we're doing enough to mitigate its exacerbation. 

Last edited @ Nov 7, 9:06AM EST.
Nov 7, 8:49AM EST0

How long did it take to build up your company?

Nov 6, 9:57PM EST0

Thanks for the question Joseph. First company I had cofounded and had been active for 3 years when we sold it for a 9-figure sum. Second company had been active for 2 years when we decided to close up shop. Sold the company in parts to salvage whatever we could. Third company: Carcela.com, has been active for just under a year and we're doing well so far. Our 1st year anniversary is next week :)

Last edited @ Nov 7, 9:24AM EST.
Nov 7, 8:53AM EST0

What business information did you have to look up or did not understand at the beginning?

Nov 6, 8:42PM EST0

Thanks for the question Rebekah. I wished I could list everything down of what I did not know, but that would turn into a dissertation :D  Frankly put, I knew what my end point was, and I worked backwards figuring out the building blocks needed to get to the end point. And you just pick these things up as you go along. If you have no mentor or advisor, there is always Google at your finger tips. 

Nov 7, 10:03AM EST0

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