St. Louis Startup Provides New Model for Buying, Selling Cars

Posted by on Mar 18, 2014 in Featured Stories, Innovation Tuesday | 0 comments

Click here to listen to Charlie Brennan’s interview with Josh Holstein on KMOX Radio Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Josh Holstein admits he’s really not a “car” guy.

But he is an “idea guy”, and his idea has people thinking about new and better ways to buy, sell and re-sell cars.

Holstein is the founder of CellARide, a St. Louis startup company that grew from an idea Holstein had while driving down the road three years ago.

“I noticed a couple of vehicles that were displaying the old black-and-orange “for sale” sign, with the little white space for a phone number and a little information,” says the Springfield, Mo., native.  “It hit me as to what a bad system that is.  People might like the looks of a car, but they really don’t know what questions to ask when they call that phone number or when they’re looking at that sign.  So I said there had to be a better way.  At the time I was dabbling in using text message marketing.  I decided there was an opportunity to provide a newer, up-to-date way of doing this.”

Holstein’s “new way” creates a high-tech solution to solve some of car-buying’s stickiest problems.

First, CellARide allows potential buyers to circumvent that awkward meeting with a salesman on a car dealer’s lot.   “People want to go “kick tires” on a dealer’s lot, but they’re not ready to talk to anybody,” says Holstein.  “They go after hours and do what I call a “drive by” at a dealership.

For a monthly fee, CellARide offers a dealer the opportunity to place on his vehicles “ride tags” —  window stickers that are produced and given to the dealership, which places them on the window of each vehicle.  Every ride tag has its own unique key word that a customer can text to a phone number, then receive back to their phone or hand held device a mobile brochure, which includes pertinent information about the vehicle, and gives a customer access to vehicle history reports, reviews, online finance applications, insurance quotes, interior photos, walkaround videos and other information.

What’s in it for the dealer?   “We provide them with information as to who is on their lot, when they’re not.”   In other words, key contact and demographic information about potential customers that the dealer otherwise wouldn’t have.

Holstein says his company’s dealership model, in place for about two years, was the springboard for a similar service offered to those seeking to buy or sell on the individual level.

“A private vehicle seller can go online at, type in the VIN number which will tell us the year, model, and make of your vehicle.  Basically we help you create a profile of the car much the way a dealer would.  The seller can add photos, videos, vehicle history reports, the works,” says Holstein.  The company offers four different packages to vehicle sellers:  a free package that lasts seven days, a ten dollar package that gives the seller 30 days to complete a purchase, a 60-day, fifteen dollar deluxe package, and a twenty dollar unlimited package.

Ultimately, Holstein says one goal is to create a product that includes those “ride tags” placed on the shelves of retailers, right alongside those black-and-orange “for sale” signs.

For now, Holstein says the main focus is on connecting with the 120,000 independent car dealerships in the U.S.   Currently, he’s working with six car dealerships – from the Midwest and Eastern U.S.   Whether it’s working with independent dealers, franchise car dealerships, with customers online or in retail stores, Holstein says, “the opportunity is enormous.”

CellARide has the support of Capital Innovators, a local group that provides $50,000 for an equity stake in a company, and is currently applying for an Arch Grant, which would bring another $50,000 in resources, if CellARide is ultimately chosen to receive a grant.  It was Ewin Barnett, the founder of CARFAX and a partner in CellARide, who convinced Holstein to base his company in St. Louis.   Holstein, who has been spending his weekdays in St. Louis and returning to Springfield on weekends, plans to move to St. Louis as the company grows.

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