An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Shane McRann Bigelow (co-founder and CEO) of CHAMPtitles, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of CHAMPtitles – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
CHAMPtitles digitizes the process to move, transfer, and store vehicle titles for businesses that are in the title ecosystem, such as insurance companies, banks, retailers, and the like. We also have a line of business where we replace states’ title and registration systems that are old/failing or need an upgrade.
My co-founder knew this space because he was in the automotive retail business, and I knew it from my first startup company, which focused on automotive lending. I was exposed to it again years later when I was on Wall Street trying to analyze the securitization of big buckets of auto loans.
Titling is primarily a paper-based process that companies put a Band-Aid on to try to fix because they do not have the expertise in the space, nor should they. Why would an insurance carrier need to be an expert in titling? They are experts in providing insurance and diversifying risk. The same applies to banks; they are experts in lending. Retailers are experts in selling a product, not necessarily titling. Titling slows down everything that each of them does, but we have created a new process that allows for the digitization of the moving, transferring, and storing of these titles. This is extremely useful when you are moving hundreds of thousands or millions of titles per year because the cost drag is quite substantial if you do not digitize the process. In fact, it is one of the last things that they have not been able to fully digitize, in large part, because the enterprise must abide by the states’ rules that require paper. The good news is that states have been changing, in some cases more rapidly than enterprises, to allow for a digital transaction.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
The first thing that was apparent to us was that most people thought vehicle titling already was a digital process. It almost does not pass the logic test that you would not have a digital process for moving titles. It certainly seems like something that should be digitized!
The second thing was that most people think that titling must be uniform across the country. The 10th amendment is my best friend and my worst enemy because it gives states rights, but as a result, in our country, we actually have 51 primary versions of titling (all 50 states, plus Washington, DC). The second hurdle is getting people to realize that every state is a little bit different.
The knowledge barrier in this space is far more important than the capital barrier. Right now, you can go out and raise capital for lots of clever ideas. For titling, however, the learning curve is tremendous. It means being able to understand how each state and entity processes and moves titles and how they are interrelated to one another. That is something that we thankfully had from our backgrounds and could bring to bear in this company. We hired people who were not only similar to my co-founder and me, but also understood insurance, lending, and retail from different sides of the transactional coin.
What does the future hold for CHAMPtitles?
The world is acknowledging that the digitization of every process is underway, and if you are solving that problem for a particular industry and you can prove that it works, as we have, you have a real SaaS business on your hands that has the potential to be quite large and expansive. Our mission is to be the world’s title registry for all movable assets. We are starting with vehicles here in the United States, but the vision is much larger. For us, it is about continuing with national expansion and partnership growth.
We have great products that work fantastically well on the title processing business and on the state title and registration business. Now, it is about getting into other worlds where that can be used. If a state can use it, then a country can use it. If the insurance sector can use it, then lenders and retailers can use it. Our future is that expansion and to continue to grow as fast as we can.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Cleveland?
I started my first software company in California, and I worked for technology companies in New York before transitioning to Wall Street. I have seen tech on both the West and East coasts. The difference in the Midwest is while the talent is here, it is much harder to find because there is not a great startup culture. Once the startups find each other, there is a strong network of startups that know each other, but there is not a central location where startups can go to share ideas and bounce them off one another.
The second part is that the Midwest is not used to the compensatory models that are associated with startups. Early on, we had people turn down equity in exchange for cash. Why would you come to a startup if you do not want equity? There is this culture of job security here that undermines the structure that a startup might want to pursue. It makes it a little harder to find people that know or understand the startup world enough to say yes, I want to get in, and yes, I am willing to take a pay cut to get equity because the equity could be worth a lot more. The talent is here in Ohio, but the questions are “Can you find it?”, and “Can you find people who can fully embrace a startup?”.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
One crucial thing that we talk about all the time at CHAMP is to treat “no” as a stumbling block on the way to “yes”. “No” is motivational. “No” gives you direction. It can provide purpose. It can tell you who the naysayers are. It can tell you who on your team might not have the creativity to join you on your way to “yes”. “Yes” is exciting and what we all desire. It feels good and is contagious. But you can only find it if you persevere through the “no”s. “No” is good as it narrows the aperture on how to find your way to “yes” and to find those people who will join you in that positivity in overcoming the “no” and getting to the “yes” whether you are starting a company, building a company, growing a company, or choosing to change careers.