3 college friends built a $1 billion business selling used cars

Aaron Tan is heading areas.

As the co-founder of a newly crowned unicorn and one of Asia Pacific’s quickest developing begin-ups, the Carro CEO is now on the highway to a community listing. 

And with investors including Softbank getting onboard, he has no options to slow down. 

“The question is, now that we have achieved $1 billion, how do we access $10 billion? How do we access $100 billion?” Tan advised CNBC Make It.

I would not say that I tricked my co-founders into founding the organization alongside one another…

Aaron Tan

co-founder and CEO, Carro

Carro — a play on the words “car hero” — is a Southeast Asian online auto marketplace designed to simplify auto bargains employing artificial intelligence technology.  

Founded in 2015 by Tan and his college friends Aditya Lesmana and Kelvin Chng, it reached the coveted $1 billion unicorn status in June soon after securing $360 million in funding. The deal takes total dollars elevated to above 50 percent a billion dollars and pits Carro along with crucial competition, these kinds of as Malaysia’s Carsome and Germany’s Carmudi, in an marketplace worthy of $50 billion and growing.

Nevertheless, as Tan described, it was some journey finding there.

Pushed to triumph

The 36-calendar year-old’s entrepreneurial tale started off when he was 13. As a teenager growing up in Singapore, the computer whizz would gain extra income by building and selling sites.

But it was later on, while working as a enterprise capitalist in the U.S., that he saw an prospect to merge small business prowess with his real passion: trading cars. 

Aaron Tan, co-founder and CEO of Southeast Asian autos marketplace Carro.


“When I was in the U.S. as a VC for lots of decades, I remember pretty clearly, I satisfied all varieties of automotive providers — your Beepi, your Uber, your DriveShift. What this confirmed me was the momentum in the house,” mentioned Tan.

Even though the vehicle resale market was flourishing in the U.S., the very same couldn’t be said for Southeast Asia. It was famously opaque, with numerous middlemen making it tricky for purchasers and sellers to get the finest deals.

What we observed was the switching habits of automobile ownership.

Aaron Tan

co-founder and CEO, Carro

Tan required to modify that. So, returning to Singapore in 2015, he teamed up with his classmates from Carnegie Mellon’s University of Computer Science to create an algorithm that would do just that.  

“I wouldn’t say that I tricked my co-founders into founding the business together, but I consider I sold the opportunity that this could be significantly far more fascinating than whichever they were being accomplishing,” said Tan.

Tapping a quick-going sector

The trio was on to one thing. In a area with a large and escalating, digital-savvy center class, price-sensitive consumers ended up progressively opting for next hand types.  

“Increasing center class put together with very low automobile ownership rates in Southeast Asia ended up actually the major factors that stimulated new automobile revenue, and at some point this translated into a vibrant utilised motor vehicle market place as nicely,” Justinas Liuima, a senior analysis specialist at Euromonitor, informed CNBC Make It.

Autos market Carro introduced Singapore’s 1st car membership provider in 2019.


Carro capitalized on that demand, rolling out its online offering for individuals and wholesale dealers across Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia in the a long time that adopted. Meantime, it added end-to-stop economic services like loans, insurance and aftercare.

By 2019, motivated by streaming giants Netflix and Spotify, the enterprise introduced Singapore’s very first vehicle subscription company, enabling users to lease a car or truck for a monthly fee, with tax, guarantee, and servicing all provided. 

“What we noticed was the modifying habits of car ownership. Really the hole in the industry was to glance for folks that want that flexibility. And much more importantly, they truly want to try out new cars,” explained Tan.

Navigating the pandemic

Then, in 2020, the pandemic struck. But what was a major roadblock for many start-ups turned out to be an chance for Tan and his staff. 

Concerns over hygiene and personal basic safety sparked new demand for private transport options. And with borders closed and a international microchip shortage limiting car creation, used automobile revenue surged. 

Covid has surely helped accelerate our entire digitalization internally and also externally.

Aaron Tan

co-founder and CEO, Carro

“Covid has surely helped accelerate our complete digitalization internally and also externally, to the basic public,” stated Tan.

Among the various initiatives launched by the firm was a contactless “Showroom Anywhere” thought, which authorized prospective customers to look at and examination drive cars and trucks with no any direct human conversation. They could alternatively entry the vehicle at a public carpark applying contactless QR code entry.

As of March 2021, Carro recorded revenues of $300 million — up 2.5 times from the past 12 months. The six-calendar year-old get started-up claims it is now worthwhile.

The highway to an IPO

Nevertheless, that expansion will come versus a backdrop of growing scrutiny on the car business. 

Transportation accounts for nearly a quarter (24%) of world wide carbon emissions, of which highway automobiles make up 75%. And even as governments and automakers make plans to period out classic combustion motor automobiles with electric vehicles, lots of existing fuel guzzlers are merely exported to developing markets.

Carro, for its section, explained it is playing an essential role in the transition to greener transportation solutions. 

Carro states it is assisting with the changeover to greener transport procedures, by allowing prospective buyers to demo new automobiles like electric cars.


“Our task is to permit that recycling or the reusing of the cars in the shortest period of time. And the 2nd element of this is that [electric vehicles are] a sturdy tailwind for us, for the reason that this encourages alter. For a platform like us, we attempt every time there is adjust in the sector,” mentioned Tan.

Sustainability will be 1 of the many things on Tan’s agenda as he sets out to record his business inside the up coming 18 to 24 months. With regional expansion, AI developments, and acquisitions all on the playing cards, a single thing’s for sure — it really is heading to be an eventful ride.

“Among now and then, [we need to] get the firm ready, controls have to have to be in area, persons want to be in place, compliance demands to be in area,” said Tan. “Only then can we then say that ok, we are prepared to go public 12 to 18 months from now.”

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