After a number of frustrating experiences at the DMV in 2016, Ryder saw an opportunity to provide better DMV information and faster appointments online. By February 2018, YoGov was doing $40K in monthly revenue without yet having written a single line of code.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
I’m Ryder, the founder of YoGov. I started my career in urban planning, working for the cities of New York and Vancouver, before founding my first venture-backed startup, SherpaShare, which offers financial management tools to rideshare drivers and other gig workers.
At YoGov, we’re building the consumer layer on top of government services. Our initial target is the DMV (the Department of Motor Vehicles, for those of you outside the US), where we’ve proven that even the country’s most-maligned government office can support OMG-this-is-amazing experiences.
Currently, our two most popular services are expedited DMV appointments, which we book on behalf of customers by monitoring the DMV website 24/7 for last-minute appointment slots and cancellations, and our Road Test Concierge packages, where we help customers secure a car and licensed driver for their DMV road tests through a marketplace of independent contractors (primarily Uber and Lyft drivers). We also offer several other government-related services powered by our independent contractor workforce, such as on-demand passport renewals and DMV line waiting.
What I’m most proud of at YoGov is how scrappy we are. As a remote team of 17 that has raised less than $300K, we’ve already have tens of thousands of paying customers. This past February, we were doing $40K a month without having written a single line of code, and now we have monthly revenue in the hundreds of thousands.
What motivated you to start YoGov?
In 2016, I had to make multiple DMV visits over the course of a few months. The experience involved three office visits, multiple forms, numerous calls to banks and the DMV, several conversations with my car dealership, and a few notarized signatures. And all that to do one simple thing: transfer ownership of a vehicle between family members. When I actually figured out what I needed to do, it was actually incredibly easy, but what should have taken minutes took months. While waiting in DMV lines, I overheard others’ similar stories of confusion and frustration. All of this led me to ask myself: Why hasn’t the DMV experience changed in decades?
Having started my career in government, working for the City of New York starting in 2006 and Vancouver a few years later, I reflected on the lack of progress I’d seen in the prior decades, and it became evident to me that government’s inability to adopt modern technologies and service models is a structural problem that governments can’t solve themselves — no matter how good their intentions.
After my experience with the DMV, in a weekend I put up the first version of YoGov (called YoDMV at the time) and the idea was simple. What if I could simplify information and answer the same questions I had for other people? What if I could also help educate people on the appointment booking process. So that’s what I did and the response was incredible. People were leaving comments, live chatting me, sending emails — with thanks — but mostly with more questions. Then I started asking myself, how else can the DMV experience be improved?
What went into building the initial product?
In November 2016, I built a simple website on Wordpress to start helping people directly with DMV appointments and DMV information. I’d talk to people over phone and live chat, listen to their questions, and give them clear answers. I also spent time visiting the Oakland DMV often which is right down the road from me. That’s pretty much it.
I wanted to see how far I could get without writing a line of code and it turns out, I could go very far. I started stringing together Wordpress, Ninja Forms, Zapier, Airtable, Stripe, Intercom, just to name a few.
For example, very early on I wanted to help people with the DMV appointment process. The problem here was often people booked the wrong type of appointment or forgot about their appointment and didn’t get an email confirmation. I started offering to book DMV appointments for free, which would include email confirmations and reminders as well as email and phone support.
What started happening was people would call and email us first because they didn’t want to wait on hold for 3 hours with the DMV, but of course, that became a bit overwhelming for me.
At this time, I started building our Philippines team to help with bookings and customer support. This allowed me to not only get some sleep, but helped us fulfill DMV appointment bookings that we hadn’t yet automated.
I soon discovered that we could often find earlier appointments if we spent enough time looking, and so we started our first paid service helping people with “express DMV appointments”. This was spring of 2017.
And then a big moment came in June 2017 when I stumbled upon the opportunity to provide cars and drivers for DMV road tests, which has since become our flagship service.
We had unfortunately booked the wrong type of appointment for one of our users. It turns out he needed a road test and not a regular office appointment. This user was especially upset because he’d paid for a driver on Craigslist to meet him and help him with the test, and he couldn’t get that money back. I got on the phone with him and offered to reschedule him as soon as possible and take him myself for his road test. I picked him up on the Berkeley campus, and as we drove to the DMV, he explained to me just how big a problem this was for college students and international arrivals like himself. Students and internationals alike often do not have access to a car and a licensed driver to accompany them for the test. They were all in the same boat, looking for someone to help them for 3–4 hours to pass their driving test.
The next day I put up the first version of our road test car and driver concierge service and we were off to the races.
How have you attracted users and grown your company?
Since day 1 we’ve been live for customers and haven’t had any official “launch.” Frankly, we didn’t need it. Since I was talking to customers from day 1 to build our first content, then our appointment booking system, then our road test service, we’ve grown our services with our customers.
This approach has always been my style and also one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my previous company: To validate quickly with paying users and let customers call, text, and email you.
These first customers came from blog posts I did and shared on social media as well as on Quora. Most of the effort was just being scrappy — posting content, getting users on the site, and then talking to them. Eventually, I added in a very small amount of Adwords and added in a referral program. In turns out, search has been very strong for us. People are actually searching for answers to their problems — I need a DMV appointment asap, I need a car for my road test — and we have services that help with both of those.
Once we reached the thousands of users, we started seeing that people were coming to us through referral. To each of our services, I added a question, ‘How did you find out about YoGov?’, which I’d definitely recommend to get a quick signal of where people are coming from.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
We’re focused on helping consumers have a significantly easier time with the DMV (and other government services) so that’s who’s paying us. This is one of the biggest differences between us and other companies who’ve focused on improving government services: we’re laser focused on improving the experience for the consumer.
I strongly believe that by focusing on improving the consumer experience with government services, we’re also helping governments themselves. For example, instead of getting 100 customers showing up at the DMV with the same questions and getting angry because they forgot a document, we’re helping answer those questions up front. For the DMV employee, it makes for a much more pleasant day.
For our products at the moment — DMV express appointments, DMV road test concierge service, DMV line waiting concierge service, and a few others — we’re collecting payments via Stripe on our website. And for our concierge services, we pay out independent contractors for the actual service. To date, we have hundreds of independent contractors in a dozen states helping people with road tests.
Our focus on a really great government experience has helped us grow significantly by word-of-mouth, referrals, and reviews — and has allows us to grow 1200% over the last year to a multi-million dollar annualized run rate. It’s allowed us to stay close to breakeven while at the same time, begin to build in our network effects.
What are your goals for the future?
As a team, we’re excited to completely change how people think about government services. “Remember the days before YoGov when we had to go to the city website and download forms and then spend an hour looking for information you needed and still being confused and frustrated? Now I just open up the YoGov app…”
We’re not saying it’s going to be easy to get there but that’s our north star — to be your relationship with government services. You can rest easy knowing that we’re taking care of things for you, and you can come to us for answers any time.
Our biggest challenge is creating that marketplace of services and we’re constantly asking ourselves questions around which products to build and when to build them. It’s more an operational challenge for us, and one we’re excited to take on.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
The biggest challenges we’ve faced has been communicating our mission to the government services themselves. We’ve focused on building a great experience for the consumers — giving them information, answering questions, helping speed up their government interaction. As a result, in one case, namely with the California DMV, they’ve wondered what our “angle” is in helping people. We’ve sorted it out with them and I think there’s finally acknowledgement that what we’re doing is helping the DMV too, but for a while we didn’t make the time to communicate with them.
After all, when we help consumers with their government needs, there’s less pressure on government employees to do everything. Our goal is to continue to help governments save time and money. Going forward, we’re planning to be more intentional here in making that goal clear with governments from city to state to federal levels.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I catch up on start-up related podcasts on a daily basis, usually when I’m walking to our office. It’s just helpful before diving into to a million things, to get some perspective and inspiration. There’s a ton of good ones and I’ll usually have a couple actionable things I’ll do after every episode — whether it’s a change in thinking around marketing or talking to users or tactical advice on fundraising. The 20 Minute VC and This Week in Startups are two of the more frequent ones I listen to. If it’s particularly interesting insight or advice, I’ll share with our entire team as well.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
My biggest advice for starting out would be to stay scrappy and ask yourself how you can make your company into a real business from day 1, as in start charging from day 1. It’s been said a lot but I think it’s worth underscoring, especially because we’ve taken this approach and been able to grow very quickly as a result. We’ve used our revenue to fund our growth with very little outside capital to date, and that’s given us a ton more freedom. Most importantly, it’s allowed us to stay super focused on working on the things that matter, quickly testing our hunches, and making decisions much quicker.
You can accomplish so much more than you might think without writing a single line of code. We were able to create a pretty modern interface just linking together Wordpress, Airtable, Ninja Forms, Zapier, Intercom, Slack, just to name a few.
Stay scrappy until you need major investment to keep up with your growth, and then spend a lot of time thinking through exactly what you need to grow and reach your next major milestone.
Where can we go to learn more?
We want you to stay in touch with you and answer your questions! Visit us at YoGov.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Leave any question below too and I’ll reply as soon as possible. Or if you’d like to get in touch with me directly email me at email@example.com.