Not so long ago, selling just one car felt like a question mark for Carvana CEO Ernie Garcia. “I remember our first sale – we were constantly watching the site, tracking customer progress, and then I heard, ‘hey, someone just got financing!’ We were doing pushups because we were so excited,” Ernie recalls. “All of a sudden, it was like, ‘hey, these real people in the real world found out about us.”
Now, ten years later, we’ve bought over a million cars from customers, and sold even more. “Trying to go from selling that first car to contemplating a million cars sold is a massive step. Of course, you have the dream, but when you know everything that goes into one sale, and you imagine that work happening for every single one – it’s almost impossible.”
Carvana still has a long road ahead of it, but what’s a good road trip if you don’t stop every once in a while and look back on how far you’ve come? Today, we celebrate as Carvana turns ten by taking a look back down memory lane.
Liftoff from a (Server) Crash
Founders Ernie Garcia, Ryan Keeton, and Ben Huston started Carvana with one goal: Give people a new – and, more importantly, better – way to buy a car. “I think we were able to come at it with a unique, very customer-oriented perspective that gave me a lot of confidence – if we could execute it well, we’d be able to capture a really big opportunity,” reflects Ben.
Those early months and years embodied one of our core values, staying scrappy. “Back then, we were in a tiny little quarter in DriveTime’s [Carvana’s parent company] corporate office… we were selling like 30 cars a month which is crazy, because [now] we probably sell that in five minutes… we would be on the phone talking to customers and Ernie’s walking by our desks like ‘how did that go?’ and it was so fun, just such great energy,” says Quality Team Senior Manager Tacarra Brown.
That energy, and Carvana’s unique offerings – a totally online car-buying experience, complete with features such as delivery – captured the interest of the market. Before long, we had a spot on ABC News that put the pedal to the metal.
“It’s the first free advertising that you can get as a company,” recalls Ernie, “it was on national news, and we were watching and all of a sudden it came on and they started talking about us a little bit and you just see the website start blowing up.”
“That count that typically was at like a hundred, maybe? Not even, right, on average, maybe something like 40… [to] a thousand, five thousand, and ultimately the site just crashed,” Ryan contributes. “Because our servers couldn’t take it and we weren’t ready for that traffic load, and everybody just started jumping up and down and hugging each other… we couldn’t even imagine that many people choosing to visit this little thing we had built,” follows Ernie.
So This is what the Fast Lane Feels Like
From there, we just kept on accelerating. In 2015, we opened our first car vending machine in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2016, we surpassed 10,000 cars sold, and just two years later, we passed a million.
Throughout all that growth, Ernie, Ryan, Ben, and the team they quickly built to meet surging demand were focused on preserving the values that created Carvana.
After facing some initial challenges recruiting customer advocates, Adrienne Sanford, Vice President of People Operations, changed her strategy to reflect those goals. “At the time, we had this video of Ernie and Ben singing to Snow Patrol, like “Chasing Cars”… so I put that in the body of the email… and I started sending that out – and that started to work,” she recalls.
The desire to create a customer-centric used-car-buying experience has always driven Carvana forward. So when we did finally sell our first car, Ernie and Ryan took a Redeye to Atlanta to deliver it personally (accompanied by a signed Florida State helmet, that customer’s team of choice). “Maybe most notably, we all wore tight [Carvana] blue pants for that delivery that I don’t think any of us could still fit into,” laughs Ben.
As we move forward, Carvana remains committed to delivering an innovative car-buying experience that does more than just meet expectations – we want to drive you happy.
The Road Ahead
“What I care about [is] what this company looks like five, ten years from now – is how it feels,” says Ben. He continues, “I think at this particular moment, we’re in a battle for that. Carvana will make it, Carvana will exist ten years from now, I have no doubt about that. But what Carvana feels like, the types of people that work at Carvana, how people describe the culture of Carvana, is what I really really care about.”
“We got here because we got a lot of people to care about transforming the auto industry.”
“I hope we keep that same dream. Life’s the journey, not the destination. It’s fun to be a part of something you can look back on and say, ‘we achieved so much, and the thing we achieved is good for other people… nobody believed in us, and we were right.’ I think doing anything great is always hard. It’s more satisfying and fulfilling if we keep the mentality we had when we were little, keep that dream alive, and keep doing good for more people,” says Ernie.
Hard to say it better than that.
Want to Learn More About Carvana?
Check out our “A Trip Down Memory Lane” playlist to learn more about where it all began, where it’s going, and the behind the scenes from the people that make this whole operation run smoothly.
Want more Carvana facts and trivia? Keep an eye on our Instagram page @gocarvana to learn more about our milestone moments.