I Love My Job: Turn5 Founders Steve and Andrew Voudouris
Not many people can say they started a successful business in high school, but brothers Andrew and Steve Voudouris can actually boast that Turn5 — what they launched in 2004 when they were 17 and 15 — is now one of the fastest-growing e-commerce companies in the Philadelphia region. The Malvern-based company’s three brands — AmericanMuscle.com, ExtremeTerrain.com, AmericanTrucks.com — are a haven for car enthusiasts looking to stock up on fun parts (think special headlights, souped up steering wheels, and fancy bumper covers) for their Mustangs, Jeeps and trucks. The founders say what sets Turn5 apart in the automotive aftermarket industry is the platform’s ability to foster a community of learners through the convergence of auto experts and technology. The company recently secured $611,000 in state credits to expand to new headquarters in Paoli this fall, adding 200 more jobs (by 2020) to its team that currently stands at almost 400. Fresh off of their EY Entrepreneur of the Year win, the brothers tell BizPhilly why Turn5 is experiencing so much growth and how they plan to do more in the Philly tech community. They’re already involved with Coded by Kids and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and without ever getting college degrees of their own, they’ve awarded $44,000 in college scholarships to teens across the region. The brothers tell me why school wasn’t for them and get into the nitty-gritty of running their operation at the ages of 32 and 30 now. (Warning: This interview may make you want to buy a Jeep.)
We grew up in … Delaware County about a half hour outside of Philadelphia and went to Marple Newtown High School in Newtown Square.
A story that best describes our sibling relationship … goes back to 1992 when we were 6 and 8 years old. Nintendo released a game called Contra, and before we knew it, we were saving the world from aliens. He’d shoot up into the right, and I’d shoot down into the left to get the bad guys on that side. That was the beginning of our divide and conquer scheme.
We decided to get into business together because … we were bored with high school, nerdy, bad at sports and into technology. High school was not our favorite place to be.
We became interested in tech because … it was the early 2000s and tech was all the rage. The dot-com bubble. Everything in the news was about tech, and it was hard to not be excited about how things were changing. I remember in fifth grade having a computer, a 66K modem and dial-up. You could download a song, but you had to start it before you went to bed and hopefully it was done in the morning. And then DSL came out. Everything was just changing so fast, and we wanted to be a part of it.
We got into cars when … I (Steve) got my first car in 2001, a V6 Mustang. That’s what got me into it. It became a lot more fun when the business started to do a bit better. We could have a lot more fun. I bought a 2007 Mustang G2 and supercharged it and had a great time with it. But I’d say we’re more of a tech company than we are a car company.
We started Turn5 because … the automotive market at the time was prime for being disrupted by technology. People were ordering out of catalogues and mailing checks halfway across the country, and that was an opportunity. In 2004, having a website and allowing consumers to order online, and setting up tracking numbers—it was an industry that was behind the times. That excited us because we were so interested in technology and so interested in e-commerce.
We named the company Turn5 because … we’re going to be honest, we don’t have a good answer. [Laughs] It comes from racing a bit, but there’s not really a great answer to that question.
We caught Governor Wolf’s attention because … we’re not afraid to invest in people and technology. We want our team to succeed and be the best at what they do, so invest really heavily in ongoing education and training. One of the really fun things we do is provide every employee with $2,000 to buy a Mustang, Jeep, or truck and $500 in free parts to get them started customizing it. We do this to further their education on the parts that we sell and continue our employees down the path of being enthusiasts in the products that we sell.
Our new Paoli office will include a bowling alley because … why not? We are a group of ambitious and highly competitive people. There’s not any better way to settle the score than drinking a beer and bowling a few freights.
We’ll open up a satellite office in Philly when … the Eagles win a Super Bowl. [Laughs] But seriously, I do want to add that our Paoli office is only a couple of minutes from the Paoli train station, and we will cover the costs of employees to take Lyfts to and from the train station if they want to get out to our office from the city.
Running a fast-growing 400-person company at our ages of 30 and 32 is like … racing a Mustang. It’s fast-paced, high-energy, exhilarating. We’re driving but wouldn’t be winning without an amazing team of mechanics and engineers.
What e-commerce has done for the auto industry is … made it possible for everyone to be a do-it-yourself enthusiast. Personalizing and customizing your car has never been more fun. It’s easier to shop, learn and ultimately share what you’ve built.
Some lesson we’ve taken away from the early days of running the company … bootstrapping has been an important part of our business. We didn’t have any options when we started because when you’re 14, 15, 16 no one wants to give you any money. So that creates lots of discipline with the business, and we’ve been able to carry that with us throughout the years. We’re used to every dollar being our own.
We’ve learned to invest in people, helping them to expand by building their skills. There are people who have been with the business for a while, and they’ve built up institutional knowledge. That knowledge has been valuable, and they’ve been able to rise through the business and take up more responsibility. One of the best examples is Pearl. She joined us as a copywriter 10 years ago. She’s now the director of UX, director of customer experience for the website. We’ve got quite a few great stories of people who came in through very junior jobs, and through learning in the business and finding opportunities outside the business to continue to learn, they’ve grown and have turned their experience into a fantastic career. And it’ exciting for us that the growth of the business creates those opportunities for individuals.
Our employees would describe our leadership style as … focused. Figure out what matters most to customers and ignore everything else. That’s part of our strategy.
We’ve chosen to specialize in Mustangs, Jeeps, and trucks because … those drivers are extremely passionate about their vehicles. They’re not just a means of getting to work. It’s a hobby. It’s a passion. Adding trucks on back in April was our big expansion this year.
We’re involved with Coded by Kids because … it’s something we’re super passionate about, and we really want to make a difference. We’re not just writing checks, but our tech team is actually out working with and mentoring kids and helping them learn skills that can lead to a successful career. Our goal is to give back and see tech grow in Philly.
A project with the kids that stands out is when … we had people go down to one of the classes in Kensington and actually assist in teaching the courses. One of our team members built a game for the kids, which plays a song, and you have to guess which artist it is. So he had everyone playing the game and got everyone into it. Then he actually deleted all the code and rebuilt the game with the kids, which was just really awesome.
Tech education in Philly matters to us because … we want to see tech grow in Philly, and we want to build a pipeline of tech experts in Philly. We continually need more tech folks because we’re growing fast.
I drive … (Steve) a 2016 4-door Wrangler on 35-inch tires, lifted, and it’s matte black. It’s very fun, especially in the summertime. I just got my Brigantine beach pass as well, so I can take it out on the beach in Brigantine.
I (Andrew) like variety. I currently drive a 2016 Corvette, actually. It’s a great time for convertibles, great for driving down to the beach. But I like to change it up a little bit. I’m in the market for a Jeep. I think that’s going to be my next ride.
Our best selling products … are first off, the fun stuff. We’re lucky because we don’t sell the stuff you need when it comes to auto parts. So one of our popular products is a remote controlled exhaust for your Mustang. You can turn the sound down so you don’t wake your neighbors but turn it up full blast if you want to impress your friends or your girl.
One of the popular products on the Jeep side is called the Jammock, and it actually turns the roof of your Jeep, when the top’s down, into a hammock that you can lay on. As for trucks, we don’t know yet.
A Turn5 customer … is passionate and enthusiastic and expresses themselves through vehicles. They’re between 18 and 25 and then they disappear, get married, and then we get them back at 50 and 55 because they want that convertible Mustang they had when they were younger.
The craziest deal we made was when … we attempted to trade limited edition Jordan’s for an Instagram handle. We absolutely failed. This guy had “American Muscle,” and he was a die-hard sneaker head. We tried, but he just didn’t accept.
Our schedules … aren’t really unique. We’re not super early risers.
A moment when we were down about Turn5 was when … the local bank laughed at us. They laughed us out of the office. We were in high school, and we walked in with e-commerce sales charts and asked for a 6-figure business loan. We didn’t get the response we thought we would. We ended up starting with $2,000 and reinvested profits, and there are no outside investors. It’s just Andrew and I.
We use tech at Turn5 to … inspire and educate customers. We have a library of over 2,000 videos to help them figure out what they want to purchase. We also have a way for people to chat live with an expert who knows about their vehicle. We do a lot of community features on the site to help people share the projects and cars they’ve built.
A challenge we’re constantly up against is … finding good technologists. Developers and digital marketing experts are always in demand for us. Employee referrals have been the top way we recruit. Our employees are great at what they do and enjoy the workplace so they can tell a friend about it, and we have a high success rate that way because it’s genuine.
Being in the burbs … is definitely a little quieter than being in the city, but I do think people are a bit more settled when they get up here. I think it certainly has its perks, but no, you’re not going to get the pure number of people and talent that’s in the city.
Outside of work … we both thrive on experiences. Last week we were at the Formula One race in Montreal. It’s a good time, and I think it makes us more rounded professionally and personally to try and take in new experiences.
To those looking to quit their jobs and start a business … do it! There’s no such thing as an overnight success, though. You’re going to have to work your ass off. It’s been a wild ride for us.
Most people don’t know that … in 2001, when we said we couldn’t take all those meetings, it’s because we were in 3rd period Biology class. We would tell people that we had a busy day until 3 p.m., and that’s because we were in school. We never told anyone we were in high school. Now everyone thinks it’s a great and funny story, but it was really hard to get credit. People at that time didn’t find it humorous.
We’re experiencing so much growth now because … we have struck a chord with automotive after market community in combining experts in vehicles with technology to make the shopping experience much easier, to help inspire people to know what they want to buy.
We want to … be part of the growing Philly tech community. We’ve had our heads down building the business and customer base, and I don’t think that’ll change but we do want to be part of the community and find more ways to get involved with organizations like Coded by Kids.
The best piece of career advice we’ve been given … is simple: Never stop learning.
People always tell us to … get a college degree. Neither of us went to school so there weren’t many other places to learn besides on the job.
We aren’t anti-school. We think it’s important to take every opportunity you can to learn. For us, we found ways that were more efficient for us to learn. We learned by meeting a lot of people in the Philly community that were business owners who sort of helped us along the way from a standpoint of giving us advice. That’s the way we chose to learn. We wouldn’t advise anyone not to go to school, but it’s fun how you can learn and grow stuff in different ways.
In 10 years we hope … Turn5 will have made millions of car enthusiasts very, very happy. We also hope to help our team grow new skills and reach new levels in their careers. We’ll ideally have some Coded by Kids alumni working at Turn5, and hope we’ll be helping to build an even bigger tech community in Philly.
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