Almost two years ago, John Sparrow, a high-school dropout from Brandon who’d already started three companies by the time he was 21, started a fourth.
Sparrow, now 24, showed up at Ramp Up Weekend, a Winnipeg-based entrepreneurial competition put on by North Forge, a local innovation hub. At Ramp Up, teams develop companies from scratch in 55 hours, and Sparrow, who showed up to network and have fun, decided to share one of his nascent business ideas: GoOil, an on-demand, mobile service that would bring oil changes directly to consumers.
"We want to dominate the oil-change industry."John Sparrow, founder of GoOil.
"The last thing I wanted was to start up another company," Sparrow said earlier this week, a few days ahead of the next Ramp Up, which runs this weekend. But that’s exactly what he got, and now, GoOil has successfully franchised across Canada, with vans in several major markets with dozens more anticipated down the road.
By the end of the next fiscal year, the company is expected to have revenues exceeding $1-million, and they’ve done it all from a fifth-floor office space on McDermot Avenue.
Sparrow, along with business development manager Tyler Bergen, 23, and marketing coordinator Sayid Kenani, 24, pull the strings from Red River College’s ACE Project Space, where the trio spends most days plotting their company’s expansion and growth. Their goal, says Sparrow, is one that’s a lot easier said than done. "We want to dominate the oil-change industry," he said.
There have been dozens of companies with similar franchise models that have crashed and burned trying to make mobile oil-changes profitable, says Bergen, 23. What separates GoOil, he says, is a relatively low entry-point for potential franchisees, at $15,000, a fraction of the cost other businesses have set. Through North Forge, the company was given mentorship from Tan FX, the franchise-based tanning company, which helped them navigate provincial codes and bylaws, clearing the way for a smooth roll-out.
After incorporating in May 2018, the company began signing up franchisees in November, and are doing business in Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Kingston, Brampton, and Winnipeg, with plans to begin a U.S. expansion, with an origin point of Austin, Texas, by the end of the year.
Zsolt Petofalvi, a local fleet manager, initially contacted GoOil to service his vehicles, but when he heard the idea, and saw the low franchise fee, he jumped. "I thought it was genius," said Petofalvi, who runs the Winnipeg franchise with Bela Reider. "I see a huge future for it."
The brass at the ACE Project Space agreed. Ralph Dueck, an instructor at ACE, and Andrea Ardiles, an educational technologist, said they were impressed by the company’s concept, and were more than willing to help GoOil build its back-end software. Through co-operative work opportunities over the past two academic terms, Red River business information technology students have built and developed the company’s intuitive scheduling and booking system, which create custom quotes suited to the vehicle’s engine size.
"What’s really valuable for our students is not only working on these projects, but seeing them through from the beginning," said Ardiles, who added that GoOil had previously hired students for short-term contracts, turning schoolwork into paid work.
"They were already a successful, productive company, and I thought we’d help them continue to be that," said Dueck. "But what I didn’t envision is that they’d be able to franchise all over Canada so soon."
Sparrow certainly didn’t expect that, either. But he says he felt the oil-change business model — which has gone largely unchanged since personal vehicles became ubiquitous — was due for disruption. At brick-and-mortar shops, Kenani says, it’s not uncommon for customers to be upsold services they don’t immediately require, and to spend upwards of an hour in waiting rooms while their vehicles are being serviced. "Nobody has time for that these days," he said.
So far, Bergen says, that’s proven to be the case. Since November, the company’s business has been doubling month over month. They expect that rate to slow, but have no intention of allowing their ambition to do the same. Sparrow says many once-successful businesses, like Blockbuster, for example, faltered because they failed to think ahead. "We can’t afford to stop adapting," he said.
The company now has 13 full-time employees in its office, and anticipates adding more soon to keep up with the growing demand. They look to local success stories like SkipTheDishes as exemplars of their possible future, but want to carve a path all their own, Sparrow says.
"Skip is great, but Winnipeg’s gotta have more than that," he said from the McDermot office, where the food-delivery titan once operated.
Teresa Dukes, the interim president of North Forge Technology Exchange, says the city’s innovation economy is booming, and GoOil is just one of dozens of success stories that are underway. "GoOil is projecting to have 1,400 employees in their corporate office," she said. "John knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s used a lot of the resources available to do it."
"It’s gone beyond what I could have imagined," says Sparrow shortly before answering a business call.
"We’re just having fun building this," said Bergen.