Before he joined the board at Vast this summer, Paul Johnson had the chance to re-connect with the company about a year ago.
Johnson, who was at the helm of Kelley Blue Book from 1999 to 2012, had known the folks at Vast from his KBB days. In fact, Vast — which many may know now as the parent company behind the CarStory Platform — had powered KBB’s The Trusted Marketplace when it launched in 2009.
As Johnson began to understand the Vast’s current work, some seven to eight years later, he said: “I was just blown away when I learned that they had some 200 million vehicles with VINs attached in their database going back to 10-plus years, and then something around 1.6 billion photographs attached … to all of those pieces of inventory.”
Johnson said he was impressed by the sheer numbers of data points at Vast, and how they are utilizing that data when it comes to machine-learning and artificial intelligence.
“To me, that’s hugely exciting,” he said. “And I think it’s going to continue to have a huge impact on the industry, and I’m just thrilled to be able to help provide some input into how you leverage those products to help dealers and help consumers in their car-buying and -selling process.”
CarStory utilizes what it says is the largest database of inventory and shopper insights in the industry. Through artificial intelligence and machine learning, the company helps consumers and dealers in decision-making.
Paul Johnson, board member at Vast.
When asked about the future of the company and how Vast and CarStory might impact the car business, he said while it might be challenging to say exactly how, “the only limit is the imagination” when it comes to Vast’s insights and analytics.
Johnson sees the potential for the company to move beyond reporting and into marketing prediction.
Vast follows some 200 million cars entering and exiting the market and tracks wide swaths of new and used cars actively being sold, plus it engages with roughly 15 million in-market shoppers each month, Johnson said.
Those data points encompass vehicle supply, speed of sale, time of return to market, pricing and consumer demand.
“I think what the future looks like is a company that has incredible analytic capabilities, and I think the evolution is going to be bringing products to market that help share the market insights, really to help dealers buy and sell cars more effectively; give them insights to help their decision-making process and really complement what dealers are doing,” Johnson said. “They do it very well today, but I think this could … exponentially help their businesses.”
In a news release announcing his appointment as a board member, he said: “I have seen first-hand the way data can impact every aspect of the automotive ecosystem. The CarStory platform combines proprietary data, artificial intelligence and mobile-first experiences.
“It is extraordinary for one company to be so strong in all three areas. The combination delivers a unique market perspective for both consumers and dealers. This makes the CarStory Platform one-of-a-kind, and I’m excited to help bring it to the rest of the industry.”
During the phone interview, Johnson delved further into those three areas.
Although nearly everything in today’s society is shifting toward mobile, much of what dealers utilize today are desktop tools, he said, but Vast has been able to transition that functionality, analytics and speed to mobile devices.
“That’s a huge step in itself,” Johnson said.
But when Vast’s analytical elements, machine-learning and database work together with the mobile piece, he said, “their capabilities just become stronger and stronger.”
And with the photos Vast has at its disposal, the company can determine how a vehicle is equipped through photos.
“As the machine learning continues to go through the databases and the vehicles and the pricing and the pictures and the equipment, it just gets more powerful,” he said.
And then to get this to a mobile device in milliseconds, “is pretty incredible,” he added.
In his role on the Vast board, Johnson will be focusing on product development and how the company’s endeavors can benefit the industry. He will work on go-to-market strategy and how Vast can leverage their assets and capabilities (both in terms of analytics and development).
“The key thing is, how do you make this information actionable? Dealers and OEMs and the consumers, they have so much information already, but it can at times be so difficult to digest. And if it’s not actionable, then it really isn’t valuable.”
Beyond his time with KBB, Johnson’s time in the automotive tech side of the business is deep.
He was involved with LotLinx early on and was a board member previously; he currently is an investor. Johnson is also currently with NabThat and had previously worked with Cargigi. Outside the car business, Johnson is on the board at NavigatorCRE. He’s also invested in a fintech company.
One thing these companies have in common is that they are information- and data-based and are also tech related, he said.
The companies he has worked with have also found “gaps” that they can utilize their capabilities to fill. Johnson aims to bring the strategy know-how, he said.
“What I like to be able to add is that strategic perspective to say, ‘OK, here’s the market; here’s the opportunity; here’s our capabilities; now how do we take advantage of all that?”