From cookies to multi-million dollar software: A look inside Hugh Hathcock’s entrepreneurial journey

Welcome to another episode of Founder Focus, a CBT original series that dives into the inside stories behind some of the automotive industry’s most impressive entrepreneurial journeys. Join us for intimate conversations with innovative entrepreneurs and the great companies they have built. Today, host Steve Greenfield, founder of Automotive Ventures, sits down with serial entrepreneur Hugh Hathcock, owner of Velocity Automotive. Hathcock also founded Fresh Beginnings in the 1980s, and then created a company called ELEAD1ONE, now known as elead, which was acquired by CDK Global in one of the largest auto tech exits ever.

It all began when Hugh’s specialty advertising company was puzzling over how to help his car dealer clients boost their customer satisfaction scores. He then developed the concept of sending fresh, soft, and moist chocolate cookies from a nearby bakery to engage customers and prospects. The cookies would also be accompanied by a survey-type comment card that clients could fill out. This was the start of Fresh Beginnings. Over time, the strength of Hathcock’s relationships with dealers became key to the evolution of the company. After Fresh Beginnings branched out into call center services, Hathcock then recognized a new opportunity to develop CRM technology for auto dealers in the 1990s, and ELEAD1ONE was born.

Back then, Hathcock says, he didn’t realize how big the CRM would eventually become. He started the system for his own business needs. 20 years later, Hathcock decided to sell ELEAD1ONE to CDK Global. He says it was one of the hardest decisions of his life. Hathcock, self-admittedly, was obsessed with his company. However, CDK’s offer came at a good time, and the deal closed for a staggering sum.

Instead of stepping back from the industry for a quiet life of retirement, Hathcock returned to market with a brand new venture aimed at solving fixed-ops and digital retailing process failures. Velocity Automotive offers car dealers a suite of products available on one intuitive platform that addresses vehicle reconditioning, digital retailing, document management, and much more.

Related: Dealers are raving about this latest digital retailing tool developed by Velocity Automotive

From his perspective, Hathcock says most successful business owners are more often born entrepreneurs, not made into them. In his case, he quickly figured out that college wasn’t a necessity to become an entrepreneur. While he’s a big believer in college education, he knew right off the bat that he wanted to be his own boss, and didn’t want to pursue the college path. Hathcock adds that he learned the business from hands-on experience and with help from mentors like Royce Reynolds, founder of Crown Automotive, and Luther Coggin, founder of Coggin Automotive Group. Sonic Automotive’s Jeff Dyke was also an important figure throughout Hathcock’s career.

Hathcock’s advice to other entrepreneurs and startup founders is to think 10 to 20 times bigger than you are right now. Accept the risk and be prepared for obstacles and challenges in your path. Learn from your mistakes and work hard not to repeat them.

As for his five-year plan, Hathcock says he not sure yet. He is still passionate about the car business and passionate about growing Velocity Automotive. However, with some exciting developments in his personal life, he looks forward to stepping back and mentoring the next generation.

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