Step away from your daily business and talk to your staff and the real people surrounding your business.
Christian Plagemann is one of three founders and Managing Directors of the Classic Trader GmbH. The extremely classic car enthusiast is responsible for sales, customer support and cooperations at classic-trader.com . In the past 5 years, the trained banker and Master of Business Administration held various sales and business development positions at eBay and mobile.de and was responsible for various strategic alliances with partners in the automotive and media industries. Previously, Christian worked for several advertising agencies and start-ups in Berlin. From 2005 to 2006 Christian supported the construction of the Mercedes – Benz Classic Center in California , USA and learned about the classic scene from the scratch.
As a real Berliner, Christian loves the western part of Berlin, a good “Currywurst” and of course a fresh german beer. His passion for classic pre-war racers goes back to his early childhood in which he had the opportunity to witness live the Berlin “roar” of Mercedes Roots blowers on the automobile traffic and exercise road (AVUS). This is why he dreams of his own pre-war Austin 7 Ulster every day. A dream that has to become true as soon as possible. This is a motivation what drives Christian to peak performances every day.
Where did the idea for www.classic-trader.com come from?
When we started looking for our first own vintage vehicles three years ago, we realized how complicated doing research in this sector still is. On the one hand we were forced to click through internet sites from the last century, realizing quickly that we would also have to put a lot of effort in offline research through magazines, automotive club talks, fairs and rallies. As a result it took me nearly a year to find out which car would be appropriate for my needs and wallet, where to probably find it and what to be aware of.
Way too much time if you ask me and only because there is no professional single point of contact for everything and anything related to finding, buying, driving and selling vintage vehicles.
Thus, the vision for Classic Trader was born, defining the proper means for a market entry and development throughout the following two years, launching our business roughly a year ago in August 2013!
What does your typical day look like?
As we have a very international product, my day usually starts early with a quick look on the site, checking how many new listings we were able to generate from the US or Australia. May day in the office then usually starts with a coffee and a quick look on our sales and growth goals, our current status and a review of our sales activities and conversions throughout the last seven days, so that we can set the right priorities for the rest of the day and week together with the team afterwards.
In a perfect world I would start with some sort of client appointment or call afterwards but often enough I need the time to discuss more strategic topics together with my partners Torsten & Timo.
I usually try to find at least two hour per day to do customer care or sales calls myself in order to always be close to the market and get a feeling for our performance as well.
A huge chunk of the day is also dedicated to our team. As a young company there is so many things to learn from and discuss with each other, that simply can not be shared in between appointments or calls – as such we try to sit together with each of our directs once a week in order to challenge and optimize our activities.
At around six it usually gets quite hectic again, as a lot of our clients tend to be available after their official opening and closing hours plus calls from international customers start coming in.
Depending on the flight schedule of my fiancé, who is a stewardess, I try to limit my appointments and evening hours in the office to those days, that she is „up and away“ anyways.
This is usually the time that I try to use to not think about business, get some distance from the results of the day and recuperate in order to be up and running again in the morning. I keep trying to squeeze in some sports, but honestly don’t really manage to do so, except for one or two games of tennis each and every week.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Well, I guess it usually starts with a cup of coffee and a discussion with Timo and Torsten. Afterwards we try to take a deeper look at the user perspective and ask ourselves how this idea enriches or facilitates our vision. Sometimes you have to say no to an idea as well in order to not loose focus as well. Before involving technology and product it is usually worth thinking an idea to an end – often enough an idea is only good as an idea but embedded into a product or process flow not attractive anymore.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Connectivity and Harmonization. No matter where I am, in the office, in the car, on the plane or at home, no matter what type of device I am using, my phone, my laptop or my TV, I can access and use all my data everywhere and anytime easily without complicated setup or synchronization processes.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
You have to find a way to keep track of all your thoughts and tasks. For me Wunderlist is a key tool for this. I try to go through all my entries in my Wunderlist at least once a week in the morning hours in order to prioritize or delegate tasks. I track new tasks, ideas, and also comments from my team directly in my Wunderlist, should I be working on something different that moment (which is usually the case if you think about your own day). As such I can continue to focus on what I was doing before „the interruption“ getting things done quite quickly.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Selling cosmetic products for a multi-level-marketing company. I didn’t like the product and until then, I wasn’t really the most outgoing, sales type of person. I did actually learn a lot about myself though, and did learn a lot about communication, service and attitude towards selling in general. This experience allowed me to define my own values in customer service and sales today, allowing to become a better sales person, developing and supporting people that have fun in sales as well.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I guess I would start bigger, with a bigger team and much more marketing power. People on the internet today do not differentiate between „new“ and „established“ anymore and do expect 200% product with a 200% top level service right from the away. You only have one shot – so you better use it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Step away from your daily business and talk to your staff and the real people surrounding your business. It helps you to get an idea of you and your companies outside picture and helps you to develop the right product for your market! The real live still hosts the best ideas and opportunities for your own business.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Keeping it personal. Online business models tend to be anonymous and are of course very standardized for a certain market. We try to do the opposite, be personal, connect to our market, working with our clients, developing a product that is „tailor made“ for the needs of vintage vehicle buyers and sellers. This is only possible in very special market and above all with the right team in place – which makes recruiting a very challenging and intensive process for us. We are always looking for people with the right spirit, attitude, knowledge and above all aspiration for our industry and market. We don’t need working zombies, but real people with personalities that connect to our product and to the market!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Acting as an entrepreneur means taking responsibility for anything and everything. Finding the right balance between being involved and enabling your team to work self responsibly is an ongoing process and really depends on your daily condition as well. Acting really means acting, so if you want to do something, change something or work with someone on something, don’t wait for the others to approach you, approach them, say what you want to say and start doing what you want to do! It’s all about doing mode!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This is a very good question. For the last years, I tried to focus on our product and the ideas and features surrounding it, so that it is hard for me to pin point something outside of Classic Trader right now. Since there are so many creative people out there, I believe there is probably nothing outside of technological innovation that doesn’t exist yet. This is not bad however, as there is still so much potential in any market when it comes to service, customer orientation and processes.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
People usually take me as a very patient person, but I am actually quite the opposite. Once I am on top of a topic I prefer to get right to the point of a topic. However, I do not interrupt people and try to let them follow their conversation agenda, as this usually gives them confidence and creates a very collaborative atmosphere as well.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Wunderlist and SalesForce – The one (Wunderlist) is incredibly simple, harmonizes perfectly throughout various devices and across teams. The other one (SalesForce) is an extremely powerful and customizable tool. I could probably spend weeks to further customize workflows, dashboards and reports but do not find the time for it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Re-Work” even though I do not think the general principles in this book are adoptable to each and every team or situation. It makes you question quite a lot of standards though and helps you to question your own plans and processes.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I always got a lot of inspiration from my family and friends. A lot of people surrounding my are entrepreneurs from a variety of sectors and the one thing that unifies them all is the passion and love for the topic and market behind their business. I truly believe that everyone can be successful, as long as you have the passion and love for what you do.
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Classic Trader on Twitter: @Classic_Trader
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.