We’ve all been at a car show and saw a car that interests us enough that we wanted to know more about it. But there’s no one around to talk to.
Now imagine there’s a QR code in the window. So, you scan it with your smartphone, and you’re taken to a website with all of the information you want — this was the vision of Paul Rooprai that is now a reality.
A lifelong car guy like his father, the Traverse City, Michigan native was traveling for business in in Stuttgart, Germany and had a few hours before boarding a plane back to the States. So, he did what any car guy would do; he went to the Porsche Museum.
A Porsche Museum visit changed his life
“It was my first time there and I was taking pictures of the cars and pictures of the placards. There’s some rare stuff there so I wasn’t going to remember all that.” Rooprai said of his 2019 trip.
“I thought, ‘well, I’ll get back on the plane and I’ll put it all back together’ — and that was a colossal mess.”
But what happened next would be life changing.
“So, I literally took out my notebook and I sketched out this idea for a tag that could be applied to the car or to a placard and with the smartphone in my pocket, I could just scan it and pick up the car’s story,” he explained.
“I’d have all the beautiful pictures I wanted, and all the details that somebody wanted to tell me about it. And I would maybe even have links to video or something else. That’s the vision I had.”
When he got home, he told his wife, Katie, about his idea. The couple met while working at Yum Brands in Louisville, Kentucky. Paul worked in mergers and acquisitions; Katie worked in marketing for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Married soon after they met, Katie was used to Paul’s ideas. “I’ve always been a little bit of an inventor,” he said. “My dad was too.”
There have been many ideas, she admitted, “There’s been others that have come along and I was like, no, not really.”
But this one was different.
“Katie literally said, ‘yeah we should do this one; you should go for it,’” Paul said. “So, the pandemic hit and we finally had the headspace for it, so we pulled the trigger.”
A patented new business with many uses
Dubbed AutoBio, the premise is simple. Car owners go to autobiotags.com and for $49 they receive a unique QR code for their car and online access to build a webpage about their it, including stats, stories and room for approximately 40 files. They can use their real name or whatever name they want.
“There’s no other identifying information about you on that profile, it’s strictly about the car,” Katie said. “So, it’s really up to the user to determine how much they want to share.”
Car owners will also receive a removable cling sheet that placed in their car’s window at car shows. No more dragging placards or signs. Car show attendees merely scan the QR code, and the car’s profile, stats and photos appear.
Videos can’t be stored on the site, although one can post links to video sites such as YouTube. Car viewers can register with the site at no charge and “store” their favorite cars in a digital “garage” free of charge. Each page also allows comments, to foster a sense of community. The couple is considering adding a “make an offer” button for an additional charge for those who want it.
Best of all, it’s free of advertising, and there’s no app to download.
“We built it that way on purpose so that when an enthusiast is standing at a car, no matter where it is in the world, they don’t have that point of frustration where they’ve got to download something before they can enjoy it,” Paul said.
The site has been active for about seven weeks, going online once the Rooprais received their patent.
“We didn’t invent the technology for QR obviously,” Paul said. “But the use case of it being on the car and being on a cling and then being able to replicate and feed off that same platform is where we targeted our patents.”
Paul says the platform’s nature extends beyond the auto industry.
“I can take this, and in the future, put it on boats, put it on airplanes, put it on whatever’s a collectible, and it’s the same concept.”
The couple is talking with organizers of some of the country’s largest car shows about partnerships, but the technology could just as easily be used for an automotive auction company.
“It’s perfect for auctions because a good portion of what you’re buying is the story,” Paul said.
“It also eliminates a lot of the paperwork literally that they have to produce. If our QR codes get replicated on a placard in front as well as on the tag that goes with the car, that’s a huge value add for the shopper. They don’t have to carry around a big book anymore.”
Even restoration shops and museums are showing interest in the new platform. The former can show how a car was built, while museums can deep dive into an item’s history.
Hitting the big time at SEMA
The couple is one of 15 semifinalists in SEMA’s Launch Pad competition, a contest that attracts hundreds of entrants. By week’s end, the Rooprais could be one of five finalists who will show their idea at the 2021 SEMA Show in front of a panel of industry judges.
“Paul actually will be part of a live competition that they’ll be filming,” Katie said. “They’ll cut it down from 15 to 10 by lunchtime and from 10 to five before dinner. And then those five finalists, go to SEMA in November and compete before a live studio audience, you know, and they cut it down from five to two to one.”
The competition is being filmed for a TV series on the Discovery Network.
“It’s Shark Tank meets American Idol minus the singing,” she added.
Given AutoBio’s long gestation, the strong interest in it has caught the couple by surprise, having debuted it at this year’s Amelia Island Concours.
“I think that’s been the biggest surprise for us that we could launch this product in May in the automotive space,” said Katie, who noted the couple had just returned from the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan.
“Two premier concours and the reception we’ve got, it’s honestly been overwhelming. We get more calls now to show up places that we just physically can’t get to yet. And you know, we’re serious entrepreneurs; we want to hustle, and we want to be there at all these shows.”And even if they can’t make them all, one thinks their QR codes will.