Start-up of the week: Trawlur

31 Oct 2016

Pictured: Mark Kirwan, Trawlur. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennel Photography

Our start-up of the week is Trawlur, a company which makes it easy for used car retailers to sell their cars to consumers, from forecourt to front door.

“Think of us like Deliveroo, but for used cars,” said Mark Kirwan, founder of Trawlur.

“By taking care of the technological facet of launching an online virtual dealership, and taking care of the logistical delivery side of things too, Trawlur lets used car retailers concentrate on the presentation of their stock, and makes it an easy process for used car retailers to sell their cars over the internet.

‘Our ultimate goal as a platform is to expand into the EU market. Ireland and the UK are an isolated market for used cars’

Future Human

“Our three key tenets for consumers looking to purchase a used car are accessibility, convenience and price.

“We create accessibility by enabling consumers to purchase used cars from retailers that are outside their locality, particularly if the used car they desire is only available [there].

“We create convenience by making our service easy for customers to use. Once consumers purchase their car through Trawlur, all they have to do is sit and wait for their car, without ever having to leave their home.

“We offer price value by offering consumers a far larger selection of stock than they currently have access to, opening up offers and deals that they wouldn’t have been able to take part in prior to Trawlur,” Kirwan added.

The market

Trawlur is a multi-sided marketplace, with two interdependent customer segments that are needed to operate: used car retailers and consumers.

“We have chosen the UK as our initial market, with over 27,000 used car retailers across the water. There are some very forward-thinking guys over there, who really see our vision for the used car market and we’ve been lucky enough to work with.

“Our initial consumer market is the Republic of Ireland. We recently talked to the founder of a very successful used car start-up over in the UK about our initial consumer launch [there] and were effectively told we were crazy. With a modest enough budget, it is possible to have constant brand exposure in Ireland. In the UK, that same budget gets us nowhere.

“Trawlur looks at UK car retailers to Irish consumers as an amazing niche to start off in. There are already 74,000 used cars purchased like this each year, and it is a difficult and time-consuming process, [which] we make convenient, accessible and affordable to all. Not just the petrol heads,” Kirwan said.

The CEO hopes to increase that number, adding that in the EU already, 3.4pc of used cars are purchased at a distance.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot but it is just over 2m cars per year. Less and less people want to go to physical locations these days, and we really see the market dramatically shifting over the next 10-15 years to be as high as 80pc.

The founder

Mark Kirwan (25) originally studied mathematics in college he left after two years to focus on his very first venture, his band Twisted Logic.

He then went to work for Carzone, AutoTrader and the Golden Pages as an account manager in a number of sales and marketing roles, whilst completing his education in Trinity College Dublin studying information systems.

‘We would like to see ourselves as bastions of the open market, and are working towards creating a platform where anyone in the EU can purchase a car from anywhere in the EU without having to worry about all the difficulty that lies within’

When he finished his education, he set up his first start-up, Dealer Intelligence Network, which provided business intelligence to used car retailers.

He founded Trawlur out of a frustration that the used car market hasn’t dramatically changed in the last 30 years, regarding how people find and purchase cars.

“The biggest shift was going from looking at cars on a magazine to looking at cars on a computer, which when you think about it, isn’t a massive shift in the way people buy cars.”

The technology

The technology consists of a software platform that connects used car retailers to consumers.

“When consumers arrive onto the platform, they simply search for the car they want, view any photos and videos, request any additional checks, pay for their car and receive it right to their front door: simplifying the process of buying your next used car.

“Our ultimate goal as a platform is to expand into the EU market. Ireland and the UK are an isolated market for used cars.

“When you look at the EU, there are 2.75m used cars bought at a distance each year.

“This is a very difficult process for people but yet they still do it. Looking at sites in different languages, different areas. We would like to see ourselves as bastions of the open market, and are working towards creating a platform where anyone in the EU can purchase a car from anywhere in the EU, without having to worry about all the difficulty that lies within.”


The company is currently piloting its platform with two used car retailers in the UK, and has launched their platform connecting Irish consumers with UK car retailers.

“We received our first round of investment from the NDRC back in March, and they have been absolutely invaluable in getting us to where we are today.

“This is not just in terms of financial assistance, but also guidance along the way. We are currently looking for our next round of investment to grow our network of used car retailers over 2017, and are actively on the look[out] for both angel and possibly venture assistance.”

Kirwan said that Trawlur’s biggest challenge along the way is capturing the initial market and convincing them that buying a used car without even seeing it is a worthwhile and valuable process.

“It is easier, safer and more convenient. Used cars from the last 10 years have greatly changed. It is a fact that cars used to have a ‘personality’ but that has changed.

“Cars have become so homogenous. A lot of people don’t realise for example that the Audi A3, Seat Leon, Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Passat and more are actually built on the exact same chassis, with a lot of variations of these cars having even the exact same engine. So the only real differentiator is how the car looks, which can be portrayed digitally.”

He said that Trawlur’s next biggest challenge, as with all platform start-ups, is that it doesn’t fully control its own inventory. “Therefore we have to ensure that our listings remain top-notch, since we could end up bearing a lot of the reputational risk of a bad sale, even though we are just a broker.

“To combat this, Trawlur extensively vets every used car retailer that partners with us to ensure that only the best, most reliable used car retailers can sell their stock through Trawlur.”

Frugality drives innovation

Kirwan said the start-up scene in Dublin is something to behold.

“The amount of investors, tech companies, and events is absolutely mind-boggling for a country as small as Ireland. There’s no shortage of resources, people [or] advice for anyone looking to start a business. And the great thing about Ireland is our network.

“Most people are probably no more than one or two degrees of separation from the person they need to talk to, which I really don’t think many cities/countries can claim.

“The best thing is how open people are to talk. I’ve reached out to so many people in so many verticals where I know absolutely no one, and I have yet for a single person to turn around and say they don’t want to meet me. They may have taken about two months to meet me. But they always did in the end.”

Kirwan has one main piece of advice for any tech self-starters in Europe at the moment: “Be incredibly frugal. Frugality truly does drive innovation. It can be very difficult to be creative without constraints, and frugality is one of the easiest restraints to self-impose.

“But not only that; at the very start of your journey, time is your greatest asset. The longer you can keep going at it, the more value you can create. The more likely you are to succeed.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years