VINN for the win

VINN image wrapper
The VINN crew—many of them UVic alumni—at their office. Top: (left to right) Scott Carter; Landon Marshall, BSEng ’21; Natalie Allabarton, BCom ’20; Bottom: Chet Flanagan; Jordan Sandberg, BSEng ’21; Graham Sela, BSc ’21; Darian Morrison, BSEng ’21. UVic grad and VINN staffer missing from the photo: Tatum Berg, BA ’20. Photo by Jonah Wong

A new business fuelled by UVic-trained talent is looking to change the way consumers buy cars.

Chet Flanagan, a University of Victoria political science major/business minor is COO (chief operating officer) of VINN, a rapidly growing business that got its start at UVic. In a recent Q & A, Flanagan explains the early roots of the company he co-founded with Caleb Bernabe, CEO. Tom Avant, CTO, was also a founder.

Q: Tell us about your pitch—what is VINN?

CF: VINN is Canada’s first two-sided automotive e-commerce marketplace. This means we not only help our dealership partners with listing their new or used cars for sale but also help our car shoppers research, compare and purchase their next vehicle all with the unbiased support from our free team of vehicle experts. 

We monetize our relationship with our dealership partners across Canada so that we can offer our unbiased and honest advise to our clients looking to buy a car in a stress free and relaxing manner where our team takes on the heavy lifting.

Our name is a play on the acronym “vehicle identification number.”

Q: What role did UVic play in the start of your business?

CF: I lived on campus and used the library and various campus locations to brainstorm business ideas. It was the connection with UVic’s Coast Capital Innovation Centre and that turned an idea into actual business plan. The pitch deck and competitions set up by the Innovation Centre finetuned our pitch. Jerome [Etwaroo from the Coast Capital Innovation Centre] helped with the introductions to services and support at the UVic Coast Capital Innovation Centre and the pitch was refined.

Q: Can you expand a little more on how UVic might have influenced the culture of the business? 

CF: UVic has influenced the culture here at VINN through our beliefs on continuous learning. We encourage all of our team members to pursue career-focused courses that our team will cover the costs of. Additionally, that open-arms approach to learning that you see on campus is how we like to tackle problems here. Being able to put your head together and work hard to complete a task, even if that means a couple of late nights sprinkled in.

We grew this company locally in Victoria with the support of many co-op students who are now employed with the company. We hire local and continue to grow local. We currently employ six or seven UVic alum.

Q: Is there a commonality in terms of approach or skills that is apparent in the UVic grads that has helped shape the business? 

CF: Yes, our UVic grads are some of the hardest workers on the team. Their attention to detail and eagerness to expand their responsibilities in their roles has been essential.     

Q: What do you perceive to be the greatest challenges as a startup? 

CF: The greatest challenge for a startup is going from zero to something. Whether from an idea to the MVP stage or from the MVP stage to the first paying customer, many startups are unwilling to push past the most challenging part—which can often be rejection from their customers on the initial product. You need to adapt and make changes to get to that point when you are ready for that next step—even if it is daunting or seems scary.

Q: What are some of your future plans?

CF: I am determined to finish off my UVic degree and “check that box”—that is one of my biggest goals. I really credit my time in political science classes for teaching me how to be a better writer and to think critically, both skills I use in my current business.

Q: What do you do for fun?

CF: My girlfriend and I got a dog recently, so exploring trails and the outdoors is what we like to do to relax. 

—Anne MacLaurin