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Unicorn in the Making: Avi Steinlauf, CEO of Edmunds.com (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Mar 2nd 2015

As you may know, we just launched a book called Billion Dollar Companies profiling the journeys of entrepreneurs building massive businesses. Edmunds.com may just be another unicorn.

Sramana Mitra: Where does your journey begin? Where are you from? Where were you raised and in what kind of circumstances?

Avi Steinlauf: Originally, I was born in London, England. For those folks from the UK or familiar with the UK, I’m a cockney by right given the fact that I was born within the sound of the Bow Bells, even though the accent that you hear is nothing like an English accent. I really grew up here in Southern California and spent most of my schooling here in the United States.

Sramana Mitra: When you say cockney, the image that comes to my mind is Eliza Doolittle.

Avi Steinlauf: Exactly, or a cab driver. If you saw me sitting here and you saw our office, it doesn’t look exactly like that. Not even close. My folks moved to Southern California, where my mother is originally from, shortly after I was born. I grew up in Los Angeles through high school. I went to college back east in New York city. I then worked in New York City for a number of years. Right out of college, I worked for Coopers & Lybrand, which at that time was a large accounting and consulting firm. This would have been the years 1993 to 1996.

It was a fantastic learning experience for me. I worked with a group that was responsible for knowledge management at the firm. I got exposed to the Internet and the information technology rather early. I remember getting an email address and was one of the first people in the firm to get access outside of the firm. I was bitten by the technology bug early. That helped to shape one of my interests, which led me to spending the last 17 years involved here at Edmunds.

Sramana Mitra: Where does this all bring us up to?

Avi Steinlauf: 1993 to 1996 would have been an early time in Internet years. The web, technically, was founded in 1993, if I’m not mistaken. Back then, people accessing it were few and far in between. I remember we had a product at Coopers called Reach, which was an internal product. It gave us access to a web browser. At the time, we were using Lotus Notes, which was a popular product back then. It was formative or early but all of great interest to me. I could see the power that Internet and technology would bring along.

After having worked there for three years, I went to get an MBA. I went to Kellog. It was a fantastic experience. It was an eye-opening experience having grown up on the West Coast and then having gone to school on the East Coast. I got to experience life in the midwest in a way that was very refreshing. I found that very energizing. I spent my summer in between the first and second year of Kellog working for Intel up in Northern California. That would have been the summer of 1997.

I knew that I wanted to do something technology-oriented. When I came out of business school in the summer of 1998, I had the opportunity to go back to Intel. I had some other opportunities as well but I chose to join Edmunds because I didn’t want to miss what was happening on the Internet. I was afraid that if I work elsewhere and came back to Edmunds at a point in the future, I would miss part of the formative years of the business.

In hindsight, it was a great decision. I spent the last 17 years here at Edmunds. When I joined the business, we were probably fewer than 20 people in a virtual environment. Today, we’re right around 600 people with formal offices. We’re a grown up company now.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Unicorn in the Making: Avi Steinlauf, CEO of Edmunds.com
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