I’m excited this week to share with you the beginning of an over-the-shoulder view of a potential product-in-the-making. Over the course of several weeks or so, I will be literally Testing the Muse, and sharing all details here on this blog, as they happen.
I originally wanted to call this a “case study”, but realized it’s really more of a real time experiment. Understand that, I’m sharing this with you the reader, as I’m going through the motions if researching and testing. Therefore there is no guarantee that this concept will test positively.
The value here is the over-the-shoulder view you’ll get as I embark on the process of Testing the Muse – from idea, to research, to product concept, to testing, to analyzing results and beyond.
In late 2010, I came to the realization that I had to sell my Jeep Wrangler. It was a sad day.
I’m really not a “car guy”, but the Jeep was pretty cool. Top down, doors off… it doesn’t get any better than that.
With mixed emotions, I conceded, but for good reason – we had to sell because my wife and I were expecting our first child!
It was a smart move, and although we survived fine on just my wife’s car for a couple years, it was close to 15 years old and we knew we had to move up to something more practical for a growing family.
I had my eye on the Honda CR-V for a long time – the size, style and value all fit the bill. So I started researching, and checking the used car sales sites. Once I narrowed down the model year and features I was looking for, the real hunt began.
My search was put on autopilot – I was alerted anytime a used vehicle matching my criteria in my area came up for sale on the AutoTrader or Kijiji apps. Many used CR-Vs came and went – the odd one jumped out as being a “great deal” or “way over priced”, but by already having an informed, narrow scope of preferred brand, model, and condition, the majority sort of sat in the middle of the pack – similar price, similar mileage.
By late 2012, my search had stalled.
But shortly after, once again, the universe lit a flame under my butt – because right around the time I gave up searching, we found out we were expecting our second child. Now I knew we needed a family-sized vehicle.
So I set out to find how other people compared used vehicles – particularly when all other variables remain equal.
How does someone make a decision, or at the very least rank, any more than +2 used vehicles that, by all appearances and available information, are similar vehicles?
Obviously one way would be to take every single prospective car to your mechanic, or bring a knowledgeable mechanic to each test drive. That would be the absolute best way to determine which is in better shape, and you should ultimately do that before making your final used car purchase.
But even before that, how do you rank and target specific vehicles of interest, so you’re not wasting your time following up with 10-20 different private sellers and used car dealerships, which by the time you even get to see the car in-person, has been sold!
As they say in the infomercials, “there Has-to-be-a-better-way!”
Was I alone in this problem? (You’re usually not).
Whenever you’re researching anything, particularly if it’s to solve a problem or pain that you’re having, you are potentially brainstorming muse ideas. Why is that so? Because if you’re having this issue, but don’t immediately have or know the solution, it’s likely others are in the same situation. Even if the answer is out there – is it readily available, obvious, or can it be further commercialized?
So I took to the forums to see what other people were doing to narrow down their search in a crowded used car market.
With respect to finding information on used vehicles, there was everything under the hood.
I was really just trying to find any suggestions or data points that could be used to help me identify how to select the best vehicle among a number of contenders. But most of the discussions revolved around new vs. used, lease vs. owned, domestic (N.A.) vs. import, or various specific details related to vehicle performance. I’m sure it was all great info, but not what I was looking for.
In total, I literally had around 15 pages of notes made from various websites and forums that I believed would help me narrow down my options (it was later short-listed to 3 pages). Seeing all that written down now makes me think it was overkill, but hey, it worked!
The Magic Answer
But I did finally stumble across something that made sense to me. I have to emphasize this point: what I found was an approach that made sense to me.
Remember, at this point, I was just trying to find a solution to my own problem – finding a rational, systematic approach to compare different used cars, apples-to-apples, when all other factors appeared to be the same. I wasn’t thinking about whether or not it would resonate with others, or if it’s valuable enough that others would pay for it – these thoughts came much later, and are exactly what we’ll attempt to find out here at Testing the Muse.
What I actually found was a forum comment that basically described a tidy comparison of prospective used vehicles – by entering some data points from each of the used car ads, a quick calculation, and Bam! A story would emerge from where there was once only a smattering of used car ads.
I tweaked it for my own purposes, made formulas in Microsoft Excel, added in the ability to enter some custom data points based on personal driving habits, and we went from Bam to Presto! I now had something that really solved my problem.
The calculations and resulting data were No Magic Answer. However, they at least provided a starting point to compare similar vehicles, and to get an idea of which dealers/sellers provided good value or which were pricing their vehicle too high. It provided clarity and direction to where it was not otherwise seen by comparison shoppers (or at least by the forum commenter and I – two potential customers… not a bad start).
A simple, replicable, system-based solution, that provided value, and also happened to use widely available tools (MS Excel).
Okay, now I’m just overselling it. The point is: it was simple and it worked.
I replicated the calculations, as I interpreted it (more or less) from that forum conversation. I updated it, added my own customizations, and then proceeded to rank 4 used cars, which ultimately led to the purchase of our current family vehicle in early 2013. So far, so good!
Knowing the spreadsheet was useful, as it served its purpose for me, I proceeded to save it and archive to a folder for safe keeping, just-in-case. In reality, I hoped to never have to buy a used vehicle again. Well, I haven’t since.
But I did revisit this spreadsheet late this summer… Why?
Find out Why in the next phase of this series, and more importantly, what we’re doing with this information. Be the first to receive updates on our real-time Testing the Muse experiment, by signing up below.
Key resources mentioned:
My next to-do:
- Begin brainstorming and productization for the used car comparison spreadsheet discussed in this post.
- Prepare Part 2 of this real time experiment.
Action you can take:
- Be the first to get updates on this process and see Part 2 of this real-time Testing the Muse experiment by subscribing below.
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