Like many Canadian entrepreneurs, Ryan O’Neil Knight’s journey to early startup success didn’t come easily.
The Brampton-based entrepreneur cofounded Detailing Knights in late 2009, otherwise known as the mobile waterless car detailing company. The Knights now boast three locations across the Greater Toronto Area and recently won an invitation to the International Startup Festival’s Elevator World Tour Event in late January. They were there as a result of a fourth place finish at the Microsoft App Pitch event in Toronto just two days prior.
But just two weeks before he married his girlfriend of six years in early 2009, O’Neil Knight lost his job at a large company where he was steadily rising in the ranks. “You think everything is going great and then, boom, ‘we’re downsizing,’” said O’Neil Knight. “After getting laid off I really sat back and discussed with my wife what was the next step.”
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise for the future entrepreneur. Through the help of a government program he took the opportunity to finish his accounting diploma while starting up Detailing Knights. At the end of last year the team expanded and opened two new locations in Toronto and Mississauga. The company also recently released their iPhone app. With just a few clicks, customers can have their car cleaned within the hour.
Waterless car washes have been around for over 20 years, but O’Neil Knight says that Detailing Knights are one of the front-runners, mainly through customer education. A typical car wash usually takes about 100 gallons of water. Detailing Knights use two to six ounces of water per car, and an attendant needs only two feet of clearance around any vehicle.
“I find that one out of ten people know about waterless car washes and we want to get it to where its one out of two,” the CEO told Techvibes. “You have to break down a person’s initial perception. It’s not normal, so getting past people’s first barrier is key.”
Taking an eco-friendly approach to entrepreneurship isn’t anything new to O’Neil Knight. While he may not volunteer at Green Peace he does hold a keen awareness of how his businesses’ actions affect the earth. In fact last year he co-hosted a local Brampton-area television show called “Green Times,” where everyday eco topics were debated and dissected.
Detailing Knights also promotes young entrepreneurship, offering students the chance to gain tangible experience over a summer. O’Neil Knight has mentored four young entrepreneurs thus far and personally takes each student under his wing for two weeks, showing them everything from accounting to marketing and sales. With the resources provided students are then given the rest of the summer to run their own Knights franchise.
For O’Neil Knight the motivation comes from his own experience, where he felt there was little entrepreneurial guidance available to him as a young man. “Our driving force is wanting the company to become an academy for younger entrepreneurs that want a taste in real business,” he said. “For people who want to get their feet wet with minimal investment and see if entrepreneurship is right for them, we want them to learn.”