Meet The Disruptors: Owen Sakawa of RepairNet On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Jason Hartman
Dec 8, 2020 · 12 min read

BE PATIENT: patience preserves time, energy, financial resources, and sanity. it makes you a better listener, student, co-founder, service provider, leader, and person overall. creating value takes time. creating sustainable value may take even more time. patience.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Owen Sakawa.

Owen is the Founder and CEO of RepairNet.io, an AI-powered mobility platform connecting supply and demand in the car body repair sector in a completely new and innovative way. He is an experienced technology entrepreneur passionate about bringing disruptive solutions to the market and has a proven track record leading, designing, and delivering leading-edge enterprise solutions precisely aligned with current and future business needs, ensuring consistent operational continuity and improving processes and procedures to drive revenue, efficiency, and market share. He achieved entrepreneurial success with the founding and growth of DigiPass, a technology that allows documents to be created electronically and securely with a digital stamp.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thank you for having me. As a child, it was so fascinating to me how video games were created. I wanted to know more about what goes on behind the back-end and see how you can change characters, give them more powers, extend their lives, make them look cool. My curiosity reached its peak at 9 years when I decided to learn how to code and make my own video game. At a time when most kids my age were playing video games, I created a small video game that I would let my friends borrow at a small fee. And this interest to build products from scratch was also visible later in life in college when I founded DigiPass.

Following my interest in computers, my mother introduced me to her friend who was a lecturer at a computer college, she would drop me at his office on her way to work and I would spend the whole day learning from him and ended up being his assistant.

By the time I was in high school, I had moved from building simple video games to enterprise applications. I think this was my turning point. I remember the first application I built was a school management portal which I presented at a science congress competition where I won the first prize for the best project. This is where I first came up with the idea of DigiPass as many of the questions asked were about preventing fraudulent certificates during registration.

Following my interest, I took up computer science. During college, I founded my first startup, DigiPass, a technology that secures paper documents through a visual digital stamp. This stamp contains both (part of) the content of the document, as well as a legally valid digital signature. This would allow any school official to easily verify a document online. In this way, it can be said with certainty whether the content of the document is unchanged from the original document.

For me, technology is about how to make processes simpler. It is also about how you can build something that creates a lasting impact. I like doing something that has never been done. I always want to be the first one to build something.

After 10 years of building DigiPass, it was acquired by a Dutch cybersecurity company. With my help, we transformed the application to something I could never have imagined and introduced many verification checks not just school documents but any official document, from identification cards to birth certificates. That was my first taste of startup success.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The Auto Repair industry, as it has stood for many years, is often met with skepticism. Car owners who aren’t car experts (which, let’s face it, are most of us) rely on the honesty and integrity of the repair shop and its mechanics. When a bill is presented for unexplained services, distrust grows.

We’ve all been there before: your car is making an odd noise and you take it to the shop. Eight hundred dollars and several new parts later, your car is back up and running. You wonder to yourself if your car needed all that work — surely just an oil change would’ve done the trick? — but you aren’t a mechanic and you don’t know any mechanics to consult, so you pay the bill. But the trust you had in the shop has been damaged and you wonder if they took advantage of you.

This is not an infrequent scenario and many people complain about the industry. Not many do anything about changing it. In a culture that caters increasingly more towards making things better for the user, the car repair industry remains almost anti-customer — so with RepairNet, we will flip the industry on its head.

Disrupting the car repair experience to make it transparent, convenient, and customer-centric were my main goals when I created RepairNet. RepairNet was founded as a direct response to what many car owners believed to be broken.

RepairNet offers clear benefits for the entire market. Whether you need us as a car owner, a business owner, or an auto repair specialist, we put user-friendliness, quality, and transparency first and foremost for all our users. Building a better experience for car owners and empowering mechanics to live a better life

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Everyone makes a mistake in life. the question is not will you face failure in life, it’s about how you choose to handle it. it’s all about your perspective of the situation. you get to choose! you choose how you respond to what happens to you in life.

So, like everyone else, yes, I have made mistakes but I choose to utilize those times to build character, learn from it, and win more in life. For instance, in the beginning, we thought RepairNet could sell itself and growth would be automatic. So, we launched our application, set pricing, and waited for customers to come rolling in.

We banked on the uniqueness of our product, its capabilities, and our pricing but forgot to reach customers and gain their trust. Then we quickly realized that we should first introduce ourselves to them and build a relationship. After that, hunting became our new growth strategy and we won most of our customers from related strategies.

I am only the man I am today because of these situations. what challenges you, will change you. The difference is, I have a game-plan in place on how to win through failures. Most people are not prepared and when adversity hits, they don’t know how to break through and create a win.

It starts with your mindset which leads to your attitude which determines your actions which creates your results and ultimately your life! so if you want to win through obstacles, have a game-plan in place to train and prepare when it comes.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I can honestly say that above anybody else my mother has been the most influential person in my life.

It is hard to deny that the person that has been with you since birth can and does have a strong influence. I have read hundreds of books and have had conversations from the beggar in the street to prime ministers which have all been influential and have taught me things, but none of their teachings can compare both in quantity and importance to those my mother imparted to me.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

It seems that every time you turn around these days, you’ll hear entrepreneurs and experts talking about disruption. We’re familiar with disruptive companies. Apple forever changed the way that people bought and listened to music when they introduced the iPod (when’s the last time you saw one of those?). Amazon revolutionized the way people shop (remember when they were all about selling books?) Disruption isn’t unusual anymore — it’s the norm. The way business is done has changed forever and it’s going to keep changing. Disruption can bring incredible opportunities or it can kill your company.

The answer to the question about disruption having a positive or not so positive impact for your industry will depend upon which side of the disruption you’re on. If your goal is to revolutionize your industry and scale your company to take advantage of your competitive advantage, disruption can be great. If, on the other hand, you find your company being disrupted by changes in the marketplace; you may well be looking at the end of your business.

You may think that you’re in a “safe” industry — one that’s stable and not subject to a lot of change. Think again. In an article by MIT Sloan Management Review, Megan Beck and Barry Libert challenged that assumption.

A number of industries seem to be “safe” from disruption, but often the markets most at risk do not see it coming. Who would have predicted, for example, that Amazon would follow its acquisition of Whole Foods Market with a jump into healthcare?

There are plenty of other examples of well-established industries scrambling for survival in the current changing world. Industries (especially those that didn’t embrace digitization) are finding it extremely difficult to compete with the current situations posed by COVID 19. Many institutions are closing their doors.

The music industry got blindsided by technology. Apple was a computer company, right? What impact would they possibly have on music? The iPod (along with other technologies, such as Napster) completely reshaped the industry.

AT&T traces its history back to the 1880s. And while they advanced some of the technology involved in telecommunications, they got blindsided by the avalanche of wireless technology. As of January 2017, 52 percent of U.S. adults live in households with no landline phones. People still talk on the phone, but the way they do it has changed. That’s a disruption!

Even companies that were considered innovative and disruptive businesses are keeping a wary eye on disruption. IBM recently reported that 85 percent of business relationships will be managed without human interaction by the end of 2020 and that 90 percent of executives anticipate their industries will be disrupted by digital trends.

My favorite example of a disruption that is spreading across the world is the mobile banking model of M-Pesa that started with the simple concept of using airtime as currency to transfer money between largely unbanked people, in remote, rural places where banks had not yet established brick-and-mortar branches. Today, 60pc of Kenya’s economy goes through M-Pesa, with direct payments for things like electricity and water utility bills, monthly income taxes, and purchases of airline tickets and just about anything else on M-Pesa, with more bank accounts on mobile telephony than there are in physical banks.

Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Disruption is the new normal. As an entrepreneur or business leader, you have to decide whether your company will be disrupting or be disrupted. It’s not a one-time challenge, either. It’s something you’ll battle forever. It requires a change in your mindset.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

BE PATIENT: patience preserves time, energy, financial resources, and sanity. it makes you a better listener, student, co-founder, service provider, leader, and person overall. creating value takes time. creating sustainable value may take even more time. patience.

TAKE RISKS: No entrepreneur or creator can create a successful business or product without taking a risk. A risk does not have a guaranteed or known outcome, but with experience and the right ingredients, one can take calculated risks. In a traditional sense, an entrepreneur has to fail to succeed, otherwise, they did not take enough risks.

No matter what the scale of failure in a traditional sense, one should be able to learn and keep evolving and innovating. My entire career has been about taking risks, evolving, refining, and keep moving on to create great products.

BE CONSISTENT: You need to be willing to put in the work, willing to make mistakes, willing to learn from those mistakes, and willing to try again, all without hesitation. Think of this as working out. It takes the time to develop this and it only gets stronger every time you do. This is the attitude, mindset, a habit we have to drive us for success.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

If someone recommends a service to you, how probable is that you will sign-up and use them? 99.999%. At RepairNet we use referral marketing for both car owners and mechanics to generate sales leads. Business growth is directly related to increasing the number of customers you serve. Of course, it’s also about having loyal clients who will help you with the good word (or two) whispered to your friend’s ear and those who will give you feedback on your product or service.

The problem of any company which wants to develop is lead generation — you have many ways and options but there is no perfect one. You should always think about your target group and the best way of reaching them.

The following is a list of the top two referral marketing techniques that we use at RepairNet

Strategy #1: Reward Stacking to help in customer acquisition and retention

The main purpose of any referral marketing campaign is to acquire new users/customers. But if played well, a referral strategy can help in both acquiring and also retaining.

When designing a referral marketing campaign, make sure that the rewards you give out are stackable. Stacking rewards will keep making it attractive to refer more and more friends but will also help in drastically reducing churn, building a resilient user base that will not switch to a competing service that might come along in the future.

Strategy #2: Referrals built within your platform

Having a logged in area offers a huge opportunity to pitch your referral program at different stages in the customer lifecycle.

By adding a prominent CTA (Click Through Action), clearly visible from most screens, will highly increase your chances of getting your users interested in your referral campaign.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Of course, I am way far from being done. We use continuous innovation where we conduct experiments to improve our technology and we are always introducing new interesting features for our users based on the results of the experiments, whether good or bad. Currently, I am working on introducing a Blockchain and AI-powered service in our platform aimed at reducing the total claims burden, shortening turnaround time, increasing customer satisfaction, and being able to work a lot more efficiently.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Patience is my personal philosophy, so I pretty much believe that when roadblocks get thrown at me, I should see them as advantages or opportunities. The book, “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday had a tremendous impact on me.

So, everything for me, whether it’s in my life or with RepairNet, it’s all about an opportunity for growth. But I believe in excellence. I want to be the best and I want our organization to be the best at doing so. So it’s a very personal thing for me. Entrepreneurship has done so much for me that I want to be sure I give something back.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein.

We love to try new things, and we make plenty of mistakes but we own them, learn from them and move forward stronger and better for it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

In an era with a lot of data and information, a key aspect that is missing from a social relation aspect is trust. There is a huge lack of trust across industries due to minimal transparency, especially in technical-based services. As a champion for good for the people, I hope to inspire a multitude through this platform that is centered on trust and transparency in the hope that it will create a new power rollout where others will create similar products for the various industries.

How can our readers follow you online?

Sure, I can be followed in the following social media platforms;

LinkedIn

Twitter

Facebook

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Authority Magazine

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Jason Hartman

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Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.