When Jesse Biter, an entrepreneur, and a middle-level manager from AutoTrader were chatting in an Atlanta office building, the AutoTrader employee asked Biter a straightforward question about his plans for the company’s future.
Biter’s company, HomeNet Automotive, was situated in Sarasota at the time, and they did some work for AutoTrader, the industry leader in online automobile sales. The auto sector can purchase and have HomeNet’s proprietary inventory software installed.
Biter, though, was not one to make plans on a small scale. He was confident that the top AutoTrader executives would be interested in HomeNet’s comprehensive suite of offerings. According to Biter, “our system is updated weekly, while theirs had grown archaic.”
AutoTrader is a $600 million subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Communications, but Biter’s contact there dismissed the proposal. Biter claims the manager assured him that this would never occur. It’s a year’s work simply to add a button, so you can imagine how slow we are.
Even though they had this talk in 2004, Biter, a salesman who believes that “no” simply means “not now,” persisted in his pursuit of a lucrative contract with AutoTrader. Eventually, Biter was able to network his way into a relationship with the company’s upper management.
Biter says, “The huge fish is what I’m here to catch.”
Late last year, Biter caught a break when AutoTrader hired HomeNet to update the infrastructure supporting its entire online inventory.
Once work begins on the project in August, Biter estimates that HomeNet’s monthly income will climb by at least 50%. That will take a business whose monthly revenues averaged $1.3 million in 2009 to a level near $2 million by the end of 2010.
Thanks to the boost in revenue, HomeNet was able to expand in other ways. Over the past two years, the business has hired over 40 workers, including customer care agents and programmers. The staff commute from Sarasota, Florida to satellite offices in Detroit, Los Angeles, and the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Biter has also recently purchased a 3,000-square-foot office unit on the first floor of Marina Tower, a prestigious building in the heart of downtown Sarasota. In July, he plans to relocate the company’s headquarters to the new premises from another rented location in the heart of the city.
Since Biter occupies a 5,000-square-foot penthouse unit in the building, he can just take the elevator to his office each day. Sky Sotheby’s International Realty, led by Sarasota real estate broker Chad Roffers until Sotheby’s revoked his franchise rights in 2008 over unpaid debts, has moved into the new HomeNet office. Before this, Roffers had been a finalist for the Review’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Biter, who dropped out of college in his home state of Pennsylvania and started HomeNet in 1996 with a $1,000 loan from his mum, is living the dream right now. When Biter’s business professor at Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania’s flagship public university, couldn’t distinguish between a C-Corp., an S-Corp., and an LLC, Biter dropped out at the age of 21.
Biter, even in his younger years, strove for more audacious and innovative concepts. Rich Swier, a successful entrepreneur from Sarasota who has collaborated with Biter on several initiatives, says of Biter, “He’s an elephant hunter.” According to many who know him, “He doesn’t look for tiny ideas.”
The original HomeNet was a Pennsylvania firm that installed fiber-optic cable to connect residential areas. When Biter relocated to Sarasota in the early 2000s to start a software company for the car industry, he preserved the name.
In 2004, HomeNet began the first of two rapid expansions, selling software to a few hundred auto dealerships around the country and generating yearly sales of $1.5 million. With almost 10,000 retailers carrying it, sales increased 333% to $6.5 million in 2007.
HomeNet’s revenue increased by 145% between 2007 and 2009, going from $6.5 million to $15.9 million. As of late, the firm had also been included among AutoSuccess magazine’s Top 10 Companies to Watch in 2010.
Biter’s innovative spirit has reached far beyond HomeNet. He branched out and founded BoatCheck, an online clearinghouse and review platform for pre-owned boats.
And Biter last year did something that many business owners dream of doing: he acquired a bar. Biter acquired a house in the Gulf Gate area of Sarasota with the help of Swier and a few other pals. After spending around $40,000 on renovations and equipping it, he barely used the space a total of four times before selling it. “It’s one of those things you have to do once,” says Biter.
Due to HomeNet’s recent achievements, there have been inquiries from possible buyers. Biter receives calls from industry peers and rivals at least once a week interested in purchasing HomeNet, but he has no plans to do so at this time. In fact, after closing the AutoTrader agreement, Biter felt prepared to take on his next major opponent, GM’s international business. Check out TheActiveNews.Com for the latest information.