Max Pridgen likes tinkering with machines and avoids taking his car to full-service auto shops. He’s an engineer by training and finds satisfaction in computer coding. He’s a believer in technology and is convinced that data collection can be a key component of problem solving.
Those interests and skills have culminated in the creation of Pallim Inc., an app used to schedule mobile mechanics to fix cars wherever it suits the user, from a driveway at home to a parking deck at work.
The nascent company was incorporated in Charlotte in May 2017.
“I found a partner in Charlotte, and we started a business together that is like an Uber for mechanics,” says Pridgen. “We wanted the quality of the mechanic to be dictated by the consumer. We use the scalability of a lot of data. They will be able to choose exactly who is working on their car. I want it to be more of a one on one between the person doing the work and the consumer.”
Pridgen, 26, is the CEO, and he has a silent partner. Pridgen earned a bachelor of science and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He taught a computer class while earning his master’s and then landed an internship working on calculation-based engineering problems. The experience gave him
an opportunity to be involved in design input, which fed his interest in programming.
“I didn’t have much luck finding the kind of job I wanted, and I always wanted to start a company. So I did, for better or for worse,” says Pridgen.
The product is live, and Pridgen continues to tinker with it, improve it and then take it back to market. His target market is young people who are starting families or have just gotten a professional job and want to save the time it takes to bring a car to a shop.
The app can be downloaded for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Diagnostic services can be provided within an hour. If the repair requires parts, it could take 24-hours notice. The area of service changes according to the location of the mechanics on staff. Currently the service is available in Charlotte and the northern region of South Carolina.
Because most cars are computer controlled, mechanics need just a few diagnostic tools to perform mobile work. They include a code reader, specific lights to test whether circuits are working and several standard electronic tools.
Services offered through Pallim include routine maintenance such as oil changes, no-start diagnosis, and brake pad, starter, wheel bearing, ball joint and battery replacement.
“We won’t go any deeper than an engine head gasket,” says Pridgen, though he says if a car requires that type of repair, it might be cost effective to replace the car.
If the mechanic can’t fix the problem, at least a diagnosis can be provided.
Promotion is expensive. Pridgen’s bought Google ads and put fliers in auto parts stores in Charlotte. His most innovative move was to hand out 200 promotional coasters at local breweries.
There have been some unexpected challenges. They contacted about 100 mechanics, and most had their own businesses and didn’t see the value. The ones who did tended to be fans of technology. Once a customer base is built, Pridgen predicts Pallim’s mechanics will earn significantly more per hour than they would working at a shop where overhead bites into profit. Pallim itemizes the parts, figures out the labor time and multiplies it by an hourly rate. Once the price is quoted, it is set in stone unless the mechanic comes upon unexpected complications.
The process has taught Pridgen the value of market research — and starting slow.
“I wish I had taken more time getting started. It might have been smarter to do it half time instead of jumping into it headfirst,” he says.
That said, Pridgen has no complaints. He enjoys attending the many entrepreneurship activities he’s found in Charlotte, and he’s met a lot of like-minded people.
“I’m having fun,” he says. “Success will be the break-even point for me. I think it can snowball very quickly, if we can get some people who really like our service.”
He believes happy customers will be his best source of advertising.
“The amount of money we need to break even is low, so if we can do it by the end of this year, I’d be very happy,” he says.
Lynn Trenning is a freelance writer and legal assistant at The Law Office of Chris Clark, PLLC.
For more stories like this, subscribe to StartCharlotte’s free weekly startup newsletter.