It's not every day that an auto enthusiast is able to break a world driving record, and turn his love of cars into a business model with a booming social media following. However, five years ago, Ed Bolian did just that.
The 33 year-old car lover is known as the current record holder of the New York to Los Angeles "Cannonball Run" transcontinental record. It was back in October of 2013 that the Georgia native piled into a 2004 Mercedes Benz with two other men, pulling out of a Manhattan parking garage with one goal in mind: To beat a cross-country driving record that had stood since 2007.
It seemed the perfect challenge for someone who'd spent much of his life virtually obsessed with cars. "As I learned more and more about the history of Cannonball, I saw how all the things that seemed broken or different about me might actually be an advantage," Bolian said.
About 28 hours and 50 minutes later, car pulled into the Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach – having successfully beaten the previous record by hours. With that feat, Bolian became the reigning king of the so-called "Cannonball Run," in which a driver barrels from New York to Los Angeles at maximum speeds.
"My wife had been pushing me to have a kid for about 18 months prior to the drive, but we agreed to wait until that was dealt with. The next month we were pregnant," Bolian joked to CNBC.
The Cannonball ride was first invented in the 1970s by Brock Yates, an editor with Car and Driver Magazine. The race's previous record holder made the journey in just under 32 hours, which Bolian and his crew managed to beat by at least 4 hours.
Bolian went on to become CEO and co-founder of VINwiki, an app that allows users to share information and stories about cars they love. The company was founded in February 2016 by Bolian, Peter Saddington, Dave Black and support passenger Dan Huang (the latter two accompanied Bolian on his record-breaking trip).
In its first year, VINwiki grew to 5000 users, using social media—including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — to boost its profile and users. To date, VINwiki has over 100,000 active users, complemented by a wildly successful YouTube channel.
In 2017, Bolian created a YouTube feature called "Car Stories," a video series that had an original target of generating around 2000 views per video. Bolian's goal was to create a platform for car lovers to share their experiences – and the idea found a hugely receptive audience. Fast forward to this year, and "Car Stories" has over 500,000 subscribers and hundreds of videos that have racked up nearly 2 million views a piece.
Though the YouTube channel overshadows the VINwiki application user count, "Car Stories" lovers helped grow VINwiki user base to 115,000. Some 35 percent of video viewers subscribe to the YouTube channel, and about 20 percent of those end up downloading VINwiki's
Still, none of it was what Bolian even expected when he "accidentally" delved into YouTube.
"You never know how the life of an early stage startup will evolve," he told CNBC.
"The YouTube channel has been the best content marketing opportunity we could have dreamt of but is also a monster of a project that is beyond a full time job for me personally," he said. "It gets more attention than the app and that is fine because it continues to work well in directing traffic and evangelizing the concept we are trying to champion to the world in an entertaining way.