By Paula Burkes
Copyright © 2015, Oklahoma Publishing Company
A few years ago, Robin Smith and her husband called on eBay in San Jose, Calif. to tell executives about their Oklahoma City-based startup WeGoLook.com.
The company dispatches in-person lookers nationwide to verify claims made by Internet sellers of homes, cars, heavy equipment and other items, and gives customers timely, detailed platform-based reports with pictures.
“We fibbed and told eBay we were coming to the area anyway, and wanted to stop in to talk with them,” Smith said, “kind of like ‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’”
By all accounts, WeGoLook today is making it. The company, which Smith launched in 2010 with only herself and a program manager, has grown to 30 employees and some $3 million in annual sales.
In October, executives from angel investors secured $1.85 million, which is being invested in technology improvements of mobile apps for their 17,000 “lookers” across the U.S., Australia and Canada.
And last year, WeGoLook was invited back to San Jose by eBay to compete with carcheck.com and other big companies for an auto verification link on its eBay Motors website. It got the winning bid and will go live within 90 days with eBay Motors, Smith said.
WeGoLook already has contracted with a leading national insurance company, she said, to dispatch its on-site lookers to take photos and submit verification reports once handled by the insuror’s field agents.
According to Smith’s husband, much of the company’s current success is owed to Smith, 43, who grew up with meager means and was widowed at a young age with two children. From her offices at 100 NE 5, she recently sat down recently with The Oklahoman to talk about prevailing in those circumstances and more. This is an edited transcript:
Q: The “Oklahoma Wildcat” is an ancestor of yours. Tell us about your Caddo County roots.
A: My maternal great aunt, the late Lois Goodfellow Parker, in June 1933 was dubbed the “Oklahoma Wildcat” and made worldwide headlines, when she jumped on the back, gouged the eyes and scratched the face of a gun-wielding escaped murderer and bank robber. The convict hijacked her family’s car after soliciting a ride to Binger from her and her older brother — my grandfather Robert Goodfellow, who later was elected as a state legislator from Gracemont. Lois intentionally drove the car into the ditch, where county lawmen came upon the scene and ultimately subdued the criminal, after accidentally shooting my grandfather who was being used as a human shield. Aunt Lois, who attacked the guy after she thought her brother had been killed, was a former all-state high school basketball player and inspired my own basketball career. I started playing in third grade at Gracemont and played at Sulphur High School, where I graduated with a 4.25 GPA and was a Hugh O’Brian youth scholar. I played through my first year in college at USAO in Chickasha. Basketball taught me discipline and kept me out of trouble.
Q: You’re 5 feet 11 3/4 inches tall. Did you ever model?
A: By junior high, I was 5 feet 10 inches tall, but felt gangly and was super self-conscious. My English teacher bought me a book on modeling and urged my mother to send photos to Ford Modeling Agency in L.A., whose agents subsequently asked me to live with a host family there and train as a model. We were on our way to the airport when my mom decided she couldn’t do it. We were very close and still are. It was just the two of us until I was 4 and she married my adoptive father. I was 6 when they had my half-sister. I have five other half-sisters by my biological father, including one born a month before me. When my mom figured out my father had another family in Minnesota, she divorced him soon after I was born. I know it sounds like a Jerry Springer show, but today I’m close to all my sisters who live across several states. And my biological father, who was a good friend of my uncle, has always been a part of my life.
Q: You don’t have to work. Why do you?
A: It’s in my blood. Growing up on my grandfather’s farm, I helped garden, bale hay, round up cattle and feed the chickens, pigs and horses. By second grade, I was an “entrepreneur.” I recruited friends to make and sell yarn belts on the playground, until the principal shut us down. At 14, I started doing yard work and cleaning houses. My family didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a trailer on my grandpa’s land, and my father worked as a surveyor. I wanted my own money to buy good basketball shoes, stuff for my little sister and snacks after school. By the time I was a senior, I’d earned all the credits I needed to graduate. So, I got out of classes at noon, and worked three different jobs: at Mazzio’s, Braum’s and Walmart. It earned enough for a down payment on an ’88 Chevy Cavalier. My grandmother, who taught at the school for the deaf in Sulphur and with whom I lived my last two years in high school, co-signed on the loan. My first car was a used ’77 Oldsmobile which I bought for $500 and sold for the same price eight months later. I’ve always loved working. Today, WeGoLook is my baby.
Q: Why did you drop out of college?
A: I met a handsome baseball player at East Central and had my older son, Kobi. Before he was born, I married his father, thinking it was the right thing to do, but we divorced a few months afterward. As a single mom, it was too hard to juggle motherhood, work and school. A broadcast journalist major, I was interning at Ada’s FM 93.3 radio station and managing Aardvark Video. I even donned an aardvark suit one stormy, Halloween night; my credo was not to ask my staff to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. But I didn’t feel like I was seeing enough of my son, for whom I was motivated to provide a nice, safe home. Meanwhile, I’d moved from news into advertising sales at the station and thought I’d hit the jackpot — earning some $33,000 a year. When Tyler Media bought the station from the Washington Post and moved it to Oklahoma City, I moved with the Post’s cable TV arm to Joplin and, 18 months later, to Columbus, Miss., as marketing manager of its sales division there. I became fascinated with the Internet, which was dial-up and just starting up.
Q: You were widowed young. How did you meet the father of your younger son, and how did you cope with losing him?
A: We met in the parking lot of a strip mall in Mississippi. He called his mom afterward and told her he’d met his future wife. I called my sister, excited about meeting him. He was a dog trainer. We married within eight months and, just before our third anniversary, he was killed in a car accident. Coincidentally, my older son’s dad also died in a car accident years later. The loss left me very sensitive and grateful for everything — like for the fresh flowers on this table. A native of Memphis, he and I already had decided to move back to Oklahoma, so the boys could be around family. After his death, I moved to Edmond and sold advertising for Tyler’s KKNG Radio, before being hired away by Citadel.
Q: How did WeGoLook come to be?
A: Mark Caywood, an eBay aficionado and attorney and commercial real estate partner of my husband Mat, in 2009 suggested third-party inspections would be a good fit for the eBay model. I had the time to research the idea; plus I had Internet experience in my most recent work — building business development centers for car dealerships, which I’d crafted myself to be able to work from home with my sons. Initially, we believed our potential customers to be individual consumers, but soon realized we needed to focus on business-to-business sales
Position: WeGoLook.com, founder and chief operating officer
Birth date/childhood home: Dec. 18, 1971/Gracemont
Education: East Central University. She lacked 17 credits from earning a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism
Family: Mat Smith, WeGoLook chief executive, civil engineer and husband of five years (Their mutual hair stylist, who is Robin’s cousin, and another common friend urged them to meet.); sons Kobi Kizarr, 22, of Edmond, and Lawson Stewart, 14; and stepdaughter Linley Smith, 27, of Los Angeles
Residence: They live on 70 acres within Piedmont Public Schools District
Vacation home: Key West, Fla.
Pastimes: Watching Lawson’s baseball and basketball games and listening to live music