Eastside wunderkind takes off for college while expanding his successful business
All Jonny Netz wanted was $500 to buy some black rims for his silver 2014 Ford Explorer. So the 18-year-old Eastside Preparatory School student went to the time-tested funding source that teenagers turn to for financial assistance: his father.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘Absolutely not. I’m not going to give you money for this; you want money to (buy new rims), you can go ahead and do that yourself,’” Netz said.
Less than a year and a half later, Netz still doesn’t have those black rims — he still has that Explorer — however, he does have more than 20 exotic cars, including various models of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Bentleys. The cars are part of the fleet he owns for his company, Zadart Exotic Car Rentals, which he started in 2015 in the garage of his family home in Bellevue under the guidance of the same father who a month earlier wouldn’t hand his son the money for some new rims.
Netz’s father, Amir, helped Netz lease a BMW 750i and rent it on Turo.com (think Airbnb for your car) for $100 per day.
“I started with luxury (cars) because I thought Seattle had hundreds of executives flying in every day that needed a nice car to travel to their business meetings,” Netz said.
Turo primarily offers affordable alternatives and personalized service over the big vehicle rental chains. While this type of model attracts penny-pinching millennial travelers, it is lacking when it comes to business types looking for a classy ride. Netz pulled the BMW off of Turo after just a month and created a rental website, which — coupled with Google AdWords for marketing — helped him attract his ideal clientele while leaving Turo’s listing fees in the rearview mirror.
Each time a client would return the BMW, Netz would ask what kind of car he should get next. Perhaps another BMW or a Mercedes?
“Every single answer I got was a Lamborghini,” he said. “I didn’t think that was going to happen; I didn’t really have the capital for that being 17, and I didn’t think I could find an investor.”
Netz and his father, a Microsoft employee, scoured the Eastside for a more affordable exotic vehicle as an alternative to the Lamborghini and found an Audi R8 with more than 50,000 miles on it. In the exotic car world, 50,000 miles is considered very high mileage. That lowered the sticker price considerably, making the Audi a steal, according to Netz.
Netz rented the Audi to clients for $50 per hour, and business took off. The revenue gained from the back-to-back rentals of the Audi coupled with investments from impressed returning clients led Netz to grow his fleet to eight exotics.
Business was zooming in the door of his parents’ garage as his senior year at Eastside Prep picked up speed. Client meetings and rental drop-offs replaced school lunches, bathroom breaks, free periods, soccer practices, and before- and after-school free time.
“I would have to leave the middle of class and just tell teachers, ‘I’m really sorry, but I really needed to go,’” Netz said. “I’d drive (a rental) to school, then I’d have to drive it to the gas station near the school for like a half hour (to meet a client). Then I’d literally run back because I couldn’t miss that much (school).”
As CEO of a rapidly growing company, Netz juggled his business, expansion out of the family garage and into a small Redmond showroom, school work, and the social life of an 18-year-old. Netz said the latter was the most challenging aspect of young entrepreneurship.
“I’d go out with friends and I’d have to tell them I couldn’t afford this burger; it’s a $20 burger,” Netz said. “I have a $75 allowance a month; I can’t do that. My friends didn’t understand that there is business money and there is Jonny money.”
The misconceptions didn’t end there. Less-friendly encounters followed Netz through the halls of Eastside Prep, where he received judgmental comments and snickers from classmates who saw him as an entitled kid.
“People thought my dad just gave me all this money,” Netz said. “They said I’m so spoiled, but in reality there are investors and I have to pay back interest. It’s a real business.”
Netz’s business today is quite impressive. He’s got 24 exotic cars, a professional team of five, and an expanded showroom at the old Mercedes Benz dealership on Eighth Street in Bellevue opening this month.
Netz and his team aspire to use the new space to build Zadart’s fleet to at least 30 exotic cars while evolving its mission to include exotic vehicle sales as well as the sale of fine art, wine, and other luxurious wares.
Moreover, Zadart recently opened a store in Bellevue Square, where shoppers can purchase a dream car experience in a box as a gift (or for themselves). Each crafted box will include a trinket and a gift card, which will allow the recipient to take one of Zadart’s cars for a joy ride.
“The GiftCar is going to be the most original, unique, and thrilling gift of the holidays,” Netz said. “Since we believe the beauty and thrill of exotic cars should be enjoyed by everyone, our prices start at just $95 to make it within reach for all.”
Such rapid expansion can be a daunting task for any startup, let alone a startup with a CEO entering his freshman year of college.
Netz said he has placed his confidence in his right-hand man and longtime family friend, COO Doug Scheppe, to take the reins while he attends business school at Santa Clara University in California for the next four years. The two will keep in near-constant contact through the use of FaceTime and texts.
“No matter what happens in his college life, the company is solid,” Scheppe said. “We are not going to slip down (without him here); we are going to build up, and we will conquer any challenge.”
With most of the day-to-day operations covered by Scheppe, Netz has been free to focus on furthering his business acumen and fostering college relationships.
Netz said he sees his business education as a positive driving factor in the future of his company.
“I have a business here waiting for me to come back home and bring my new business knowledge to it and add to it,” he said. “I feel bad. Some people will have to fight for their internships and interviews; I have this backing me up that is going to help me immensely.”