Pushing Frontiers: Boris Zhukov’s Business is About More Than Just Helping Consumers and Dealers to Buy and Sell Cars
By Lea Hart
When Poole College alum Boris Zhukov launched LetYouKnow, Inc. (LetYouKnow) in 2019, it was the culmination of years of hard work.
“Anything that’s really grand takes a lot of perseverance,” he said. “What is visible isn’t the whole story.”
Zhukov received his Master’s in Economics in 2007 and his PhD in Economics in 2014, both from the Poole College of Management at North Carolina State University.
He went on to be an assistant professor at Ball State University, using the flexibility of academic life to also work on the development of LetYouKnow.
“I was never planning to be in academia for the long-term,” he said. “It gives you the flexibility to pursue a lot of different paths; more than you would have with a standard day job.”
LetYouKnow provides a new online way of purchasing a car. One that Zhukov says eliminates the headaches of going to a dealership to price haggle with the dealer.
Zhukov and his team developed a network of dealers who input a price at which they’re willing to sell a car that is already on their lot. On the website, someone shopping for a car builds their desired car, enters how far they’re willing to travel to purchase the car, be it 25 miles, 50 or some other distance and then sumits their price to anonymously bid for a car. LetYouKnow then instantly alerts the buyer if a dealer is willing to accept their bid.
Negotiating on prices at a dealership can be stressful and time consuming, he said. LetYouKnow allows the buyer to negotiate simultaneously with many different dealerships from home and get an instant result.
“Wouldn’t it be nice for you (the buyer) to take control?” Zhukov said. “The entire shopping experience happens on your own terms.”
LetYouKnow’s process is simple for the buyer, who may never know how much hard work went in behind the scenes by Zhukov and his team to make it that way.
“Behind the scenes is a complicated statistical algorithm to determine the match among dealers and buyers,” he said.
In fact, the idea goes back nearly two decades. Zhukov and his colleagues purchased the domain name for LetYouKnow in 2003. And, Zhukov admits, the story of LetYouKnow’s development over the years is not always a rosy one. He said, “the road to building a highly scalable business is a minefield and takes a lot of grit from all team members.”
“I’m not even sure our story would inspire people,” he said. “But my hope is that people who are truly determined to push progress and add value in our society will recognize that hard work and determination do pay off.”
He said persistence was key, even when they hit bumps in the road.
They worked to build LetYouKnow’s entire infrastructure from scratch. In doing so, the team had to solve problems for which there were no solutions because nothing like this had existed before, Zhukov said. And that’s just the infrastructure side of the project.
To launch LetYouKnow, he and his team secured more than $850,000 in investor funding. Funding hasn’t been the only challenge that the company faced, as Zhukov and his team had to convince skeptical dealers to sign on to the idea as well. Fast-forward to today, and they have dealers who are helping to sign up other dealers.
“It can feel like infinite problems that need to be solved simultaneously,” he said. “The key is you just have to keep pushing – hard work will pay off.”
Even now, they face the challenges of current supply chain issues and lack of inventory in the auto industry. Zhukov said it could be six months to a year before that problem is solved, but he’s chosen not to sit idle.
He and his team are working to make LetYouKnow’s back-end systems even stronger, implementing some artificial intelligence, for example, to help simplify the process even more for dealers.
They’ve developed an app as well that is currently in the testing phase. That app, among other features, can immediately alert a dealer if a buyer is bidding within perhaps a couple hundred dollars of the price the dealer is willing to accept. The dealer can then decide instantaneously if he or she wants to meet that buyer’s bid, Zhukov said.
He’s also working so that the systems he’s developed could one day be transferable to other industries. The system could work with booking hotels, or people bidding on new goods and services, such as haircuts, car maintenance and dental cleanings, he said.
That big-picture approach speaks to the root of Zhukov’s passion for the work he does. In developing this new concept, he said it’s about pushing science and humanity forward.
He was inspired by his grandfather, who was an academic himself, and by his professors at Poole College. Even today, nearly a decade later, he can name so many of the professors who had an impact on him during his time at the university.
“Those guys are doing incredible things, which I personally find fascinating,” he said.
Zhukov recently spoke at TEDx Raleigh, saying it’s exciting to get to talk about the science behind LetYouKnow and the ways in which he hopes he can be a trailblazer for the future.
“To me it’s part of pushing frontiers and pushing the human race forward,” he said. “We are here together, and let’s actually make sure that we push ourselves forward to make life better.”
This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.