Teoalida’s Car Database was born from a major hobby for automobiles and pleasure for working in Excel and data analysis. It is one of MANY hobbies started during childhood and one of the FEW hobbies turning into business during adulthood.
This is mostly 1-man business. I (Teoalida) do data entry, web scraping, database updates, design my website, and also customer support via chat every day. I employ other people just for coding certain scrapers too complex for me.
After years of dedication I became the biggest provider of automobile data, making numerous automotive databases for various regions of world, complete, accurate and frequently updated, plus other databases about geography, real estate and electronic products. Check all databases available.
I am born in a family of engineers (read more in About me page), I use AutoCAD since 1998 and in 2008 I started designing buildings, many people encouraged me to pursue a career in architecture, but I was never happy in architecture because I was often dealing with individuals from third-world countries who wanted house plans for free, and in the rare cases when I was paid, it was one-time payment for a project that often took too much time for money earned. I had little contact with people in IT and nobody ever told me that these databases can be a gold mine.
The hobby for cars started in 1999, since 2003 I use Excel to create an all-cars database, independently from the internet world (I connected to internet in 2005), manually entering data from the very reliable AutoKatalog car magazines from Germany (as seen in above video), making an original compilation that you cannot find anywhere else online (except on websites that purchased from me).
In 2011 I posted car database on my website intending to share with other car hobbyists, but had the surprise to be visited by programmers, web designers and mobile app developers, working for various companies (car insurance, car parts shops, car shipping services, etc), realizing that I can make a business from this!
Due to poor website design and offering too much for free, plus data structure optimized for on-screen reading rather than for programming, I did not made any sale until May 2012. I had to do many changes to make it appealing for this unexpected audience, both in data structure and in website presentation. The move to WordPress to have an eCommerce plugin where people can make payments and receive databases automatically (in November 2012), helped me to have in each month of 2013 more sales than whole 2012 year. I started updating databases regularly.
Most customers (programmers) have little experience in cars, some making mistakes such as buying wrong database, buying an American car database when they do business in Europe, or buying from other data providers just because their database is cheaper or have more rows, ending with bad quality databases with many missing models or incorrect data.
A new era started in 2015: web scraping. Previously I avoided to copy data from other websites, thinking that it means cheating, copyright issue, illegal way to collect data, creating non-original content and nobody will pay for data freely available on websites, but most people have no issue with this, they do not care about buying someone’s original compilation and pay me specifically to create scripts that extract data from various websites and give them data in usable CSV format. Now I want to apologize to all owners of websites I scraped data from, but if I was rejecting these customers motivating that scraping is illegal, customers would go to other data mining companies or freelancers and obtained same data anyway.
In 2015 I sold approximately 100 databases, enough to stop all AutoCAD & architectural design jobs and dedicate my life to data providing industry.
Over time I realized that web scraping is not as dangerous as I thought, since 2015 to 2018 I created additional 50+ databases, raising my income 5 times, including the best-selling car databases for America, India, Middle East, Australia, motorcycles database, real estate databases, mobile phones, etc. During 2018 over 500 people have paid me for databases.
Having high experience in automobile industry and few other fields, I carefully choose what websites to scrap data from, to maximize accuracy and data completion rather than having largest number of car model variations as other people may do.
All databases made by me wear a signature: Excel spreadsheets are visually enhanced with borders placed carefully and columns colored like a rainbow (since 2013 I realized that majority of customers import data into MySQL instead of visualization in Excel, so the visual enhancements are useless), but they prove how much CARE I spend developing databases.
How the hobby for cars started in 1999
My interest for studying cars began in 1999, I was 10 years old and became curious how many car makes and models does exists, so I started collecting information.
While walking to school I was counting car makes and number of cars by each make I was passing along. In 1999 I wrote on paper a list of about 50 makes and showed to my parents, they informed me that I am missing all American car makes as well as sport car manufacturers like Ferrari or Aston Martin that were never seen on Romanian roads.
I had lack of sources of information, in first years my parents rarely bought me car magazines, also the car magazines show new launched models, rather than a worldwide list of cars models including historical models, like an encyclopedia. A neighbor seeing my interest gave me in mid-1999 a copy of Auto Catalog 1997 (a car magazine published once per year, showing about 120 makes and technical data for about 2000 worldwide model versions).
I also have an obsession for making tables and statistics about everything. Since I had a computer, knowledge of Microsoft World and Excel, car magazines, and free time, I began writing my own automobile encyclopedia, to organize my knowledge about cars and fulfill my hobby of data analysis.
I started by writing in Notepad the list of car models (one TXT for each brand) sorted by manufacturer and car classes, with years of production (no technical data), to sort out the cars and understand which is the successor of which model. Later I combined the TXT files into a single Word file Car Models List.DOC and made also Car Models Timeline.XLS. Also I wrote a Car Body List for selected brands, because some successive models have different production years for each body style.
Early automobile encyclopedia made in Word in 2001
My dad taught me to use Microsoft Word and even set me rules how to write a nice book: body text with 12pt font, titles with 16-20pt font, centered, bold, underlined, etc. Writing about cars was my idea (I was writing also a geography encyclopedia, as well many other stuff).
My dad told me to finish my works and print them because “what is not finished have ZERO value“. I never understand why wanted to print… an automobile database is a thing that need to be updated constantly and cannot be “finished” to be printed.
My parents encouraged my hobby, printed about 200 pages written by me, and promised that some day will help me publishing a book, but this never happened. There is possible that their promise was with intention to give me a solitary occupation at computer to not disturb their busy lives (instead of allowing me to make friends and have a social life, which I liked).
My access to information was limited, I was collecting data from all sources that came in my hand: monthly magazines Auto Motor si Sport, yearly magazines AutoCatalog and AutoSpecial from ADAC (copying technical data and model advantages/disadvantages), a Catalog of used cars (copying model history), monthly car magazines, etc. Sometimes I was copying entire articles word by word. I wanted to include car photos too, but I had photos just with few cars in computer, and no digital photo camera to take photos, so I been drawing myself in Paint side views of cars, at resolution of 1 pixel = 5 cm.
The results were a MESS, see a sample: Car encyclopedia made in Word during childhood. During 2001-2003 I wrote about 80 car models on 200 pages, during 2 years (2-4 pages per model). I did not had a standard format across various car models and impossible to make it complete, because with limited access to information I did not know how many other engine versions of same model does exist. My car encyclopedia could be compared with Wikipedia (it also do not have a standard format across various car models), but mine had more tables than text, was printer-friendly, but most importantly, was 1-person work!
Beside Word documents, in 2001-2003 I also made in Excel some tables with formulas… like a case study for selected car models. Also a database dedicated to sport cars, but today I do not see them so important to worth maintaining them.
Since 2003 I broke away from what my dad taught me, for future works I used 10pt font, titles with full-width colored background (a theme used for website too in 2012-2015), optimized for on-screen display rather than printing. I started working more in Excel than in Word.
Started making automobile database in Excel in 2003
Probably the most important project was the Excel table with all car model variants displaying only 7 technical specs fields, based only on AutoCatalog and AutoSpecial, for faster data entry and clean-looking, currently sold as Car Models & Engines Database. Started in 2003, an experiment with just 100 model versions, but in school vacation of 2004 I decided to expand it to all cars, the first final version launched in January 2005 had 3600 car models produced from mid-1990s to present, but was still missing few non-European brands or some SUVs as I was not interested in them.
AutoKatalog, one of most reliable car publications in the world, is published yearly in Germany since 1957 and in other ~20 European countries during history, including Romania starting from 1996 under name AutoCatalog.
I constantly updated it with new models (thanks to yearly releases of AutoCatalog), I also added older models (with less technical details) thanks to the internet connection and Wikipedia, reaching 6000 model versions from 50 brands in January 2007 and 7800 models from 57 brands in 2009 edition, being complete database for European market.
Another project was Car Models Plus in both Word and Excel, started in 2005. Similar with earlier Car Body List, one entry per body style, plus some data about car dimensions and engine range.
The Word file, currently sold as Car Models Encyclopedia, with one paragraph per body style, a mini-encyclopedia compared with the one written in 2001-2003, this time including only essential info for each model, written in a standard format, later turned in one paragraph per model for all car body styles.
It had an Excel equivalent, currently sold as Car Models Database, an Excel table with one row per body style, to compare cars over time.
Considering less important, they did not had any final complete version until 2010, when it reached about 500 car models produced in Europe. During 2012 I added American and Asian cars imported in Europe and by end of year the Car Models Encyclopedia reached 1200+ models on 160 pages, 4-10 models per page, when I realized that nobody is buying Word documents so I put ON HOLD future updates of (Word) Car Models Encyclopedia, to focus on (Excel) Car Models Database.
I connected to the Internet in 2005
Getting access to Wikipedia allowed me to improve car databases, especially by extending historical coverage of Car Models List & Timeline towards World War II.
For a short moment I resumed working at the encyclopedia in Word, by adding older cars, sometimes translating few Wikipedia articles into Romanian, but often writing with my own words rather than direct translation. Shortly I abandoned that encyclopedia along with 80% of projects started in childhood, considering them useless as better products are available on internet. But I kept maintaining the car databases in Excel, as they had NO equivalent on internet.
Local friends praised my work (although some blamed me that I waste my life doing useless things) and one said that people are willing to pay money for such things and asked me why I do not post the car encyclopedia on internet?
Publishing on website in 2011 and doing first sales in 2012
In 2009 I created a website teoalida.webs.com to publish my works, primarily my other hobby AutoCAD design field (2D and 3D models of building and cars).
In November 2010 I updated all 6 car database files and made them public on internet for first time, under URL //teoalida.webs.com/cardatabase.htm. I translated all Romanian into English (took just 10 min to find/replace all car terms in Car Models Encyclopedia, but rewriting editorial/introduction for every file took few hours).
I never not sold anything on internet (for money), but in the same time I did not wanted to give the big Car Models & Engines Database for free so I offered only a sample, being undecided whenever to sell or how to sell. I was waiting for some feedback.
A failed start:
- I had huge knowledge about cars but zero knowledge about marketing.
- I did not know what kind of audience my website have, and what database formats customers would be looking for.
- I believed that my products have same target like car magazines: buyers of new and used cars, plus hobbyist studying automobile industry like me, but surprisingly, I got contacted by companies looking for vehicle database for commercial use.
- I did not got any feedback for about 1 year, I became worried that I done a very BIG USELESS database and is better to abandon the hobby.
First person who gave me feedback said “not what I needed thought keep up good work“… but what they need?
Adding website chat in January 2012 allowed me to get significant feedback, I realized that the database was GOOD, but the presentation was BAD. While the rest of my website is aimed to architecture students and house builders (web amateurs), the Car Database page was visited by highly-skilled people, company managers and webdesigners who probably did not liked my cheap-looking website hosted for free under subdomain.
Mistakes done until April 2012:
- Every file started with editorial / author info on first page (inspired from car magazines also had on 1st page some editorial notes from author). The Excel spreadsheets saved in Legend & About me sheet, people lazy to click Database sheet did not realized that there IS a vehicle database, not just biographies.
- No prices were displayed, as well no BUY NOW or FOR SALE buttons, no wonder why people would not understand if I am selling or what the hell is this website…
- No preview screenshots, text-only page, bounce ratio 75%, after adding the screenshot it reduced to 40%.
- Offering too much for free: 5 files offered complete and 1 file “The BIG Car Database” was offered as one-brand sample, waiting if someone will contact me, to negotiate a price… 2-3 people contacted me but when they said that need data “for their websites”, I wasn’t sure what they are doing, thought that are publishing my Excel file on their website so I refused to sell them complete database.
- Most customers weren’t looking for that big database with engines, but for car external dimensions, which I was offering FREE but included only cars produced in Europe (being made for my interest of researching car evolution in Europe), instead of all cars sold (imported) in European market. Other customers were even looking for a simple make/model list in XLS or CSV for web development, which was offered FREE in wrong format, DOC optimized for reading/printing.
So, in April 2012 I updated the European car dimensions database with American and Asian cars imported in Europe and put it on sale for $20, and Car Models & Engines Database for $100, after several days I made the first sale to an insurance company. Since that moment I started the constant updating…
During 2012, almost every buyer praised the database but criticized website presentation and gave me suggestions.
Changes done in November 2012 made my business breakthrough:
- I moved to paid hosting and domain www.teoalida.com.
- WordPress platform and Simple eCommerce plugin that allow people to pay and download digital products automatically.
- Car Models List .DOC converted in XLS and put for sale instead of being given free, surprisingly it became best-seller. I did not expected people willing to pay even for a DATAbase without (technical) DATA.
- I bought a collection of german AutoKatalog 1991-2013 from eBay (I paid them with my own money made from several sales during six months of 2012) and I updated my Excel files with new models but also backward updating with classic cars, making the most comprehensive database of cars produced last 20 years available on internet.
- I also made new databases, custom-made for individual customers, and the number of customers increased about 4 times.
Website redesigned in March 2013 further raised sales:
- In late 2012 for the first time I googled “car database” and I found several other websites selling similar stuff, I inspired to redesign my website in similar manner.
- I installed a separate WordPress for Car Database section (URL remained the same), displaying on first page the products in grid layout with prices indicated, with buttons “Read more” going to individual pages of each database, also a FAQ section (as opposite of the previous single-page with a lot of rows of text and links to sample files, then “go in Store to buy full databases” (you can still see the old website design in http://teoalida.webs.com/cardatabase.htm).
Over time I was facing (and I am still facing) with the problem of insufficient feedback… LAZY people who, if they do not like a detail in the database, they go away instead of contacting me and requesting a change (probably many people think that I am just selling databases “as it is” instead of being the developer of database thus ready to make changes).
For example: Make | Model was originally on a single column, which pose no problem for a reader, but a programmer may not like it. As soon 1 customer bring this in attention, I separated Make | Model to 2 columns in December 2012. These changes helped to have in 2013 more sales per month than in entire 2012 year! If the first customers purchased my XLS files for reading them in Excel, in 2013 about half of customers are webdesigners buying XLS to import as CSV or SQL and display my data in their websites. By this way, when I moved to WordPress in 2012 I heard for first time about MySQL and realized that not all websites are made by static HTML as previously thought.
Expansion beyond European market – 2013
Car Models List included all cars sold in Europe plus cars produced in United States, but not the foreign cars imported in America, for Japanese manufacturers I had only the models they sell in Europe.
In January 2013, once a customer asked me for a database of cars sold in United States, with each year on separate row, I done an extensive research on Wikipedia and expanded my Car Models List making it complete for American market, with exact Model Years the car was sold in US.
Next project was to create a database of technical specs. I done a small experiment manually copy-pasting data from Edmunds website, but was overkill to do this for all 40,000+ car models. The salvation came from a customer who bought Singapore HDB Resale Flat Prices Database, he was a programmer so I told him to create a scraping script for Edmunds website, for FREE, in exchanging of giving FREE the database he purchased (refunded his purchase), but Edmunds been often redesigned, making his script obsolete.
Additional improvements that increased sale volume:
- I changed plugin Simple eCommerce to Easy Digital Downloads (May 2015) and adding multiple price options to purchase small chunks such as 2000-present at smaller price, for people who do not need full database going back to 1945.
- I removed product prices on home page and rearranging products (2015). Instead of putting the simplest and cheapest databases at top, I put the most detailed databases of Europe, America and India on 1st row. People had to click “more details” or image in order to see prices. While number of sales did not grew, monthly earnings grew because people purchased more expensive databases.
- I wrote list of makes and list of columns included in each database (2015-2016), for people who are lazy to check this inside sample files (and also keywords for Google).
- I added option to pay with credit card via 2checkout.com beside PayPal (September 2016).
- I removed editing protection of sample Excel files (2016-2017). When you open a protected file in Microsoft Excel, you cannot edit it unless you go in Tools > Unprotect sheet and enter a password. But some non-Microsoft Office software ask user to enter password as soon you open it, or click “open read-only” which confuse visitors and some may not realized that can view my files without password.
A new era: web scraping services – 2015
A new era started in August 2015 when I discovered www.import.io, a data scraping software which (at that times) was free (accounts made after April 2016 are limited to 500 pages unless you buy a paid plan). Although the software is free and theoretically you can scrap simple websites yourself, most people don’t have knowledge, or time to learn how to use it, so I am here to help you.
The first database made via web scraping was India Car Database, took about 1 week to figure out how to make database using import.io. The funny part: one of the 3 indians who contacted me during that week and I informed what I am doing, though that I created Indian car database because of his request, so requested me making additional databases of Indian bikes too and other vehicles. For moment I refused, because I did not wanted to waste my time on projects outside car field.
In November 2015 I recreated American Year-Make-Model-Trim-Specs allowing me to update it myself by using import.io extracting car specs from each URL although require to manually compile list of URLs of all cars, I also created other databases Singapore Condo Database (source: SingaporeExpats.com), Skyscrapers Database (source: Emporis.com).
Moreover, in November 2015 I allied with a programmer student from Pakistan to create scraping software for websites that are too complex for import.io.
Once I mastered scraping skills in 2016, I decided to offer freelance web scraping services, allowing me to serve people asking for specific data that I do not have, by quickly creating a new custom database scraping data from a website chosen at mutual agreement, even if just 1 person demand that particular data, once created I published database on website allowing future people to purchase ready-made (unless customer asked for a non-disclosure agreement).
Import.io turned to a paid service in April 2016 and suspended my free account in September 2016, I was ready to buy a paid plan although quite expensive. This gave idea to Pakistan programmer to create his own universal scraping software in VB.NET for my own use, which turned to be faster and better than import.io, able to scrap multiple websites at same time without slowing down each other, allowing me to create even more databases and update them more often.
Other automobile data providers on internet do not even specify source of data, never mind of author info.
I am not sure if this About Me story will make you more willing to purchase a car database from me, or not, but…
…what is your opinion? Leave comments!