ACV Auctions: Bringing an Idea From 0-60

Starting and Scaling an Online Auction Marketplace


Venture Capital Helped Raise

Created powerful and detailed pitch decks that allowed executives to successfully raise more than $350 million in funds to fuel their rapid growth.

15 min.

Live Auction Experience

Replacement of days-long travel to live auctions with a 15-minute experience, without leaving the dealership.


Successful Beta Launch

233 cars were auctioned through the app in the first two months. Continued design and product guidance allowed the transaction of thousands of cars thereafter.


We met with Joe and Dan, the co-founders, months before they started the company to hear their plans for disrupting the automobile auction industry. What they presented to us was a problem that we didn’t know existed, and a potential solution that had us intrigued.

We began working with them by agreeing on an an iterative process for building their company. Our work would be sprint based and each week we pick from our areas of focus; business discovery, user research, product design, UX design, development, usability testing, and branding.

The next time we met, they had a rough business plan, a few app sketches, and a name.


Business Discovery

It was time to dig in. We’d meet with Joe and the team to learn and document all of the processes of a car dealership. An absurd amount of questions were asked and video footage was meticulously watched so that we can understand what current car auctions looked like. Mapping those processes to a digital representation became incredibly important. We were then able to plan out the way the application would work. The essence of those steps boils down to:

  • Franchise Car Dealer wants to sell a used car
  • They create a condition report on the vehicle, take specific photos, and set a price through the app
  • The newly created auction is sent to the phones of Franchise and Used Car Dealers who can bid on the car through the app
  • Once a dealer has won the car both parties are walked through the post sale process of signing over ownership of the car and transferring it to a new dealer.

We began to discover how much of the process happens outside the mobile app. Once cars were purchased documents and invoices needed to be sent and ultimately those cars need to be delivered. We needed to move metal.

User Research

We needed to understand the culture, context, and atmosphere in which users would be using the app. Our team filled the tank and jumped into the car driving around to dealership after dealership collecting information.

This showed us a spectrum of cultures throughout the region. Getting a first person look at their current challenges and pain points allowed us to meet their needs in the most seamless way. Interviewing individual car dealers showed us that their willingness to engage with the app varied.

We needed to know why. Our results showed that industry professionals had one core value - seeing a return. The Helm team knew showing the user value value quickly, and guiding them through the high-dollar transaction, was paramount.

Product Design

We explored a number of features and layouts through low-fidelity design techniques like sketches and wireframes. It was then important to prioritize and simplify in order to build version one of the product.

Exercising our minds through timed design exercises allowed us to methodically reduce and prioritize. By documenting workflows we were able to identify friction in the process and subsequently reduce frustration by giving users the proper information when they needed it.

Our goal was to simplify a complex process and allow people to have a sense clarity and confidence as they auction.

UX UI Design

This is when stakeholders and dreamers start to see the ideas come to life. With a real-time bidding system there are a number of usability challenges. The team needed to design an interface that people could easily understand and that portrayed the highest quality - especially because users would be committing to paying large amounts of money. No accidental bids, no surprises when the car is delivered, and no confusion during the post-auction process.

We explored ways to curtail accidental bids, and improve visibility on the true condition of the car. Ultimately creating a concept for a ‘hold-to-bid’ interaction allowed users to fully confirm what they were doing while still catering to the real-time nature of the auction. We also helped users create truthful condition reports by guiding them through what photos should be taken and promoting the benefits of an honest report.


One of the benefits of working with Helm is that we are setup to embed our multidisciplinary team members within the companies we work with. While we were designing ACV’s mobile and web app experiences we started working directly with their dev team to build the front-end of their web experience.

This work included building a marketing website we had designed for ACV as well as an Administrator Dashboard for the dealers that were signing up to use their service. Helm’s ability to augment ACV’s development efforts allowed the company to move faster than they would have otherwise by launching a website that acted as a sales tool while the company was still building their product.

Usability Testing

As ACV came close to launching the beta version of their app Helm put together a list of metrics to track its usage. The app was given to a group of early adopter car dealers who were eager to begin buying and selling cars.

Over the first two months of usage 233 cars were through the app. Helm was able to gather information from these users through the app as well as with in-person interviews that allowed us to learn about desired features and current pain points. We presented this data to ACV and worked with the stakeholders to determine the next features that would be added as they continue to grow.


ACV is the kind of company we love to work with. They came to us with a wild idea and after a few months worth of work we had launched website and mobile app that would power the first stages of this disruptive business.

Through our collaborative process Helm was able to produce everything ACV needed to go to market; a brand identity, marketing website, and a mobile app design that was all created under a cohesive user experience.

  • A seamless mobile app platform connecting franchise car dealers and used car dealers, enabling wholesale vehicle auctions with just a few taps on their smartphones.
  • Replacement of days-long travel to live auctions with a 15-minute experience, without leaving the dealership.
  • Successful beta launch with 233 cars auctioned through the app in the first two months. Continued design and product guidance allowing the transaction of thousands of cars thereafter.
  • Created a powerful and detailed pitch decks allowing executives to successfully raise more than $350 million in funds to fuel their rapid growth.
ACV Today: A Continued Partnership with Helm

Since its inception, ACV Auctions has experienced tremendous growth and success in the used car auction industry. The company went public in March 2021 through an IPO, raising over $400 million and achieving a valuation of around $4 billion.

ACV Auctions has expanded its operations across all 50 U.S. states and into Canada, solidifying its position as a major player in the market. The company boasts a workforce of over 1,000 employees, with total revenues over $400 million in 2022, reflecting a staggering year-over-year increases. The platform continues to facilitate the sale of tens of thousands of vehicles each month, and over 2 million vehicles sold, revolutionizing the way dealerships operate.

Helm is proud to maintain an ongoing relationship with ACV Auctions, providing ongoing support and expertise as the company continues to thrive and disrupt the automotive industry.

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Our work with ACV Auctions showcases our ability to innovate and deliver solutions that redefine industry standards.

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