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Secret to Success – Todd Zuccone

Sometimes the ultimate motivator in ones business is the competition. This is certainly the case for Todd Zuccone of Evolution Motorsports. Although Porsche specialized performance shops may seem common, it is those who are able to innovate and continue to raise the bar, that ahead of the competition. Todd has not only raised the bar but also set the standard when it comes to ultimate Porsche performance with several horsepower and speed records to Evolution Motorsport’s name. By letting the records speak for itself, Todd has carved out a niche of his own that has allowed him to proudly own one of the top Porsche tuning shops in the USA for the last decade.
How did you get started in the tuning world?

I started the Evolution Motorsports basically out of my passion and love for Porsche vehicles specifically so the company always had its roots in the Porsche market. We’ve since expanded into other European models but the roots have always been founded in Porsche. I basically started with very minimal and humble beginnings at my house and throughout the years, it has slowly grown from my house to probably six different facilities to the current facility now where we’re happy to be at. We’re about 25,000 square feet and we got basically everything we need under one roof to pretty much build cars from start to finish.

Why such a strong love for Porsche versus other brands?

I grew up around Porsche because my father was a Porsche aficionado. He was as much into the performance side of things but still always had Porsches around. I remember as a young child, he had a bunch of Speedsters and this was back in the 70s. I grew up back east in Northern New Jersey and on the weekends, my father would go and bring me to a place up in Upstate New York owned by a gentleman named Dick Hewlett who I still keep in touch with today because my father bought his first Porsche from him. Just being around these cars from working on my father’s Speedster as a young child to 911s and just always being around pretty rare Porches, that’s where I grew my love for the model and for the brand.

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What were you doing before Evolution Motorsports?

I actually worked through another company before I ever started my own business and in the beginning of the company, I started developing products. In the interim, I was selling other people’s products but while I was selling other people’s products, I was also developing my own products. That’s kind of how it started.

I started developing products specifically through the 930 because that was kind of my passion at the time and later moved on to the 964 and 993s and started developing products for each of those vehicles. The big boom of my business started in 2001 when the birth of the 996 turbo came out. That really was the beginning of what I would say really the beginning of the evolution of Porsche as it is today.

Once Porsche moved away from the air cooling and the computer control was a little bit more sophisticated, it left a lot more room on the table for modifications. Plus, I think it also happened around the time where the client base was younger who were buying the cars. They have a lot of disposable income. I think the perfect storm coverage and there were people that wanted to spend good money on these great cars. So really between 2001 and 2005-2006 was really kind of the hay day of modifying Porsche 996 turbos. That’s really where we blossomed as a company and did most of our research and development, and products.

Did you develop a signature product that put you guys on the map?

I think it was the overall package. I think we were one of the first companies that offered an air intake for the 996 turbo, intercooler kits for the 996 turbo, and basically, we developed the stage process of being able to modify the car in stages to where you could start to stage one, upgrade to the stage two layers, stage three, stage four without being penalized for building the car in stages rather than in one chunk. So it gave the customers the ability to build as their budget or as their comfort level with us grew, they could continue on building the car.

Back in 2001, there were fewer competitors in the space but now there’s dozens. How do you stay competitive?

Each day, there’s a new slice of the pie being taken away but we have emerged and are focused on the day to day products that we build. I think we’re more well known now for building some of the most powerful performance vehicles in the world. We’ve set numerous world records with our 996 turbos and 997 turbos, which to this date, still has not been broken, which we set back in 2004-2005. So, right now people come to us when they want the most powerful cars and that’s really I think what sets us apart. There are many companies that build bolt-on products but there are not many companies that can build a bulletproof engine package that can go out and set world records.

Ultimately, do you think record setting is enough to win market share or is there more to it?

I think it definitely helps. It helps in two respects. One, it helps our department understand what and where the weak points are in each of these vehicles so we can take the technology that we learned by building a 1500 horsepower car and relay that to a 700 horsepower car which is much more popular engine package that we sell. In the second aspect, it definitely gained us notoriety to where it puts us in the front of people’s minds if they are thinking about building any stage. It gives us a little bit of a competitive advantage when people see us out there breaking world records and constantly being in events where our cars perform consistently and they are winning.

What were some of the risks you faced when you launched your business?

From day one, it was a risk because I had a decision to make from my first month in business, such as “do I make my mortgage payment or do I take an ad out in a magazine?” I chose to take an ad out in the magazine over my mortgage payment. From day one, it was always rolling the dice. I rolled the dice along the way and it has paid off. I would say that I always knew that I would never give up.

This is my passion. I’m not one that ever gives up so from day one, I knew that it was going to be a successful long term business but there were times along the way where I was questioning my gutsiness, I guess, in rolling the dice because it wasn’t just one time where I rolled the dice with monetary decisions like that. It was many times along the way.

Taking out the ad in Excellence Magazine really launched the business. That’s really where it started and I was able to make my mortgage payment the next month and everything was fine. Without that ad, people wouldn’t have known really that I was a player in the industry.

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Each time Porsche releases a new vehicle, how does that impact your business?

From basically 2001-2009 in the turbo platform, things were pretty much the same, from the mechanical standpoint of the engines, the electronics changed, but nothing that made it difficult to continue on our engine development program and doing what we do. The GT3 stayed similar, the same basic engine platform all the way up until 2012-2013. It wasn’t until the new PDK turbo in 2010 was launched that Porsche changed the core of the old style GT1 engine.

We did purchase a PDK turbo back in 2010 for research and development but we took it as far as we wanted to take it and we really chose not to go much further than basic bolt-ons. The market never really emerged and there was limited power really to be had on that engine. We’re still building a high portion of 996 turbos so we slammed a huge market base. At the time we had the PDK turbo, it wasn’t worth it for us to dive into new and develop programs. Basically everything from that platform forward to 991, the 997.2, they share similar engine technology. I think the next engine technology is going to come out with new GT3 so that’s kind of what we’re waiting for to see what that engine brings.

Manufacturers now are embracing hybrid technology, does that scare you when you look into the future?

I think in 10-15 years, the market in general, the consumer buying these vehicles will have changed. The hardcore guys that want to build big power seem to have held on to their 996 turbo, 997 turbos. The new consumer, I don’t know who that is yet and that’s where we are with the PDK turbo. We are waiting to see if that market will emerge and what it will emerge into. The 991 never really did take off, that’s why we never really chose to go that much further with our engine development program. We will dabble in any car, any Porsche that is out but we’ll wait for the market to present itself before we invest a ton of money into research and development.

Over the course of a decade, what have been some failures or obstacles you’ve faced?

We had failures all along the way in terms of some car engine development program but those failures made us stronger because by not succeeding in something to me is really not a failure. It’s a way to make something better so from an engine development standpoint, we wouldn’t be where we are today without those failures in the past. From a business perspective, yeah, there was. I think when the recession hit, we had just purchased the building that we’re in now. We were 27 employees. We just took on a 25,000 square foot facility. Everything was great up until basically the point that we moved into this new facility. We needed to grow but we didn’t anticipate the market drop and it was almost like someone turned off the light switch. We had to make some pretty tough decisions to keep things going.

So here we are sitting in a 25,000 square foot facility but we just don’t have ton of money to make it the way we wanted, a lot of new equipments, and a staff that had to be cut back. That was not something that was easy to do but it was something that we had to do to survive.

The other thing we did is we took 5,000 square foot of our facility and sublet it to help with the overhead. We endured through that time and since then, I look back and back in 2006-2007 when things were so good for everybody, we made foolish business decisions. We were spending money like everybody else was spending money like there’s no end in sight.

With the down economy, it really made us independent and reevaluate how we do business, reevaluate how we be smarter about our business and I think in the long run, it has helped us to be better groomed, more efficient.

During those tough times, what was the mindset going through your head?

We had to ride it out for many years and we had to make decisions but I guess from an entrepreneur’s mindset, you can’t give up. I keep telling myself that if it were easy, everybody would be doing it and it’s never easy. >Even in the good times, there were difficult things that came about that we had to deal with.

Some guys think that I’ve got a private helicopter because business is so good and this and that. It’s like, “Hey man, if you only knew what it was like or what it is like on a day to day basis.”

It’s nothing like that. It’s not as glamorous as people think it is. It’s a business and this is not an easy way to make a living. It is stressful at times but then I look back and I think, “Well, what else would I be enjoying as a career right now?” I don’t know. I love cars. I love Porsches and to be able to do this on a regular basis I guess I count my blessings because I am doing something that I love.

On the flipside, what are some of the proudest achievements you’ve had?

We definitely had a lot of them. I would say that my head engine builder, John Gray. He and I have a very similar outlook in life. We don’t give up and anytime we reach a new goal, we both look at each other and say, “Now what?” So I remember making 1,000 horse power with our 996 turbo engine and we look at each other and say, “Now what?” Why not 1,100, 1,200, 1,300 and it just goes on and on. So that’s really what keeps us going and those achievements along the way of setting a new speed record or achieving a new goal in terms of horsepower, those are really the achievements that keeps us going.

It’s more that we’ve been able to overcome or physically create and build something and have it perform in a way that nobody else has been able to successfully achieve. Yeah, some of it is ego driven but a lot of it is more the self satisfaction that we have created something that nobody else has been able to do.

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How have you developed your team?

That’s difficult and I learned the hard way. I gave away a big portion of my company at one point and I can say I’d never do that again. Ultimately, I ended up getting all my company back but I think I can say that everybody who works here are as equally as passionate about what they do as I am. My guys show up here early and they leave late. I think we all share the same passion around the vehicles and the enjoyment that we give to our consumers, our customers, our long-term customers so I think that I have given away some of the company to the employees and it’s not because I feel that I have to, it’s because I want to and I want them to be as much of a part of this business as I am.

As you bring on employees, how do you prevent them from taking the knowledge from R&D and starting their own business?

That’s a tough yield because especially in Arizona, Arizona is right to work state so even if I have them sign a noncompete, I can’t prevent them from going out and get a job in the same industry if that’s what they know. I’ve got employees that have been with me since 1998 so I think that, my personal opinion is I treat my employees well so I am not a great boss. I can be the first to admit that I don’t like to be that guy, and I’m not. I actually have a general manager who runs the place who could be that guy because that’s not me. If I didn’t have, me and my general manager and Crystal, who is our operations managers, if I didn’t have those people in place, everybody would be running around and doing what they wanted to do like I do on a regular basis. I think treating people right and creating an atmosphere where they want to be here I think is most important.

Do you perhaps look at your employees more as friends rather than workers?

I have a hard time establishing that boundary. I am pretty much their friend and buddy here. I treat these guys like they are my brothers and sisters. Some people say that that’s a bad thing but that’s just all I know. That’s just not who I am. I do what I do and if that means I become the friends of my employees and treat them like they are family member, that’s what I do. I can’t change that. I think that for me, that’s has always worked and like I said, I’m not going to change who I am so as long as it continues to work, great. If it doesn’t work all of a sudden one day, well, then I’ll be an army of one I guess.

Have you guys expanded beyond Porsches?

Yeah, we actually have built a couple of twin turbo charged Audi R8s. I’ve done tuning for other companies in the industry for Audi R8, V10s, V8s, Lamborghini TTs. We do do a lot of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, Maseratis.

What I do on a regular basis is do a lot or all of the software development for the ECUs and what I’ve learned from the Porsche side of things translates it to a lot of these other vehicles. So, just because a Porsche is a Porsche, it doesn’t mean that that technology or that ECU doesn’t make its way into another vehicle. A Ferrari F430 has the same as a 997 turbo so we basically have two vehicles that all share the same technology so that’s why we have software for all these, the Bentleys, the Ferraris, and Lamborghinis and Audis. The software development side of things is my passion. That’s what I enjoy doing. I’ve even branched out. I have another business with my brother where we do software development for snowmobiles and off road vehicles. Even though I live in Arizona, I’ve got a house in Colorado. We have 300 horsepower snowmobiles. That doesn’t matter what it is, it’s autopilot.

What is your last tip for people reading this?

I would say do what you love and love what you do. That would definitely be one of the most important things. Never give up no matter how hard it is and I would say follow your passion and be the best you can be and treat your customers right. I think that’s the simple success path. It seems very simple and cliché but I truly believe that loving what you do helps those other two things.

We want to thank Todd Zuccone for sharing his success story. You can find him at the following places…

Watch Todd’s Interview in Our Academy

Evolution Motorsports

EVO MS Tuning

Evolution Motorsports on Instagram

Evolution Motorsports on Facebook

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