Deal-hunting app GasBuddy hires Walt Doyle as CEO, plants HQ in Boston

Gas Pump AP 920

GasBuddy, a mobile app that helps consumers hunt down low gas prices, is moving its headquarters to Boston after hiring an experienced local entrepreneur as its new CEO.

Walt Doyle, a former PayPal manager, is now heading up GasBuddy from an office near Haymarket Square. He’s hired a trio of Boston-area executives, who will help GasBuddy grow its staff and expand internationally in the coming year.

“I think it’s a real sort of hidden gem,” Doyle said. “I think we’ve got a real special one here, and I’m just delighted to have found it. Or, it found me.”

GasBuddy was founded about 15 years ago and grew relatively slowly, bankrolled largely by the advertising it sold alongside its free consumer websites and apps. Drivers use the services to post the lowest fuel prices they see in their market, giving others the ability to spot discounts or local price wars that may pop up.

The company’s apps have been downloaded more than 50 million times and amassed about 15 million monthly active users, all without paying for app marketing to scare up more users, Doyle said.

“We haven’t paid for a single download or user. It’s all organic,” Doyle said. “That’s special. You just don’t see that anywhere.”

GasBuddy’s co-founders sold the company in 2013 to UCG Holdings, a private Washington, D.C.-area holding company that operates several businesses focused on supplying commercial information. The founders remained at GasBuddy, but UCG began looking for a new CEO to lead its expansion plans.

They eventually settled on Doyle, who had coincidentally worked with GasBuddy when he was the CEO of Where Inc., a Boston-based mobile advertising startup that was acquired by PayPal in 2011 for about $135 million.

Doyle spent about two years working at PayPal’s local office before joining Cambridge-based venture firm Highland Capital Partners. Doyle said he eventually found the lure of running a company too appealing to pass up.

“Right back into the mix,” he said. “I thought I was just going to hang out and be a venture guy for a while, but I missed operating.”

GasBuddy now has two related businesses — in addition to its consumer website and apps, the company sells “white label” software to fuel retailers, allowing them to send coupons and other savings offers to consumers. The customers for that business are typically privately held regional chains with “anywhere from 150 to 2,000 locations,” Doyle said.

The current decline in oil prices isn’t necessarily a big worry for a company focused on saving consumers a few cents per gallon, Doyle said, because retailers are still trying to one-up each other in local markets.

“Just because it costs less than it used to doesn’t mean you should overpay,” he said. “It’s funny — we’ve seen the engagement numbers actually grow, especially this past month. There’s been some crazy price wars out in Minnesota and elsewhere.”