KITCHENER — The trucking industry produces more paper reports than any other sector of the economy except tax collectors, so it was more than ripe for digital innovation.
“There is more than a billion pieces of paper produced annually by drivers of trucks,” Terry Frey, the founder and chief executive officer at BigRoad, said.
The local startup developed a mobile app for smartphones and tablets so truckers can easily log their hours of driving, maintenance, repairs, inspections, routes, border crossings and fuel purchases.
Trucking is a linchpin of the North American economy. Both drivers and owners of trucking fleet file reports every day. That information is retained for several months for government auditors who want to ensure regulatory compliance. All of that work was done with pens, papers and fax machines.
But thanks to its app, BigRoad now has more traction than a truck in low gear. Its app has been downloaded more than 330,000 times, it works with 25,000 fleets and 70,000 drivers across the continent.
Drivers all over North America can easily complete reports on the app and share that with the administrative staff in the office. BigRoad developed a robust system to help fleet owners manage their vehicles, and administer the paper work.
It also has an electronic device that plugs directly into the truck engine and records everything the vehicle does. Thanks to pending changes in regulations that will require engine-connected logs in every U.S. truck by the end of 2017, BigRoad is poised for enormous growth.
“If we are successful this year we will grow by three-and-a-half to four times in 2016,” Frey said.
To handle the increased business BigRoad plans to more than double the staff this year to about 70, up from 31. That will position the startup for what Frey calls “one of those awesome 10X years” in 2017 as the trucking industry installs millions of engine connected electronic logs like the ones BigRoad developed.
“The best numbers we have is that they are 18 per cent saturated today,” Frey said. “So you are dealing with something like 3.7 million trucks that don’t have anything today.”
Back in 2011 Frey was looking to create a startup, and very quickly focused on trucking. He and a couple of other founders set up BigRoad in the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, and went to work.
BigRoad was founded by Frey, his brother Kelly and Dan Collens, who is the startup’s chief technology officer.
“We had never worked in a trucking company, but we all understand how to deploy technology in a very good way in an industry that is running very inefficiently,” Frey said.
When it comes to digital innovation, Collens likens the trucking industry to the land that time forgot.
“As I learned more about it, the scale and size of the industry, its importance to the economy, what attracted me was the need for us to get in there and do something,” Collens said.
The trio started developing their software in earnest in September 2011.
Back then, only about 35 per cent of truckers carried a smartphone, but they bet that figure would increase dramatically. They were right as now more than 90 per cent of truckers have smartphones.
The foundation of BigRoad’s growth is the widespread availability of low-cost smartphones and tablets, and the proliferation of cellular data plans.
“We built he initial product with just three engineers,” Collens said.
BigRoad left the Accelerator Centre in September 2013. It moved into 4,800-square-feet at Ottawa and Westmount streets in Kitchener. It will soon move into bigger offices at Columbia and Phillips streets inside one of the former BlackBerry buildings owned by the Waterloo Innovation Network.
There are an estimated 4.3 million transport trucks on North American roads. The overwhelming majority of those vehicles belong to companies with fewer than 10 trucks. Those small companies can not afford IT departments, safety officers and in-house auditors.
BigRoad’s software and hardware fills all of those roles for small trucking firms.
They can focus on getting good loads and helping their drivers,” Frey said.
The engine-connected electronic log has embedded software. The startup has mobile apps for IOS and Android. It has web apps for the office and administrative support. All this technology generates enormous amounts of information, such as the exact location of all the trucks thanks to GPS trackers.
“So we’ve got big data problems, mobile apps, web, everything,” Collens said. “That has been the most interesting and challenging aspect of it.”
Collens and Frey are part of a growing demographic in the region’s startup ecosystem. Middle-aged entrepreneurs with lots of experience who are looking for new challenges.
Collens co-founded Kaleidescape. It is based in Silicon Valley with a research office here. It digitally stores and organizes Blu-ray and DVD movies, and makes them available from any television.
Prior to that Cullens worked for CacheFlow, which became Blue Coat. It developed an appliance to help service providers deliver more content, including video, with less bandwidth.
Frey comes from an Old Order Mennonite family.
“We go way back, generation wise, six or seven generations,” Frey said.
He graduated from electronics engineering at Conestoga College, and did a business degree from Wilfrid Laurier University. He worked for Oracle, Digital Equipment, Descarte, Netscape and Turnpike Global, which was acquired by the XRS Corporation in 2009.
And BigRoad is a result of a long-held passion to build his own company from the ground up.
“I have always wanted to do that,” Frey said.