The Watchmen

How one risk-taking entrepreneur launched CAN Telematics, a global asset-tracking powerhouse

“You have to be an optimist and a realist at the same time. My dad told me that I had  an obligation to  spend the share-holders’ money instead of sitting on a huge bank account. If you raised it, you need it, so get going.” —Brent Moore, CEO
“You have to be an optimist and a realist at the same time. My dad told me that I had
an obligation to spend the share-holders’ money instead of sitting on a huge bank account. If you raised it, you need it, so get going.” —Brent Moore, CEO

Eight years ago, Brent Moore sold his bar. Two years later, he found himself on a flight to Mozambique. Today, he’s part of a company whose competitors trade on the NYSE with market caps nearing $850 million. To say it’s been a wild ride for the CEO of the Alberta’s CAN Telematics would be a serious understatement.

It all began in 2006. Moore had a small pile of cash and no plan, but after three years of running a bar named MaddHatter’s, it was time for something different. Moore, a born entrepreneur who grew up trapping and selling beavers and squirrels to fund his video game habit, decided to turn to wirelining in the oil and gas industry. He traded in the bar to buy 20 rig mats and began renting them on the side.

Things went well, but Moore had problems keeping track of his rented equipment. That’s when the lightbulb went on. “I had this ‘aha’ moment,” he recalls. “I thought someone could make a killing using technology to track rented equipment.” Moore then realized another application for the fledgling idea—freight handling. The entrepreneur had spent countless frustrating hours trying to backhaul trucks—a process through which a customer saves money by hiring a half-empty truck already travelling to a desired location. “It was slow and painful to find a trucker going the right direction with the right amount of space,” Moore says. “I knew there had to be a better way.”

And thus CAN Telematics Inc. was born. Moore started talking with Duncan Ford, his current CTO, and the duo built an early website Moore describes as “eHarmony for trucks and loads.” Then Moore moved to integrate trucking companies that already had GPS solutions. Those companies, however, only used the technology for defensive purposes such as reducing wear and tear. Moore wanted to turn GPS into an offensive tool for asset tracking and marketing.

Through the Years

Moore sells his bar and purchases 20 rig mats for use in the oil industry

Frustrated with the effort required to locate his rental equipment, Moore starts to investigate GPS asset tracking and freight matching

Moore invests his first $100,000 with more start-up capital from Duncan Ford and close family members

A major merger deal falls apart in the wake of the financial crisis; Moore pulls all of the money from the bank, lives with $300,000 under his mattress, and promises to rebuild from scratch

Lands client Layne Christensen, an account to track several hundred units; the client requires financing, and Moore agrees to finance the billion-dollar company with just $25,000 in the bank

Comes in second on a major account because of company’s size, so Moore quadruples operations

Moore closes two monster deals with the biggest drilling company in Western Canada and a well company in Australia

Moore had a simple strategy: to partner with companies already providing asset tracking services. One group in Florida took particular interest in the idea, which lead to an early acquisition offer. Moore moved his team’s upstart to Florida to immediately support sales and development efforts, and his first sales call came from a Calgary-based company that had an immediate need for asset tracking in Africa. Having never used or sold the technology, Moore had to learn quickly. “We flew there without ever having used our technology,” he recalls. “We were literally reading the manual on the flight.”

Following this first successful sale, Moore and his partners were hooked. Moore decided to delegate sales and raise capital, bringing in $800,000 from friends and family in the first six months. Unfortunately, though, the financial crisis and skeletons in the closet brought the promising venture to its knees.

Despite this unforeseen hiccup, Moore held on to the Africa account and began working with his partners to build a proprietary asset-tracking system called Trakopolis. Once nervous investors were appeased, business began growing. CAN Telematics started attracting new customers, including one mysterious client who needed to track sensitive cargo along the Canadian railway system. Moore even landed a deal to monitor the secure delivery of the Olympic torches. Today, he tracks 10,000 assets for 250 customers in 13 countries around the world.

Looking back, Moore says both his willingness to take risks and the loyalty of a strong core team have led to success at CAN Telematics. “We put all our eggs in one basket and that fell through, so we had to start on plan B and C and D and E,” he says. When another deal for a company with 400 locations fell through due to Moore’s small staff size, he quadrupled the team to 25 workers and sought out big customers with international reach. By then, he had raised another $800,000. “When you have the life savings of several people on the line, you learn to think creatively and experiment quickly,” he says.

Such risks are bigger than most companies would have been willing to take, and the grand vision is just now paying off. Moore says his lean company, with $5 million on the books, is competing with huge corporations who trade at eight times the gross revenue. “We have a recurring revenue, global business model that offers a dramatic return for our investors, and there is a tsunami of business coming our way,” he says, adding that his peers are doing “amazing things” with inferior products.

In some ways, what Moore is trying to do is simple. “You don’t need an MBA to figure out how to make money,” he says. “You need to deliver a good product and collect your receivables.” His aim is to perfect an internationally distributed product and constantly evolve the technology to stay ahead of the pack. “I have always been chronically optimistic, and I have always believed that if we build it they will come,” Moore says. So far, he has been right.