Picking out a new car can be a lot of fun. There’s the sheer kid-in-a-candy-store pleasure of selecting the make, model and colour; testing out cool technology; and luxuriating in that new car smell. But the process of actually paying for that sweet ride? Well, that’s a whole other story—and it’s a particularly unpleasant experience for those who have ever missed a payment, forgotten about a credit card or just never had the chance to build a credit history in the first place. For them, the act of securing financing is akin to an unscheduled colonoscopy, an experience that involves plenty of unpleasant poking and prodding, and almost never ends with a truly happy result.
Cody Green didn’t deliberately set out to change that when he took a sales job at a Hyundai dealership in West Edmonton. Fresh out of university, he intended to make a few bucks to support his musical aspirations, not to change how people purchased automobiles. But after a couple of years in the business (during which he relocated to Saskatoon), he realized there was a flaw in the prevailing sales paradigm, one that, as a natural problem solver, he couldn’t let go. Would-be car owners were too often choosing their dream vehicle only to find themselves ineligible for the financing needed to pay for it, an outcome that left everyone—dealer, consumer, financial institution—frustrated and inconvenienced. “For the customers who didn’t have perfect credit, that process was backwards and broken,” says Green.
If that process was inverted and buyers had financing arranged in advance, they could arrive on the lot with peace of mind and leave with the car they wanted—and without the usual emotional baggage riding shotgun. So Green started helping individual clients secure funding at the outset as a value-added service. It worked—he’d sell as many as 25 new cars a month, a very high throughput by dealer standards—but its success was naturally constrained by his capacity to personally co-ordinate the deals. Green had developed an aptitude for coding as a teenager—“I was one of those kids who wanted to understand everything about the Internet,” he says—and he decided build an online platform that would allow him to scale the process. “I thought dealerships could get value out of using this,” Green says. “And I wouldn’t need to be there to help every last customer.” This idea sparked two important revelations: First, that there was a business to be built around his idea and, second, that he was the guy to build it.
Green stopped selling cars in 2010 to pursue the venture, which he named Canada Drives. He believed in the platform he’d built, but the sales chops that worked so well on the lot were quickly put to the test when he deployed them in the more ruthless realm of startup business prospecting. His cold calls to dozens of dealerships were rejected until he was finally able to convince one—Vickar Community Chevrolet in Winnipeg—that his new technology could actually help both it and its customers. That sale led to another and then another, to the point that, by the end of the company’s first year in operation, 100 dealers were using its platform. And that was just the beginning: Canada Drives’ revenue grew by a staggering 12,686% from 2010 to 2015, to well above $20 million last year, earning it the No. 1 spot on the 2016 PROFIT 500 and the title of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Company for 2016. Its journey to date has been as unconventional as it has been speedy, and it’s only gearing up.