Back when he was working at a car dealership, Canada Drives CEO Cody Green noticed a problem with the buying process. Quite often, people would test drive a car, fall in love with it and decide to buy it, only to discover when they sat down with the financing manager that they couldn’t afford the payments.
Green, who had noodled around with computers as a kid, decided there had to be a better way. In 2010, at age 24, he launched Canada Drives, an online platform that helps Canadians secure auto financing without having to go to the bank or hold their breath and hope at the dealership. “Now, when they’re going to the dealership, they still get the fun of test driving and picking their vehicle,” says Green, “but they go knowing they’re approved and knowing what the payments are going to be.”
Nine years later, Vancouver-based Canada Drives boasts 400 employees and has helped more than a million customers across the country secure auto financing. Sales have skyrocketed: The company landed at the top of the 2016 Growth 500 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies, and was a Deloitte Technology Fast 50 winner for the past three years. In that time, it has added personal loan and credit card solutions to its offerings, and has expanded its auto loan segment to the U.K. and the U.S. “Usually, companies that are very focused on one job have a hard time building out what they were able to do successfully in a smaller jurisdiction like Canada,” says Brendan Cooper, senior manager of global investments and innovation incentives at Deloitte, who helped coach Canada Drives toward its Canada’s Best Managed Companies win. “They found a model that works really well in Canada and they’re right-sizing the model for what other jurisdictions need.”
Because Canada Drives is bootstrapped and not investor-backed, it has been able to grow exactly the way the original management group intended—something Cooper believes allows the company to be extremely agile. “They’ll always try new things and implement technologies or new methods to lead to a better client experience,” he says.
And innovating to improve client experience is key to the company’s development. For example, as a growing number of customers requested to communicate via text message, Canada Drives built an SMS platform to enable its customer support and sales agents to connect with customers on mobile devices. The move boosted customer satisfaction and contact rates: now, more than a million messages fly back and forth each month.
This spirit of relentless improvement doesn’t happen by fluke. When Canada Drives was conceived, Green brought in Michael Galpin, another auto industry veteran, to serve as his co-CEO. The two had a good idea of how they wanted to develop the company and were able to shape that vision alongside about half a dozen employees over the first four years. Some of their first hires ended up becoming leaders in the company, providing the commitment and institutional memory needed to weather growing pains. “If we’d gone from two people to 200 in the first year, we would definitely have struggled,” Green says. “But having those strong people to start with made that growth—which was obviously still full of many challenges—a lot more manageable.”
Now that Canada Drives is out of the scrappy start-up phase, it’s continued to identify people who demonstrate leadership qualities (initiative, willingness to learn, drive to go above and beyond), train them, and create opportunities for them to lead others. It means stability amid rapid growth, Green says, and serves to keep the organization relatively flat and meritocratic. “If an idea is strong, we don’t care where it comes from,” he says. “We try to build a culture where that idea can rise to the top.”