Cody Green, Founder and Co-CEO, Canada Drives
A rookie car salesman with a knack for building websites, Cody Green had an idea. Customers at the Saskatoon Hyundai dealership where he worked were coming in to find the vehicle of their dreams—only to discover that loan payments were higher than they expected, or worse, that they wouldn’t be approved for a loan at all. So Green, then 24, decided to quit his job, register the domain Canadadrives.ca and start cold calling dealerships to sell them on his new online tool that screens customers for eligibility for financing.
From those early days in 2010, the business grew rapidly; Green soon moved operations from Saskatoon to Vancouver and expanded his team from a handful of web marketers to 150 employees in 18 months. These days, Canada Drives uses its robust online presence and advertising to draw consumers to its website, where a questionnaire asks for basic financial information. Those leads are then sold on to dealerships in the customer’s area.
That Green’s technological interest focused on the automotive sector is happenstance. At 19, living in Edmonton and studying music at Grant McEwan College, Green had been pitched on the idea of selling cars by a friend. “I can’t say I was particularly passionate about vehicles, but I enjoyed interacting with people,” he says. The auto industry wasn’t keeping up with digital advertising, and the process of purchasing a vehicle—78 per cent of Canadians finance their purchase—was woefully backward, he says. So he moved into what was an unoccupied space and built a business. “It seemed like the demand was there and the timing was right for me to step away and pursue this.”
As co-CEO (with Michael Galpin) and 50 per cent owner of Canada Drives (along with a group of private investors), Green has built an outsourced financing department for auto dealerships—providing marketing, advertising and pre-screening for auto lots from Victoria to Halifax. To date, 400,000 Canadians have used Canada Drives, with the company facilitating over $1.1-billion worth of auto loans. But for Green, who struck out on his own in his early 20s and never completed his degree, it was never a sure thing. “I think that any entrepreneur who says there isn’t some element of self-doubt is lying to themselves,” he says. “I am always pushing forward to see what’s new—and I’ve always thought I could make up for any lack of knowledge in hard work.”
David Gens, Founder, President and CEO, Merchant Advance Capital Ltd.
David Gens first developed a taste for managing money while studying at UBC, in the Sauder School of Business’s portfolio management program. After a stint post-graduation at CAI Capital Management, he felt the urge to go solo–so, at 24, he founded his own firm, Merchant Advance Capital. Working with a business model that’s rare in Canada, Merchant provides loans to small businesses based on their volume of debit and credit card transactions and other sources of data–data that helps Merchant determine their clients’ creditworthiness with increasing accuracy. “Incremental efficiency gains and improvements have allowed us to get data to make a more streamlined credit decision,” says Gens, now 29 and one of BCBusiness’s 30 Under 30 winners from 2015. Merchant has seen revenues almost double every year since 2012 and now employs 40 staff in Vancouver and Toronto.
Hamed Shahbazi, CEO, Tio Networks Corp.
Hamed Shahbazi has seen the Internet in all its phases—and built his company to suit. “It feels like I’ve run three companies at this point,” says Shahbazi, the son of Iranian immigrants, laying out the ways his business has adapted to the technology of the times. In the late ’90s, Tio built freestanding kiosks so mall-goers could access their email; in the mid-2000s, it shifted focus to bill payment technology, building systems for Chase Manhattan Bank and HSBC; and since 2009, Tio has built bill payment software that connects a consumer’s smartphone with the billing systems of big utilities or telecom providers, including Rogers and AT&T. Tio, a publicly traded company, had revenues of $49 million last year and a market capitalization of $198 million, with 80 of its 200 employees based in Vancouver. “My only regret is that we didn’t fail faster in some of these cases,” says Shahbazi, “but eventually we did learn.”