Sendum Wireless’s Old-Fashioned Startup Story

All things lost are found using Sendum Wireless's tiny tracking device.

Sendum Wireless tracking device | BCBusiness
It takes more than a few sheets of foil to outsmart one of Sendum Wireless’s ankle tracking devices.

All things lost are found using Sendum Wireless’s tiny tracking device.

When a convicted criminal in Florida recently decided to seek revenge on his arresting officer, he figured wrapping aluminum foil around his ankle tracker would take him off the grid long enough to track down his nemesis. But as Wayne Chester, CEO of Burnaby-based Sendum Wireless Corp., explains, it takes more than foil to foil his company’s tracking technology: “He just wrapped his leg in a whole bunch of aluminum foil thinking that it would stop the device from tracking him, but it still tracked him,” he says.

Sendum’s tracking devices are used in everything from ankle bracelets to truckloads of freight. The company hopes to cash in on an anticipated explosion in the U.S. market for machine-to-machine communications – networks of devices that talk to each other and share information about their location, temperature, motion and other variables.

“We build tracking devices that you can put inside a box where you might have boxes above and boxes below and boxes on all sides,” Chester explains. The former U.S. Army scout says his technology “can reach into that trailer and through all those boxes and talk to that load.” The company’s devices are used to keep tabs on everything from truckloads of high-value products, such as pharmaceuticals and computer components, to individual pieces of luggage. Sendum’s clients include U.S. federal agencies in need of delinquent-tracking ankle bracelets.

Chester co-founded Sendum in 2001 with Kerry Zoehner, the company’s top engineer. They started out in Chester’s living room in Coal Harbour, trying to break into a market that presents significant barriers to entry. As Chester recalls, when the two approached Qualcomm Inc. in those early years about the possibility of licensing the wireless giant’s technology, they were told they would probably need at least $10 million to get their company off the ground.

But rather than take the VC route to fast growth, the pair built their company one contract at a time. In a world where companies built around apps developed in a weekend are venture-funded without showing a dime of revenue, Sendum’s startup story seems almost old-fashioned – a business built by offering to make something useful in exchange for money. “Our customers wrote us cheques for everything that we needed and here we are 12 years later and we have no debt and we never took any funding,” explains Chester.

Sendum is a privately held company that chooses not to release financial information, but Chester is more than happy to talk about its growth: the company has averaged 20 to 25 per cent revenue growth for 10 years straight. Much of that success is owed to a product called the Package Tracker PT200. It’s about the same size as a smart phone, costs about as much and contains a lot of the same technology, including a GPS chip and the ability to connect to various cellular networks. With a $30 monthly service fee from Telus, which connects Sendum’s device to the cell network, users can connect to the PT200 any- time, find out where it is and collect information from it.

And users who have federal agents on their tail may want to consider investing in technology a little more sophisticated than a roll of Reynolds Wrap.