Keeping the customer at the center of your growth strategy

Keeping the customer at the center of your growth strategy

In this episode of the Shift podcast, host Jon Finkelstein is joined by Cody Green, Founder of Canada Drives, who is transforming the way Canadians get car loans. The two discuss the growing pains and lessons learned of a start-up, creating a culture of customer centricity from the ground up, and remaining agile in the ever-evolving world of emerging technologies. Listen and subscribe below.

Duration: 20:20


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Transcript: Keeping the customer at the center of your growth strategy


Jon Finkelstein: Hi. Welcome to Shift, PwC Canada’s podcast series, and we’re digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I’m your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I’m also the Creative Director of PwC Canada. All right. Welcome to another episode of Shift. It's a good one today. We're here with Cody Green, who is the CEO and founder of Canada Drives. You are a V2R finalist. That's huge.

Cody Green: Super exciting.

Jon Finkelstein: Congratulations on that, by the way.

Cody Green: Thank you very much.

Jon Finkelstein: For our listeners who don't know, that's PwC's Vision to Reality Awards, where we award top innovation. Are you amazed? Are you blown away?

Cody Green: Yeah, it's pretty exciting to get that outside validation.

Jon Finkelstein: For people who may be unfamiliar with Canada Drives, why don't you just give us the elevator pitch on what it's about, so people know.

Cody Green: For sure. If you're a consumer, and you're coming to Canada Drives, you're coming to us to get a vehicle and financing. You look to us, and we make the process easy. We get you your finance options, you understand what vehicles you can afford to buy, and then, hopefully, go out and buy one of those vehicles. The real change is from how people are typically used to buying a vehicle.

Jon Finkelstein: Innovation for a digital world. 

Cody Green: Yeah.

Jon Finkelstein: You can use that tagline if you want.

Cody Green: Yeah, that's going under the logo now.

Jon Finkelstein: How did you get into this?

Cody Green: I was working in the auto industry as a car salesman. I was kind of on the front lines of seeing how people were buying cars. It was a great place to start from, because you got a level of empathy for both the customer, as well as for the dealership, and identifying how people bought cars showed me how people were getting frustrated with how they buy cars.

The typical process, you go to the dealership. "Hey, welcome to ABC motors. Let's go test drive some cars. You like this one? Perfect. Let's do the paperwork." You go to the finance office, and then the big reveal. "Did I get approved? What was the payment? What was the rate? Can I afford this car?" For some people, that worked. But for a lot of people, I was seeing a lot of apprehension. That was the kind of big Aha moment, is, "Hey, we can kind of switch these things up and pair it with what people are getting more and more comfortable doing, which is that e-commerce piece. And I think I'm on to something here."

That was 2010, and that was really the time where people are starting to say, "Yeah, I can buy things online. I'm comfortable with this process."

Jon Finkelstein: You go to the website, enter in a bunch of stuff. Tell us a little bit about what happens. 

Cody Green: For a consumer, we try to make it as easy as possible. For anyone trying to get people to adopt a new way of doing things, you want it to be simple. You don't want there to be a large learning curve, so the UI/UX of the website's important. It's just the most basic information we require in order to get you your options. What happens in the background is we're then going to work with the dealership network across the country, so if you're applying in Vancouver, we're going to work with a dealership in Vancouver. They're going to be working with the financial institutions, along with us, to get you the best rate available, and then what's going to be spit back to you, the consumer, is, "Hey. You said you wanted a car. You said your payments wanted to be in this range. Here are the options that are available." You feel empowered when you go down to that dealership knowing, "I'm looking at cars that I can afford to buy.”

Jon Finkelstein: I love that. You're basically taking, what we like to call, a consumer pain point: “I'm frustrated with how it works!” Because, you know, people have been buying cars basically almost the same way...well, I'm not going to say since the Model T, but you know.

Cody Green: Pretty much.

Jon Finkelstein: Right? You go to a dealer and you kick some tires, and you probably feel a little bit uncomfortable, because that's just how it is.

Cody Green: You're pretty apprehensive. That disconnect of who has more knowledge, who has more power, consumers feel that. They walk into...and they're in somebody else's house, right? Coming packed with that information, and understanding your buying power as a consumer, really flips that on its head.

Jon Finkelstein: How was the dealership's attitude towards you coming into the market? Was there acceptance? Was there enthusiasm? Was there reticence?

Cody Green: I think all of those things. It really just depended on the dealership. What we tried to do is make it easy to partner with us. Kind of like the consumer, we don't want to make it difficult to use our service. There's always going to be those people that come down and want to touch the paint, kick the tires and be like, "Yes. This is the one. I fell in love with this car." They're always going to have a place in the automotive retail environment. For dealership, it's like, "Hey, how do you guys sell cars right now, and how can we be a supplement to that? How can we be that technology, that customer acquisition bridge, so you don't have to?" Really, just finding a way to work with them, that they don't have to change the way they're doing business.

Jon Finkelstein: That's really interesting. Because we talk a lot about … change management. How to get people to do something that's better and more efficient, or whatever, and everyone's always reticent, right? But when you show them, it's like, "You know what? This isn't actually that hard. Maybe it's fun. Maybe it's going to free up my time." Whatever the deal is, making it easy and understandable, I think, is really key for people to understand. Because at the end of the day, we're dealing with human to human. Right?

Cody Green: You want to be doing the heavy lifting for the customer, for the dealership, for the financial institution, so it becomes easy for them.

Jon Finkelstein: How is the thing scaling up? How is the scaling for you? 

Cody Green: It was probably slower than it should have been, to start, because there was such a positive reaction from customers. I rewind three and a half years, and we only had a handful of staff. Now, we're at 400 staff at our office in Vancouver, and this is going into our ninth year now.

As far as scale is concerned, over a million Canadians will come to us to get their options for financing this year. Another half a million will come to us for personal loan financing options, and we've recently expanded to the UK and the US.

Jon Finkelstein: How will you keep consumer-centricity, or really being an advocate for Canadians, or for consumers, top of mind as you continue to scale? Do you worry that, as you get larger, it becomes more impersonal? Do you worry about that? How do you keep that in check?

Cody Green: That's a huge worry. You kind of compare where we were to where we are. Starting out, I'm the guy on the other end of the phone. I understand exactly the experience the consumers are having. I can fix their problems. I can hear the challenges. Same, I'm the person reaching out to those dealership partners and those financial institutions, so I have a really good pulse check on what's happening.

I think one key to our success was, the early employees became leaders within the company, and so those values and cultures have really been instilled, and been passed along as we've grown up. Those were the advantages when you're smaller.

The advantages when you're bigger is you get feedback, just amplified. If there's something they're not happy about, and maybe you're hearing about it anecdotally every few weeks when you were really small, now you're just getting bombarded immediately. You have that feedback loop, it's a lot quicker, and assuming you can stay agile, you can act on it a lot quicker too.

I think, as a consumer-facing company, we don't get the luxury of not focusing on it. They get to vote every time they come to our website, or not come to our website, so we have to keep delivering on our promise to them.

Jon Finkelstein: How do you stay agile?

Cody Green: It's a work in progress. You sort of look at your strengths, your weaknesses, and you try to augment your strengths, and you try to improve on the weaknesses. I think the biggest thing for us is, we never look at any part of our business as being, "Okay, that's done. We don't have to think about it anymore." Everything's in a constant state of testing and improvement. That sort of lack of complacency, I think, has been key to keeping the innovation going. 

Jon Finkelstein: I think that's a really important nugget for people to be thinking about, is that...I heard you say, "Hey, we have to empower our people to be able to make decisions, to be innovative, to challenge the status quo and probably not be worried about that." Obviously, you probably have some...

Cody Green: There's checks and balances, of course.

Jon Finkelstein: Checks and balances. But I mean, it's like...I hate this word...operationalizing innovation, or a culture of freedom, I guess.

Cody Green: 100%. Yeah. When you're small, communication's easy and there's not as many moving pieces, so I can have my hand in a lot of different things. Now, my job more is sort of empowering those managers to ensure that they understand where we're trying to go, and have the tools to innovate and get us there.

Jon Finkelstein: I'm just curious, as someone who's really interested in retargeting/communicating with people, especially when they come in, and they don't convert. What kind of stuff are you doing to really kind of close the conversion loop?

Cody Green: I guess there's two types of people. There's the people that come to our website and don't fill out the information, and then there's the people that fill out the information and ultimately choose not to go ahead with the service at this time, whether they didn't find a vehicle they wanted, or they were just kind of curious. You sort of treat those two differently. Again, you look at that mountain of data, and say, "What do I know about this customer? What do I know about their experience? And how can I deliver a powerful message to them, to get them back to re-engage with our company, regardless of where in the journey they ended up stopping."

And even for those customers that did buy a vehicle using Canada Drives, it's not going to be the last vehicle they buy. How do you keep engaging genuine conversation with that customer over the next one, two, three, four years, until you're front of mind again, so they use you next time around?

Jon Finkelstein: How are people hearing about you?

Cody Green: I think one of our strengths has always been telling our story, and we really embraced online before a lot of people were. In 2010, '11, '12, people were like, "Oh, Facebook, it's great. You can share cat photos, but it's not going to be a place where you can ever find customers." I was like, "Nope. People are spending that much time on a platform, if we can tell our story in a way, and it's a place where we can communicate with our customers beyond displaying an advertisement, as well, then I think that's going to be a huge growth driver for us." Really just finding where people are, and how you tell your story unique to that medium. 

The story on Instagram's a little bit different than Facebook or Snapchat or Twitter, or whether it's a TV commercial, so you have to really nuance your messaging to make it work for that audience and that medium.

Jon Finkelstein: Is there a grand vision for this thing? Where does it go from here?

Cody Green: We have the benefit of letting the customer tell us what they want. We started in auto, and we basically had our first way that the customer would use our platform, and the customer kept telling us, "Hey, I want to do more. I want to be able to do it by text message. I don't want to do this. I don't necessarily want to go down." That feedback loop coming in, sort of drove innovation through that product line. Those same customers were saying to us, "Hey, thanks for helping me get a car, but I also just want cash to...I have a wedding coming up" or something like that. It was like, "Okay, this is a product that our customers want, so we know demand's going to be there." That's checking one of the boxes. And then, how do you want this product delivered to you?

And again, it was the same things that made us successful with auto. It was like, "Hey, I want it to be online. I want it to be fast. I want it to be easy. I don't want to have to learn something new, in order to use it." That feedback loop, assuming we can keep it, should be telling us what products to launch in the future. From there, it's just looking at markets where we're not operating and saying, "Hey, is this enough alike the Canadian market, in order for us to be successful with what we're doing, or if it's different, what's different? And how do we nuance our product to be successful there?"

Jon Finkelstein: What advice would you have for someone who needs to undergo something innovative, transformation or otherwise, within an existing business? What advice would you give to them, to make this thing really stick?

Cody Green: I think there's a couple of things. I would be looking at where your customers are telling you there's pain points right now. And I would also not treat it so binary of, "Hey, we're going to do this huge change, and this is going to be the only way we do things in the future." I think you can really look at different steps and how you're delivering your service and say, "Okay, this is something we've identified. Let's try something new there. Let's maybe not roll it out to 100% of our customers and risk imploding, but let's roll it out to a small subset, get some feedback, and do a new iteration, do a new version. And then, when we do roll it out to everyone else, we already know what the feedback's going to be." Don't make it as daunting and scary as it might seem from the outset.

Jon Finkelstein: I think that's really good advice, because I think a lot of people are really still stuck on having this waterfall mentality, which is, "We're going to spend a lot of time making something and doing something, and we're going to put it out there, and there you go. And hopefully it'll work." But I think the more agile mentality, which is kind of what you're talking about, which is very much about small bites, iteration, testing, improvements. Because by the time you roll it out, you have a very good idea that it's going to work, because you've tested it. You've learned. You've iterated.

Cody Green: And I hear about companies and they're like, "Oh, we've been developing this product for two years." And we're like, "Oh, what are customers saying?" It's, "Oh no, we're not ready to launch." And I'm like, "Man, you're toast."

Jon Finkelstein: Totally toast. One of my favourite quotes is, "Latency is a killer." Right? Because you cannot spend two years making something, and expecting it to be relevant. It's impossible. 

Cody Green: The world's changing way too fast.

Jon Finkelstein: When a customer comes to your website, and I've done it myself, you need to provide a fair amount of data, in order to really begin the process. I'm really curious, how do you overcome any barriers of trust? There's been a lot of stuff in the news about cybersecurity and data breaches and this kind of stuff. I'd love to get your thoughts on how do you encourage or engender trust, and how do you keep on that promise?

Cody Green: It's definitely a consideration. When we were starting out, it maybe wasn't as front of mind for people. There hadn't been the big breaches, the big cyber security, so they weren't asking those questions. But people are asking those questions now. "What are you doing with the data that you're receiving from me?" You see new legislations that have come out every year, every month, and say, "Hey, you need to be doing this, you need to be doing that now." The thing that we've taken comfort in is, a lot of the things that they're requiring businesses to do, is just good business anyways.

A new data security law comes out, GDPR is the one that everyone's in a huff about right now. Well yeah, there's maybe 10% net new that we have to make some adjustments for, but 90% of the stuff are the things you're already doing. I think transparency's important, so telling a consumer what you're doing with that information, why you need that information. If you've gone through our application, each step says, "Hey, I'm asking this because...I need this because..." We're not asking information for information's sake. It's to deliver our service to you. But as a company, you need to sort of be aware of your responsibilities and how that ties into delivering your product.

Jon Finkelstein: Have you seen any anybody trying to copy what you're doing?

Cody Green: 100%. There's probably 100 in Canada alone, trying to do a variation of what we're doing. One advantage we have, at this point, is we've been doing it for a long time now. We were doing it before it was cool, so we get those insights from the customers, and we've sort of...I don't want to say master, because it's a work in progress, but the UI/UX, the experience for the customer, we're on iteration 1,000. Someone coming in, and trying to copy what we're doing, they don't actually know what we're doing that makes us successful. There's what they can see, but there's also all the things they can't see.

Jon Finkelstein: Right. I love that as a competitive advantage. The lessons learned that you've had, but also the genuine desire to continue to iterate and to deliver on what people want, that's the kind of stuff that really brings loyalty.

Cody Green: 100%. The job's not done. And I think, as long as you keep that mentality, it's not like you're a stagnant target for people to catch up to, you're a moving target that's hopefully getting farther away, and not closer. 

Jon Finkelstein: There's so many new and emerging technologies—blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, there's lots of acronyms. How do you assess what's good, and what's useful for your business?

Cody Green: There's a new one every day, and you have to filter through and say, "Hey, can this deliver real value to our company, to our customers?" We've always tried to be technology agnostic, so when we're looking for a solution, sometimes the answer's technology, and sometimes it's like, "Okay, well we need to develop this platform to communicate with our customers more effectively." Sometimes the answer's hiring 300 people on the phone, because that's the best way to deliver our service right now.

As long as you don't go in saying, "I can't wait to solve this problem with X." And saying, "Hey, I have a problem, what are the different ways that I can solve it, looking at technology, people, etc.," I think you're going to be in a stronger position.

Jon Finkelstein: I think that's really important for people to understand, that there's a lot of shiny objects out there, and it's very easy to get distracted by them and go, "Oh, we should do blockchain, or we should do artificial intelligence."

Cody Green: We need a blockchain strategy.

Jon Finkelstein: That's right. What's our blockchain strategy? Don't get me started on the different types of strategies. It's very easy to get blinded by shiny objects, and I would certainly encourage people who are listening, to really fundamentally understand the why they're doing things, and what it would deliver for people, as opposed to going in with, "I need this thing."

Cody Green: You catch yourself. Because you're like, "That sounds super cool. I would love to play around with that." But you can't. If it doesn't make sense, if it's not actually helping, you're just doing it because it's that shiny object.

Jon Finkelstein: It's easy.

Cody Green: Super easy. 

Jon Finkelstein: Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time to when you started, is there anything you'd do differently?

Cody Green: I think hindsight would be beautiful, the crystal ball we would all love to have. We've obviously gone left when we needed to go right. Hopefully, most of the time, we've realized left was wrong quick enough, and then sort of iterated the right direction. I think I could give myself some advice to make the last nine years a little bit more enjoyable. I think the one thing I say now is, things are never as good or as bad as they seem. That kind of keeps you in the middle, and lets you ride the highs and lows as they come through. But yeah, if you've got that crystal ball, I'll take it.

Jon Finkelstein: Right. I think we're working on one upstairs in our experience centre. In our lab.

Cody Green: What's your crystal ball strategy?

Jon Finkelstein: Yes, what is your crystal ball strategy?

That's it for another episode of Shift. Cody, thanks so much for being here. Good luck with everything that Canada Drives has in the future. You guys are on an amazing trajectory, so congratulations on all the success you've had.

Cody Green: Thanks a lot for having me, Jon. It's been a lot of fun.

Jon Finkelstein: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, subscribe to our podcast series. You can find us on iTunes, Google Play or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership, for general guidance on matters of interest only and does not constitute professional advice. Until next time.

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This podcast has been prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is given as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this podcast, and, to the extent permitted by law, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, its members, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty of care for any consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this publication or for any decision based on it.

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