May 10, 2019
Swartz Spotlight: Idelic Makes Trucking Safer
When Hayden Cardiff (MBA 2016) was a student at the Tepper School of Business, he took every opportunity to launch his own business. He came to Carnegie Mellon University because of the school’s strong reputation for fostering innovation and collaboration and supporting budding entrepreneurs.
While pursuing his Tepper MBA, Cardiff worked for Pitt Ohio Express, a transportation company. The company had created software they called “SafetyBox” that brings together various systems they were using to manage their drivers and trucks.
Cardiff saw an opportunity to bring a similar service to other trucking companies, but while also reducing accidents on the road and limiting driver turnover. This idea would eventually form into Idelic, a software-as-a-service company focused on collecting data on a company’s drivers in order to predict potential traffic incidents. “Our main goal is to help drivers come home safe every night,” Cardiff said.
Launched at Tepper
Cardiff brought his idea into his MBA coursework at Tepper, focusing the capstone course of his entrepreneurship track on market research for Idelic, and even working on the company to fulfill his internship requirement. “I was very fortunate to be able to use Tepper as a backbone,” he said. “It’s how I formulated the idea to spin out in the first place.”
Armed with a product and an untapped market, Cardiff approached classmate Nick Bartel (MBA 2016), who was also a James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellow alongside Cardiff. “Having the right dynamic on the team and the right leadership in place to push a vision was really important to me,” Cardiff said. “That was why I wanted to start a company and be one of the founders: to be able to pick that team. Nick was one of the first people that I wanted to pick.”
Bartel had completed a track at the Tepper School focused on Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition, having intended from the start of his MBA studies to run his own business. Both of his parents owned their own businesses, and later, his brother became an entrepreneur as well. “I always joke that when we sat down for dinner every night, it was my family discussing their businesses,” he said. “I have that in my blood. So I knew that it was going to be my focus coming to Tepper.”
As a Tepper student, Bartel was exploring startup investment opportunities in Pittsburgh. “Fundraising in Pittsburgh is a challenge, but it’s definitely getting better,” he said. “The way you combat that is to network.” Bartel stressed how often Dave Mawhinney, Executive Director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship and Associate Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship, talked about the importance of building a network.
Problem, Solution, Market, Team
Bartel brought his networking skill to his job search. “I networked my way into a job at a high-net-worth family office,” he said. When Cardiff approached him with his trucking safety idea, Bartel invited Cardiff to present to his boss to ask for seed funding.
“I immediately saw the potential, Bartel said of the idea. He said that Mawhinney taught them four things that were necessary to support a venture: problem, solution, market and team. “The problem was painful enough that we believed we could create a solution that fleets would actually pay money for. There was little to no competition, so I knew we had a ‘goodness factor,’ meaning it was significantly better and cheaper than current solutions, this is something Dave drilled into our heads while at Tepper. And I also saw that the transportation market was just enormous. The last piece was Hayden, and I knew our relationship was strong and I trusted him. Having worked really well together at CMU, it felt like this was something we could run with together, with the worst case being we would learn a ton.
But Bartel’s boss did not support the venture. “You don’t have very many opportunities to work with someone on an opportunity that actually makes a difference in the world,” Bartel said. Two weeks later, he quit his job to help build Idelic. “We’re making the world safer not only for truck drivers, but also for the people who drive beside them out on the roads.”
Bartel and Cardiff spent the next several months validating the market. “It’s not about an idea you have that you think could work; you have to prove it out,” Bartel said. “You really have to do all the legwork. Dave Mawhinney says, ‘It’s one percent idea, 99 percent execution.’ And that is the truth.”
They spoke with hundreds of transportation companies across the U.S. “Everyone said the same thing: They manage things with spreadsheets, paper files and disparate systems,” Cardiff said. “They have a fire hose of data around these drivers; they just don’t have the tools to use the data.” The companies collect broad data on their drivers, like pre-hire background checks and records of accidents and moving violations.
Idelic compiles all of this information from the trucking companies and third-party systems and applies machine learning and predictive analytical tools to identify potential issues before they arise. “Now we have the most comprehensive dataset around driver behavior, bar none, throughout the industry,” Cardiff said.
The company’s goal is to help trucking companies reduce accidents on the road and limit driver turnover. “Right now in the industry, you’re looking at an average of anywhere between 80 and 100 percent turnover year over year. It is astronomically high,” Cardiff said. “These fleets are paying up to $15,000 to replace a driver.”
The company has been growing fast since its launch in 2016, securing $3 million in seed funding. “Venture capital is getting very excited about the trucking space,” Cardiff said. As they prepare for their Series A funding round, they’ve partnered with firms like Bain Capital, Birchmere Ventures, M25, and SaaS Venture Capital. “We’re excited about the traction we’ve been getting. We’ve been growing pretty quickly.”
One of Idelic’s investors is McCune Capital, a venture capital fund launched by Tepper alumnus Jason Cahill (MBA 2014) that is focused on implementing new technologies in older industries. Cahill is familiar with the trucking industry, having launched a mobile platform called Traansmission for truck drivers to connect with shippers that was acquired by on-demand freight company ShipLync in 2017.
As the company grows, it has looked back to Carnegie Mellon to fill its employee ranks. “One of our first developer hires was a CMU alumna from the School of Computer Science, and she’s been fantastic,” Cardiff said. “Carnegie Mellon has been good to us, and we’re trying to give back as we continue to grow.”