Brian Yormak

Not Yet Autonomous, But Connected

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On the heels of the story behind Story, we are excited to share our first of Why We Invested, beginning with our investment in Motorq.

Like many Story investments, Motorq sits in the middle of the data stack, serving as the intermediary between an unorganized pool of data and customers who derive value from this data. In this case, Motorq deals with connected vehicle data that is collected by car manufacturers (“OEMs”), and utilized by businesses looking to improve their operations.

As context for this investment, connected vehicle data has long been frustratingly inaccessible. I’ve followed this problem since 2015 when I was an investor at Bill Ford’s mobility-focused fund, Fontinalis — back then, the inability of OEMs to deliver connected vehicle data came as a surprise. However, the more I delved into the industry, the more this inability made sense. OEMs have had their hands full for over a century developing cutting edge hardware, resulting in the supercomputers we see today that go from zero to sixty in 2.3 seconds, stream Netflix, and even call mom when asked nicely. As OEMs reimagine the future of what a vehicle will look like, it’s understandable that they have not prioritized the infrastructure to make data accessible for third parties.

However, despite OEM inaction, the value of connected vehicle data has never been greater. Trucking companies want to gauge the fuel efficiency of their drivers, rental companies want to anticipate car engine failures, police departments want to understand the driving patterns of their officers, and insurance companies want to predict the likelihood of accidents, to name a few use cases. With the introduction of sensors that track speed, location, tire pressure, battery strength, gasoline levels, engine leaks, and more, these prospective data users are itching to explore.

The telematics industry itself, the first version of the solution to this problem, is not new. Since the introduction of the OBD-II (“On Board Diagnostics”) port in cars in the late 90s, companies like Teletrac, Geotab, and Samsara have introduced plug-in hardware (aka dongles) to collect small amounts of data. Later, companies like Telogis were the first to work with the auto OEMs — they installed 3rd party hardware to enable data to be exported from the vehicle. In 2016, Verizon acquired Fleetmatics and Telogis for $2.4 billion and $930 million, respectively, indicating just how large the market could be. As of this writing, installed hardware and plug-in dongles generate over $1 billion per year of revenue.

Though the current market is large, believe it or not, data is only being used from about 10% of vehicles on the road today. This is largely because the current cost of data (e.g. $30/vehicle/month) is prohibitively expensive, and the existing monolithic tooling cannot seamlessly scale across all vehicles. That was why the light went off when we met the founding team from Motorq.

As always, the most important part of our investment thesis comes down to the founding team. In this case, Arun, CEO of Motorq, was originally an engineer at Bosch, writing code for the microprocessors that generate data in vehicles. While working at Bosch and later at Booz Allen, Arun became obsessed with the disconnect between the immense amount of rich vehicle data coming online, and the inability of the auto ecosystem to leverage such data. His co-founders, Vivek (GM, Boston Consulting Group) and Ashwin (Microsoft, HBO) had similar visions, and together jumped at the opportunity to build Motorq into the preeminent connected vehicle data refinery.

When considering our investment in Motorq, we saw a pattern similar to what we’ve seen in other industries. Legacy companies that control data are almost never the best at sharing such data. Moreover, with a fragmented set of data providers, the market was calling for a central intermediary to standardize and aggregate. Even if the OEMs preferred to be the direct conduit for auto data, we felt strongly that customers would eventually demand a standalone vendor that would do the dirty work of aggregating, cleansing, standardizing, and analyzing data across disparate providers, just like what Plaid did for the finance industry.

We first invested in Motorq’s pre-seed round in 2017, out of our $5M Story I fund. Since then, the company has accomplished a tremendous amount:

Earned the trust of the OEMs and entered into contracts with six of the ten largest OEMs to become the pipes for connected vehicle data. Most of these integrations represent the first and only data partnerships that the OEMs have signed, giving Motorq a significant first-mover advantage.

Deployed at seven out of the ten largest non-rental vehicle buyers in the nation, including many of the largest fleet management companies.

Initiated pilots with dealerships, insurance companies, fuel card companies, and others — these customers are able to access low-cost vehicle data for the first time.

Built a robust machine learning model to cleanse data coming from vehicles, addressing the challenge of different data structures across each make and model of the various OEMs. Making this data digestible through a lightweight API has been a herculean task.

The auto industry moves slowly, and given the challenge of working with legacy OEMs, we cannot overstate how much we admire the tenacity of the Motorq team. With the supply side of data broadly solved, Motorq is well positioned to becoming the world’s largest telematics provider. That is why we jumped at the opportunity to lead the company’s next round of financing. We proudly led this new round out of our $25M Story II fund, taking a board seat at the company. We invested $2M, nearly 10% of our total fund in one deal.

With so many possible use cases for vehicle data, we see Motorq as an enabler of a future powered by data and machine intelligence. We are still in the first inning here, and envision a world in which insurance companies can use driver performance data to optimize policy pricing, municipalities can understand car movement to improve infrastructure, large venues can create seamless parking experiences by directing drivers to the nearest open space, and consumers can permission packages to be delivered into the trunk of a car. Better yet, Motorq will enable new use cases not yet imagined. We are incredibly excited to continue working with the Motorq team to help them bring the company to its full and vast potential.

Brian Yormak
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