Lately, talk about the need to redefine the lines between work and home life, blurred in the shadow of this pandemic still sweeping the world, has been a significant concern for many. But for some entrepreneurs and their families, such blurred lines have always existed. Just ask the Calisto siblings, Carmen, Rogerio and Gabriel.
“There have always been discussions about business at the family dinner table – even when we didn’t know what any of it meant,” laughs Carmen (pictured bottom). The humour of this anecdote is all the more palpable as The Peak, Carmen and her brothers sit around the dinner table at their home for a candid conversation about the business their father founded.
The Calistos are the majority shareholders of Cartrack, a listed multinational smart mobility Software-as-a-Service platform provider founded in South Africa, with an annual revenue of about S$200 million.
Established by their father Zak Calisto, Cartrack started as a stolen vehicle recovery service before evolving into a broad data-driven mobility services provider that includes fleet management and insurance telematics, which is the practice of using in-vehicle devices to track and use driving data to optimise insurance premiums through risk profiling and accident reduction. Today, Cartrack operates on a subscription based software-as-a-service model, with well over a million subscribers worldwide.
Given the company’s rapid growth, conversations about Cartrack abound at the dinner table all the time. Also, like many second generations of family-founded businesses, the siblings grew up alongside the company. They might be young – Carmen is 24 and Rogerio and Gabriel are 25 and 26 respectively – but their youth belies their mental sharpness. “We almost feel like we’ve been a part of the business since the start,” muses Rogerio, “because everything going on in the business was always a huge part of our family’s life.”
Today, Cartrack’s role in their lives is more significant than ever. All three are being groomed as part of a group of future leaders for the company. Rogerio, the first to join, now co-heads the business in Singapore and Thailand, while Gabriel leads the data science division and Carmen manages the global marketing team.
“We knew,” the trio chorused when asked if they knew that they would end up joining Cartrack. “I negotiated the hardest,” reveals Carmen, “but we all knew it would happen, and are excited to be part of such a fast paced environment.” Their father was a powerful guiding presence throughout their childhoods and was clear about wanting them to join him in the business from early on.
To that end, they were always encouraged to gain solid educational foundations in business. Rogerio completed his undergraduate degree in accounting and finance at Warwick University in the UK before joining Cartrack. Both Gabriel and Carmen studied actuarial science at Cass Business School before moving on to do advanced degrees. Gabriel majored in the field of stochastics and computational mathematics at the London School of Economics and subsequently at the University of Oxford, while Carmen went into strategic marketing at Imperial College London.
When they were at home, the three shares: “Dad always encouraged us to spend time at the office, shadowing him and attending meetings. He would talk us through what was happening in the business, and try to get us to understand all these different concepts.”
Such practical exposure has served them well; they are remarkably cogent when discussing Cartrack and its vision for the future. As a global leader, the firm is stitching together the future of mobility and while the goal is broad, the unifying factor lies in Cartrack’s harnessing of customer data to provide relevant, valuable, smart, safe and easy mobility solutions.
“We’re working on a multitude of different verticals within our platform, and all maximise the potential of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and telematics,” expresses Gabriel. “We are developing technologies to harness the potential of data to gain bigger insights and create efficiency-related solutions for any vehicle owner.” These solutions will encompass the entire life cycle of a vehicle, from when it leaves the showroom to when it changes ownership or is de-commissioned through accident write-off or scrapping. Fleet management and data driven mobility services remain Cartrack’s bread and butter businesses. However, the platform is more diversified than one might expect.
In South Africa, where the company started from the idea of tracking down and recovering stolen cars, individual consumers only make up about a third of the business. In Cartrack’s 23 other countries, corporations form the bulk of the business, despite there being no particular company or industry focus. For example, on our island, Cartrack’s clients include the Singapore Prison Service and Singapore Post.
“We’re not tailored towards any particular industry. Our approach and platform is quite agnostic, and our customer concentration risk is low,” Carmen explains. “If you look at our subscriber base, our largest client with a fleet of over 30,000 vehicles still forms less than two percent of the business.”
Cartrack’s subscription-based business model and industry agnosticism also mean its revenues have so far remained robust during this period.
Despite the significant global slowdown due to Covid-19, the low industry concentration risk and the addition of new subscribers to its platforms has seen the company grow both its overall subscriber base and its first-quarter revenues by 14 per cent year-on-year. The Asia-Pacific market alone grew by an astounding 39 per cent.
Part of this has to do with markets reopening their economies and seeing sales rebounding back to normal. July 2020 was the second-highest month for Cartrack in terms of sales in its entire 16 years of business. “Our start-up culture has allowed us to adapt quickly to the potential long term impact of the pandemic,” Rogerio affirms. The Calistos also attribute Cartrack’s growth to other factors.
“Regardless of the monthly subscription fee, all our customers derive substantial savings and improved efficiencies in running their business,” says Carmen. “Many businesses are looking for new ways to cut costs and drive profitability. With the increasing digitalisation, we’re able to speak more to them and to help them understand how we can help.”
Rogerio also mentions that the lockdowns and increased digitalisation of businesses have meant that “people are seeing the benefit of gaining visibility of their workforce when they’re not going to the office”. The accelerated adoption of digital solutions due to Covid-19 has further positioned Cartrack for the long run.
Currently in the works is a driver task management system for delivery and logistics firms that will enable companies to keep track of every moving part of the delivery, including the delivery vehicle and the package itself.
“The increased visibility is what matters to the companies because if they lose that, then things start to fall apart,” explains Carmen.
“Our know-the-driver solution, based on artificial intelligence, allows financial institutions to credit risk with ease,” Rogerio adds. “We use data to predictively score the risk of default.”
In South Africa, Cartrack has also added two new additional verticals to the Cartrack platform. The first leverages on its experience in insurance telematics to operate as an insurance multi-quote broker, and the second aims to make it easier for users to buy and sell new and used cars. “With all the data we have about driving behaviour, we can score the usage of a vehicle and add transparency to the second-hand car market on the history of the vehicle,” Rogerio reveals. Just imagine: the entire history of a car available at the tap of an app.
All the aforementioned new verticals are taking shape in Cartrack’s research and development centre located in Singapore, which was relocated to be alongside the company’s international operational headquarters serving Asia and Europe. A key reason for Cartrack’s establishment in Singapore is the latter’s favourable digital environment, ample government support and the ease of doing business in the country.
For Cartrack, this is key. “It isn’t easy to get good talent anywhere, especially when it comes to research and development (R&D) and data science, but Singapore is one of the easiest places to onboard good talent,” says Gabriel. Add a healthy business environment, exceptional levels of governmental support, good law and order, low corporate taxes, and you have the ideal recipe for leveraging growth in a global business. Enterprise Singapore will undoubtedly be happy that its efforts are bearing some very ripe fruit.
Singapore currently houses 120 of Cartrack’s global headcount of 2,600 and the company expects to grow the number to at least 200, with the bulk of hires going towards R&D.
As a rapidly expanding company that is still relatively young, does Cartrack still operate like a start-up?
“We don’t even have titles; that’s how start-up we are,” Rogerio answers wryly. “With us, everything is about taking ownership of your work and being proud of what you’re doing.”
Like many start-ups, the hierarchy is flat, and everyone has access to management. “I would just send them the CEO’s phone number via WhatsApp, which I think shocks people. Well, at least in my team,” says Carmen. All of this is because “our company is ultimately like a family”, adds Rogerio.
To emphasise the family dynamic at Cartrack, Rogerio brings up the example of his father, who is still the group’s chief executive officer and whose gregarious personality is integral to creating the culture at the firm.
“My dad loves to cook at times for the office, inviting many colleagues at random, to join him around the large table for lunch. It’s a feast served with direction, guidance and wisdom. That’s the kind of dynamic of the entire management,” says Rogerio.
Perhaps the blurred lines between work and family life aren’t so bad after all – even if it means no end to business chats over dinner. “Funnily enough, we don’t spend that much time together during the working day but we have dinner [together] every day.”
But there is one particular aspect of business talk that is frowned on: office politics. “We hate it and it has no room at the company.”