This week’s story is the last of two profiles on the Iowa-based startups participating in the 2022 cohort of Techstars Iowa. MetaFuel is a Des Moines-based startup started in January 2022 that aims to help trucking companies leverage telematics data, which is automatically collected by a device installed in the truck.
Neither Danny O’Halloran nor Jake Miyazaki planned a career path that would take a turn toward transportation, and specifically the trucking industry.
Now co-founders of MetaFuel, one of 10 startups wrapping up their last days in the Techstars Iowa accelerator this week, they knew each other from both attending Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines.
O’Halloran studied environmental policy and Miyazaki got his degree in chemical engineering. Both decided to pivot to new fields, and Miyazaki reconnected with O’Halloran upon returning to Des Moines in early 2021.
O’Halloran started working for his grandfather’s truck dealership in Altoona, overseeing the technology and telematics arm of the business, which would lead to the start of MetaFuel.
A telematics device is plugged into a truck to track the vehicle’s location, the number of hours driven and driving performance, among other data. All drivers are required to have a telematics device installed, under federal legislation passed in 2012. The move initially sparked protests from drivers about excessive monitoring, but that later subsided, O’Halloran said.
At the time, O’Halloran said trucking companies didn’t see the many beneficial ways they could leverage their telematics data.
Combining O’Halloran’s familiarity with the industry and Miyazaki’s interest in the startup business model from working as a computer programmer at Des Moines insurtech Gain Compliance Inc., the pair formed MetaFuel in early 2022.
O’Halloran and Miyazaki share what you need to know about MetaFuel.
What is the first product MetaFuel is working on?
MetaFuel is looking to get its foot in the door with trucking companies with a product that helps them streamline their compliance with the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), an arrangement between U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
O’Halloran said one piece to IFTA compliance — tracking how many miles are driven in each state or province — is easily managed with telematics. The more difficult part is keeping the physical receipts from every time every truck in a fleet stops to get gas. The legislation was designed to ensure that the revenue from fuel taxes are redistributed to the states and provinces drivers drove in the most, O’Halloran said.
Telematics data has increased accuracy in this area, but companies have to store and provide the past four years of records for an audit, which contributes to companies failing audits at higher rates.
To start, MetaFuel’s compliance product, which integrates into existing telematics systems, has had drivers taking photos of their receipts as the first step in creating a compliance report. O’Halloran said in the next three to six months the startup will start working to eliminate that step and offer a Fleet Card, which will allow drivers to swipe the card at the gas pump and be compliant.
How does MetaFuel want to add to its platform in the future?
After connecting with trucking companies to streamline compliance processes, Miyazaki said there is a trove of data MetaFuel can tap into, including data from past years if it was kept by the company.
“These telematics devices give you so many different types of data that all these trucking companies have access to, but [they] lack the tools to integrate that data with other data and distill it into actual business insights they can use to make decisions,” Miyazaki said.
O’Halloran said MetaFuel is working with a partner in Texas on a predictive diagnostics tool that can help trucking companies identify signs of a breakdown and intervene before it happens.
“There are many opportunities to stop or reset systems prior to that inevitable breakdown, but once the breakdown happens, there’s really not a lot of going back,” O’Halloran said. “You’re going to now be paying somewhere around $800 to $3,000 [for] towing and then the repair on top of that.
“The bane of this entire industry’s existence is downtime. Uptime is a key focus for all stakeholders across the board. Whether you’re an administrative staff member, the fleet manager, the dealership owner or the trucking company owner, the [trucks] have to move for money to be made, for efficiency to be maintained.”
What has prevented the trucking industry from leveraging telematics data?
Miyazaki said trucking companies not engaging with their telematics data “boggled” his mind at first, but he has learned that there is limited time and often no staff in an average trucking company dedicated to advancing the company’s technology.
“Trucking has not had to rely on a lot of tech in general,” Miyazaki said. “It’s a very hands-on, historically paper-driven industry. What that means a lot of the time is [companies are saying], ‘I have a problem I’m trying to fix and I’m spending all this time doing this process every quarter,’ like compliance, for example. They’re not thinking, ‘Is there some software out there that we can go build?’ … They just need to get stuff done so they can get the trucks back on the road.”
O’Halloran said part of MetaFuel’s mission going forward will be helping change the perception in the legacy industry that integrating data is not possible and showing that trucking companies can “reimagine” how they apply their data.
To learn more about MetaFuel, email Danny O’Halloran at email@example.com.
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