Cannonball Run and Digital Transformation

By Antoine Dubeauclard

Just before we entered this new decade, a team shattered the Cannonball Run record. For those not familiar with the run, it is a journey from New York City to Los Angeles –going as fast as possible. The race was popularized in a 1981 movie starring Burt Reynolds and Roger Moore, the film even featured Jackie Chan as one of his earliest US cameos.

In 1933, the first record was set with a time of 53.5 hours. It took a few decades to breach the 30 hour mark. This most recent record is significant in that at 27 hours and 25 minutes, it is a huge improvement over the prior record of 28 hours and 50 minutes. With an average speed of 103 miles per hour over 2825 miles – it means breaking a lot of traffic laws.

So how did they do it? The long answer is a tricked-out AMG silver Mercedes Sedan with an Alpha 9 package, outfitted with an aircraft collision package, custom fuel cell, kill switches for lights, a deer spotting thermal scope and Waze.

Yup Waze. Next to all this high tech gear was a simple app that many of us have on our phone and rely on to find out the traffic jams, potholes and police on our way to get gallon of milk or drop the kids off to school.

While many of us can’t justify the air avoidance system or other advanced radar jamming technology that made this run possible, all of us can easily download this free app. I’m always amused when the debate arises as to the best tool for navigation (the crown is already well worn by Waze) and I arrive minutes before the other drivers at the destination.

I remember Waze from its early days. At the time, we had built mapping software for a now defunct Mapping Startup using ESRI software which relied in the government data which is the foundation of the core maps used in mapping.

In 2013 Google bought Waze for $1 billion dollars. At the time Waze, wasn’t well known and it was unclear why Google was dropping that much coin on a relatively new start up with no revenues to speak of. Other tech giants were very aware of the potential and reportedly Apple and Facebook had also bid to acquire Waze.

So why was the value for a company less than 7 years old – which at the time has about 100 employees and 50 million users—so high? The answer to that question became clear when Waze had some technical quirk which prevented the maps for displaying correctly and I was forced to use my in-car navigation. The information in my dashboard was out of the date, the points of interest and location weren’t functioning. The route proposed was not at all efficient (downright idiotic) and with the interface shutting down user input once moving, it made the whole experience a disaster.  This brought me back to the prior generation – Tom Tom, Garmin and these other devices. When compared to a functioning Waze, all these apps and devices felt like they were operating in the middle ages.

The key of Waze of course is the data captured by Google – matched with user provided feedback which gives near instantaneous report on road conditions, traffic, police and more. In the beginning of Waze, it was tough to identify how much of a category killer it was – only once people used successfully compared against tools could they see how there was little reason to use anything else. The lesson is that the Internet brings whole new models to the table. In this case, tying in data from users with self-reported information made a whole new category of product. It’s not a map or a digital version of a map. It’s an intelligent Sherpa that takes into consideration everything from concerts, road conditions, and so on.

The lesson for people in traditional business is that adaptation is critical if one competitor jumps into a digitally enabled model, completely changing the industry. It’s not easy to do this introspection but by evaluating assets, opportunities and other aspects of one’s business one can re-invent one’s company into a modern, digitally enabled, business.

In 2020, take some time to evaluate what risks and opportunities you have to transform and adapt your business. If you’re looking for help on how to do this, the team at Media Genesis is here to help. Reach out to us at (248) 687-7888 or  and we can help navigate and provide structure for that introspection.